Who would have imagined that just eight years ago Mitzvah Day would be the worldwide movement it has become with more than 35,000 people making a meaningful difference to a range of causes, issues and charities?
Yes, I did have a vision of Jewish people of all denominations around the globe collectively and simultaneously saying “yes” to social action side by side with members of other faiths, but concept and reality don’t always merge. The concept morphed into a vibrant reality because of its profound simplicity that has magically captured the imagination of thousands of participants internally wired with a yearning to do good through their actions rather than just their money. As a Jewish people, this value is engraved in our DNA and while we retain our heritage, values and practices we also actively engage to make the world around us a better place.
At this time of year, when we honour the anniversary of our exodus, we’re gifted a valuable reminder to savour our religious, spiritual and physical freedoms — even our economic ones that enforce responsibility but nevertheless still provide us with free personal choice. Pesach prompts us to reflect on our period of suffering and as a consequence allows us to be sensitised and responsive to the hardships and challenges still faced by many in present times.
And that’s exactly what Mitzvah Day exists to do — continuously and year-round. Mitzvah Day is not a one-day-a-year campaign even though the day itself remains our jewel in the crown and the focal point in our calendar year.
At “Mitzvah Day 365” things have evolved with Mitzvah Day itself providing a springboard for further social good, acting as a catalyst for wider-reaching engagement, affecting and involving more people than ever before and importantly, building healthier local communities and long-lasting relationships.
In 2014, our practical hands-on local projects now assist year-round in alleviating pressing social issues such as the isolation and loneliness of older people and homelessness and hunger — both in terms of Jews collectively and also, increasingly and specifically, Jews in partnership with other faith communities.
For example, in preparation for Pesach this year, more than a dozen Mitzvah Day partner projects repeated their 2013 Mitzvah Day Sunshine to Seniors, and seasonally revised Give Away Your Chametz projects.
On both issues, the statistics are sobering, the social triggers complex and the old-fashioned stereotypes that some uphold, unhelpful, which is why there’s a need for year-round engagement.
Both issues, isolation and local hunger, feature high in many local communities and our projects create awareness and embolden individuals, community organisations of faith or not, offices, schools and social groups to get involved.
So for those senior residents of care homes who don’t have friends or family to visit at this time of year, our activists have taken it upon themselves to fill that gap, to build these relationships and in some way allow some of our most vulnerable members of community to feel cared for.
Likewise, community groups committed to Give Away your Chametz, busily collected unwanted chametz and donated it either to a food bank or homeless shelter. Some were existing “Give Away Your Lunch” projects while others used the opportunity to establish a new connection with a local community food bank or shelter.
Significantly, our projects also shape the way participants feel, think and live, which means it’s very much a reciprocal experience.
The Jewish way is the doing, action way. It’s a bit like the infectious nature of a smile or giggle, each action and mitzvah leads to the next. This is why Mitzvah Day 365 will continue to value inclusivity, unite local groups, build lasting relationships and healthy communities across all faiths and backgrounds and, true to character, continue to show tens of thousands of people a route into hands-on action every single day of every year.