Why interfaith collaboration matters more than ever

Mitzvah Day provides the ideal opportunity to interact with people from other faiths


Mitzvah Day is an ideal opportunity to meet and interact with people of different faiths

“Od yavo shalom aleinu, ve’al kulam (Peace will come upon us, and on everyone)” (Mosh Ben-Ari)

Last summer, Mitzvah Day adopted the theme "Repairing the World," a call to action that resonated deeply. Little did we know then just how profound that need for repair would become and just how much repair would be needed.

The events of October 7 changed everything.

As we pray for the return of the hostages and mourn the loss of all those innocents in both Israel and Gaza – and in the other conflicts happening around the world – the challenges we face can seem monumental.

At home, we are encountering an unprecedented rise in antisemitism, threats to our synagogues and schools, constant online abuse and the sinking feeling that we need to hide our Judaism in public.

This surge in antisemitism could understandably lead the Jewish community to withdraw and limit interfaith engagement, particularly with Muslim communities.

These are urges we must fight. Instead, it is crucial to remember the importance of our ongoing work with other faith groups.

As the lyrics from Israeli singer Mosh Ben-Ari at the start of this piece remind us, we have a duty to play an active, participatory role in peacebuilding.

The post October 7 landscape needs us – more than ever – to navigate interfaith spaces with bravery, honesty, and the belief that when we find each other, when we see each other’s humanity, that we start Repairing the World.

Recent events continue to give me hope that no matter what is happening in the Middle East, our interfaith work will not be derailed in the UK.

I have been lucky enough to be invited to various interfaith Iftars and Seders across the country – including at Brighton and Hove Albion FC’s Amex Stadium, where people of all faiths and beliefs came together to form a community of communities, break bread and celebrate Iftar together.

There were Ramadan fast-breaking events held inside synagogues, with Muslim and Jewish volunteers cooking and eating together – bonding over all the things we have in common. The Iftar at Finchley Progressive Synagogue was part of a campaign for free bus travel for asylum seekers – with speakers from both faiths united in this most worthy of causes.

Then there were the Mitzvah Day Awards, which we celebrated last week. Held at South Hampstead Synagogue, the ceremony defied expectations and was a joyous gathering filled with warmth and the spirit of friendship.

We were blown away by the number of Muslim, Christian Hindu, and other faith and belief guests who came to join us. There were as many reverends as there were rabbis; multi-faith groups of women bonded in friendship, and a moving speech about the power of interfaith work from Muslim campaigner Julie Siddiqi MBE brought a tear to many eyes.

The most heartwarming part? They weren't just there for the awards – they were there to celebrate the achievements of their Jewish friends. It was a true testament to friendship and community spirit.

The continued power of Mitzvah Day is that it provides participants with the tools to not only support charities, but to create new friendships, often with people whom they would otherwise have no opportunity to meet. We know our 2024 theme must focus on the need to strengthen our communities and once again volunteer side-by-side.

Fostering understanding between faiths can be a complex task. A recent opinion piece in this newspaper raised concerns about Jewish leaders engaging in interfaith dialogue with their Muslim counterparts. Similarly, some within the Muslim community have voiced disapproval through online platforms, fearing such efforts could be seen as condoning certain viewpoints. Despite these challenges, interfaith work offers a powerful path towards building bridges and fostering a more inclusive society.

In light of these challenges, it's even more important to strengthen our interfaith efforts and continue celebrating the positive impact we can make together, through practical action, to heal and unite our communities.

Stuart Diamond is CEO of Mitzvah Day

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