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Maidenhead Reform Synagogue help tackle hunger and food poverty

Maidenhead members and guests including friends from Liberal Judaism 

The congregation of Maidenhead Synagogue helped to tackle hunger and food poverty in their local area, as they put on their first project of many for Mitzvah Day 2023.

Taking on board this year’s theme of Repair the World, around 30 members and guests of all ages got together for a giant cook – making 150+ portions of vegetable pasta bake for the Brett Foundation and Foodshare charities.

The cooking group meets quarterly and, in 2023 alone, have already made more than 500 servings of hot and healthy food to support those in need.

Nigel Cohen, a member of the community and representative for the charities, explained the need. He said: “Over the last year, the Brett Foundation and Foodshare have helped 1,000 families – including 1,200 children – who have reached that level of abject poverty where they can’t afford to eat properly.

“Mitzvah Day has had a huge impact on what we can achieve – both in terms of inspiring the congregation and the food we are able to provide.

“Food is a very Jewish way of supporting people and this cooking event has always been something that the community have been excited and inspired to get involved with – especially the children and young people.

“Typically, a food bank will provide things like tins of baked beans and tuna, which is fantastic, but does mean that families can miss out on fresh and nutritious food. Through Mitzvah Day, we can provide those home-cooked meals that are both full of vitamins and goodness, and also have the comfort associated with a hot dinner.”

In an added element, the Brett Foundation will also be serving the meals at a new initiative called the ‘Soul Café’, where the people they help can meet and eat together – tackling the issues of loneliness and embarrassment that those in extreme poverty often face.

Mitzvah Day is the UK’s largest faith-led day of social action, taking place on and around Sunday 19 November.

Maidenhead Synagogue and its Cheder has been putting on Mitzvah Day activities for more than a decade, led by co-ordinator Alexandra Domingue. This year, members of the community will also be joining with their Muslim, Christian and Sikh neighbours for projects including knitting for those in hospital, tidying the local cemetery, litter picking, making bird feeders and collecting items for families in need.

Alexandra said: “With everything happening in Israel, there were moments leading up to this cook that felt difficult for me and for all of us. But Mitzvah Day has always been about spending a bit of time doing something good for someone else and trying to be that force for good in the world – and the activity brought us all some joy in these times.

“It’s also more important to us than ever that, over the next month, we reach out to our friends in different faith communities and invite them in on Mitzvah Day to build on those friendships and our shared values.”

One of those taking part in the cook was Jonathan Anderson-Peled, who was celebrating his 17th birthday.

The teenager, who has been taking part since he was eight-years-old, said: “I was so happy to spend my birthday here. It sounds like a cliché, but it feels good to help people and give back. Plus, I love cooking!”

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