Government teams up with Mitzvah Day

By Jessica Elgot, November 24, 2011
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Theo Brass, Otto Terry and Ellis Wantman baking biscuits at Belsize Square Synagogue for care home residents

Theo Brass, Otto Terry and Ellis Wantman baking biscuits at Belsize Square Synagogue for care home residents

Mitzvah Day will have joint responsibility for a national Year of Service in 2012, when each of the country's major faiths will hold their own day of social action.

Founder Laura Marks said Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had been impressed by Mitzvah Day and similar initiatives and wanted the government to get on board.

The Mitzvah Day office will run the scheme with the Department for Communities and Local Government, working with other faiths.

"We hope that it can be something easily included into the religious calendars of each faith," Ms Marks said. "Christians already collect food for the homeless on Harvest Festival. Muslim communities can run the day on Eid." The Hindu community already has Sewa Day, which was inspired by its Jewish equivalent.

High roller: Daniel Taub at the hospice

High roller: Daniel Taub at the hospice

This year's Mitzvah Day involved 25,000 volunteers from 280 organisations. The vast majority were in the UK although activities spanned four continents. There were more than 800 projects and an estimated 40 tonnes of non-perishable goods and clothing were collected for homeless and refugee charities.

Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub brought three of his children to the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, where volunteers also including the Chief Rabbi and other religious leaders painted two of the rooms and planted daffodils.

Mr Taub said he and his wife Zehava, daughter Sophie and sons Asher and Amichai were ready to "roll up our sleeves and put in some elbow grease" on their first Mitzvah Day. "This is a wonderful way to reach out to people," he said. "In Israel we go to help whenever there is a natural disaster and we find that helps build our relationships with others."

Lord Sacks described Mitzvah Day as "a Jewish imperative. It's one of the loveliest days of the year."

Among activities held in 20 countries, the Lubsko, Poland, community organised a clean up of an old Jewish cemetery and Barcelona residents collected for the national food bank.

"Mitzvah Day continues to go from strength to strength," Ms Marks said. "It is now firmly established in the Jewish calendar as a day on which we are all able to come together to make a difference to our own community, our friends, our neighbours and the strangers within our gates."

    Last updated: 1:59pm, November 25 2011