We Jews need to get the message across that we want to make the world a better place, not just for ourselves but for everyone. Luckily, the wonderful Mitzvah Day is coming round again as the perfect opportunity to do just that. The brother of a non-Jewish friend of my daughter was talking about it today as if it was part of the national calendar.
He didn't know what a mitzvah was or even where the day originated from but used the word as part of his lexicon, not unlike how people use "chutzpah" or "kosher". I wanted to explain that the word mitzvah incorporates the meaning of performing a righteous and a loving deed.
Mitzvah Day is described as "a Jewish-led day of social action. On it, around the world, thousands of people take part in hands-on projects, without fundraising, to support charities and to build stronger communities."
Last year, I stood outside my local Tesco asking people to purchase some extra food or clothing to donate to the homeless of Camden and for the hostels desperate to try to reduce the hunger and cold on the streets. We were an eclectic mix of people, ranging in age, colour and creed but we all wanted the same thing. To make a difference, no matter how humble.
That is one of the main characteristics of Mitzvah Day - its complete egalitarianism. No matter what a person's wealth, status, health, gender or nationality, all are able to do something positive for another human being.
We were an eclectic mix but we all wanted the same thing
So often, being Jewish these days is synonymous with Israel-bashing, so it is lovely to have the idea of our word "mitzvah" travelling into the ether and entering the public consciousness. Then there are the interfaith opportunities it presents. Watching Hindu temples, churches, mosques and synagogues team up and work together in doing a "mitzvah" makes me smile.
The play I am currently appearing in, Earthquakes in London, is all about environmental devastation and as a result I have become hyper-aware of the predictions of scientist and futurologist, James Lovelock, who offers a very grim prognosis for the planet and its inhabitants due to global warming. As I look around for a way to become part of the solution, rather than the problem, I notice that Mitzvah Day also offers the chance to do that.
Every community that applies for it will get the opportunity to grow its own herbs, be it parsley for the Seder plate, chives for cream-cheese bagels or rosemary for Shabbat roast potatoes. Mitzvah Day organisers will send each body two pots of the herbs of their choice to start the gardens that hopefully will grow and flourish into larger concerns.
A tiny drop in the ocean, you might think, and Lovelock may still raise his eyes in despair. But just to get every person on the planet aware of the need to protect our turf, make it more sustainable and to love it and nurture it, is a mitzvah in itself.