Members of Reform communities across the country took part in projects for Mitzvah Day, the Jewish-led global day of social action and giving where many thousands of participants give their time and not money. More than 40,000 people took part in this year’s Mitzvah Day with a record 550 projects taking place, strengthening local communities and helping a variety of charities and good causes.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism, spent the afternoon mucking out at Kentish Town City Farm along with London Assembly Member Andrew Dismore, leading Muslim campaigner Onjali Rauf and Guardian journalist Jessica Elgot.
Alyth (North Western Reform Synagogue) saw a Mitzvah Day with a host of charity and interfaith activities including a huge Cook-In in the synagogue’s kitchens providing food for the up-coming winter homeless shelter run jointly by Alyth and Golders Green Parish Church. Children were also involved in a wide variety of charitable causes, including: making bunting for Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice, cards for Camp Simcha and Jewish Action and Training and sweets for Barnet Refugee Services. In addition large collections of new underwear were made for Homeless Action Barnet as well as toiletries for refugees for the shul’s own monthly Drop-In Christmas party. Members also took part in a Listening Café where discussions on mental health issues were heard. A group from Alyth also took a mini-bus tour with Hendon School and Ayesha Muslim Community School around Barnet identifying some of the housing challenges being faced on our own doorstep and meeting with members of North London Citizens. Rabbi Josh Levy commented, “What a great opportunity Mitzvah Day is, it brings our community together whilst allowing us to reach out to others in a really meaningful way, to other faiths and to those in need. It is the catalyst for new volunteering in our community”.
Bromley Reform Synagogue helped support local charity, Deaf Access. Participants, including Bromley mayor, Kim Botting, were taught sign language by a speaker from Deaf Access and a quilt was made for the Deaf Access stall on Bromley High Street. Project organiser Benjamin Butler said: “Mitzvah Day reminds us just what a difference we can make by donating just a few hours of our time. By helping Dead Access on Mitzvah Day, we hope that it will motivate people to help Deaf Access every day.”
Mitzvah day at Kochavim, for Finchley Reform Synagogue’s 4-10 year olds, included a focus on the experience of unaccompanied children who come to the UK seeking asylum. Every child wrote a card to one of these children, showing remarkable empathy for the experience of young people whose lives are so different for theirs. This was a golden opportunity to learn what the words asylum and refugee really mean, and to speak simply about how the law affects children and adults who are seeking asylum in this country. It was also important to stress the reality of the United Kingdom as a place of safety, both for new arrivals and members of our own families. A group of year 6, 7 and 8 FRS Youth went to The Together Plan warehouse in Paddington. They sorted and packed the donations stored at the warehouse in preparation for the shipment of humanitarian aid which is being sent to Belarus as part of The Together Plan’s ‘Give to Get’ project. Youth Worker Jacob Brunner said: “It was a fantastic day, truly rewarding and inspiring”.
Mosaic Jewish Community, incorporating Hatch End Masorti synagogue, Mosaic Liberal and Mosaic Reform plus Kol Chai Jewish Community in Hatch End all took part in a very busy Mitzvah Day morning together. Many of their activities were to help families and children who are finding life difficult at the moment. They collected 20 bags of outdoor clothing for families who need warm clothing in the East End. Younger children made cards to send to children in hospital in Israel through the Save a Heart initiative and others made welcome cards for unaccompanied children seeking asylum. Everyone enjoyed making up over 40 boxes to send to the Barnados Freeman Family Centre in Harlesden for their Christmas party. Mark, a Barnardos child, was able to talk about the history of Barnados and what they are doing today for vulnerable children. Members filled plant pots with bulbs and decorated bags to put them in. These will be given to the elderly who visit Mosaic’s Friendship Club. A group of people went to Stanmore Common and, working with the Harrow Conservation Forum, spent the morning helping clean some parts of the Common. Mosaic also provided a collection point for CDs to be sent to Tzedek for their CDs for Seed project and finally, a saliva collection point where members were able to register for the Bone Marrow Register. In the evening The Berakah players, a multifaith orchestra, put on a concert for the members of all communities and the children spent time in the kitchen making cakes for the preconcert nibbles.
