To appreciate the breadth of Mitzvah Day activities, you need to experience some of its projects first hand. So with Mitzvah Day committee member Ruth Smilg as my chauffeur and guide, I embarked on a whistlestop tour of events in the capital.
First up was the “collectathon” at New North London Synagogue in Finchley, where at 10am, the hall was filled with an ever-growing pile of clothes, shoes, food, toiletries and stationery.
Helping to sort the mountain of donations was volunteer Emma Ackerman, a 37-year-old mother-of-three and recent recruit to the shul. “I want to be involved because I like the idea of feeling you are doing something good for the wider community,” she said. “It’s nice to know friends and family are doing similar projects.”
Then it was on to Finchley Reform, where cheder pupils were involved in a variety of projects. For example, year five and six children were donning coats and wellies for a trip to the nearby Long Lane Pastures to plant bluebells which 10-year-old Jonathan Tabbush said would “improve the environment. I think Mitzvah Day is really important because everyone needs to express themselves in different ways and it is good to help other people.”
Other children were busily making Chanucah decorations for local care home Rubens House and mezuzah cases to send to Belarus.
At Hampstead Garden Suburb, one of many United synagogues signing up to the day for the first time, organiser Sarah Callman said she had been shocked last year to discover that the shul did not take part in Mitzvah Day. So she had taken it on herself to co-ordinate the introductory programme.
More than 120 children were enjoying activities including decorating 200 biscuits destined for three homeless shelters in north-west London. They also created 145 hospital gowns for Blue Peter’s Operation Smile and 200 challah cloths to send to Belarus. The 500 books bound for African schools were each personalised with a card.
The final stop was South Hampstead Synagogue where organisers had a carefully co-ordinated factory line of volunteers unloading, sorting and packing donations.
By the end of the day, more than 150 volunteers — among them actress Tracy-Ann Oberman — had helped to collect 250 bin-bags of clothes to be donated to welfare organisations.
Meanwhile, 20 teens from South Hampstead Youth were digging away at the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, planting daffodil bulbs in the garden. And over 20 people joined a singalong at Jewish Care’s Kay Court.