Sha’arei Tsedek: North London Reform Synagogue came together with All Saint’s Church, Friern Barnet and Palmers Green Mosque on Mitzvah Day. The communities supported Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice, Homeless Action in Barnet and Edmonton Food Bank. Religion School pupils supported Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice. They took part in the charity’s Guinness World Record bunting challenge and collected much-needed food and stationery items which the charity will use for family and siblings activity days. Head Teacher Roz Levenson said: “Lots of excitement filled the air this morning as the children spent time creating bunting to support Noah’s Ark’s bunting challenge. Hopefully their creative artwork and messages of support will make a cheery welcome display when the hospice building opens. Piaget says that all learning should be meaningful to children and what better way to be learning how to perform a mitzvah than to do something, hands on. Experiencing first-hand the feeling of doing and giving is so rewarding for all involved. All our pupils and staff had a rich and rewarding Mitzvah Day helping to create memories for many years to come”. Carmel Gayle, aged 10 years said: “Amazing activities and fun to do, whilst helping others to have fun too”. Hope Baker – 9 years said: “It was very exciting being able to put all my different ideas into the Bunting decorating, and it looked very pretty”
During the morning many members took part in an interfaith initiative with members of All Saints Friern Barnet and Palmers Green Mosque. The project involved the collection, delivery and sorting of non-perishable food items that were generously donated by shoppers at Waitrose, Whetstone. The donated items will be given to Homeless Action in Barnet and Edmonton Food Bank. Caroline Rose, Sha’arei Tsedek Mitzvah Day Volunteer Co-ordinator said: “It was great that so many people wanted to help in any way they could. The staff at Waitrose were extremely helpful and it was lovely having volunteers from All Saints Church and the Palmers Green Mosque alongside us. Many customers seemed to appreciate and enjoy the fact that ours was a joint project with local Muslim and Christian communities.” Fellow Mitzvah Day Volunteer Candy Newman said, “I was amazed at all the food and other goods that were collected. People at Waitrose were so generous. It was wonderful to be part of a joint venture with All Saints Church and Palmers Green mosque and so great to get to know each other as we sorted out the food.”
After a big build up, Mitzvah Day in Leeds, organised and co-ordinated by a team from many parts of the Leeds Jewish community, was as successful as the organisers had hoped – so much so that Leeds has been recognised by Mitzvah Day by being awarded the Mitzvah Day Impact Award.
Simon Phillips and Sara Saunders said: “Mitzvah Day has been great from start to finish. Thanks to all the Knitters and Natters for teaching Fabian Hamilton, MP how to knit and for their hard work for soldiers and their families in Israel. Thanks to the residents and staff from Lynda Cohen House and Burton House for the lovely and warm atmosphere. Thanks to Vanessa Glass for valiantly collecting outside The Kosherie in the freezing cold for the North Leeds Kosher Food Bank. Thanks to everyone who litter-picked in Harehills to show the strength of interfaith co-operation. A huge thank you from Sara and Simon for everyone’s valuable help”.
Sinai Synagogue’s assistant rabbi, Esther Hugenholtz, added: “What a fantastic interfaith Mitzvah Day event today! The Zone was abuzz with Muslim friends from Makkah Masjid Leeds, the Hamara Centre, the Baab Ul Ilm Leeds, Grand Central Mosque and our Christian friends from St. John’s Church. It was heart-warming to see the solidarity of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities who came together to support the most vulnerable in our midst; a message of unity and love so much needed in today’s world. We collected car loads full of food and toiletries for refugees, wrapped mountains of gifts for terminally ill as well as refugee children, made cards, knitted blankets and made new friends. Thank you all who came to help out, who helped plan, promote and organise this great event (with a special mention of Susie Gordon, Gwynneth Lewis and Pippa Brook). We from the Mitzvah Day team are so proud of you all! Let’s do it again next year!
Gwynneth Lewis said: “The generosity of Leeds faith groups is astounding. Three car loads of food donated for the North Leeds Food Bank, and more still arriving. This was just one day – imagine what we can do in a year!” And from Susie Gordon: “Well done everyone! I’m already looking forward to next year – I’m sure there is still plenty more we can do. It’s great being part of this community, which takes it as normal to help others. So far, we’ve collected exactly 200 creative gifts to the Leeds General Infirmary, for sick children, over 100 children’s toys to Palm Cove, a huge box of toiletries, and about 4 car loads of food. I think in total our Mitzvah Day event will help around 1000 people.” Speaking of the Impact Award from Mitzvah Day, Sara Saunders said: “It’s a wonderful recognition of what we do and the way in which we expand our work year on year. It’s been great to see people from several mosques as well as from St John’s Church being part of Mitzvah Day Leeds. May we go from strength to strength, making Mitzvah Day into a part of our daily lives”.