Why Mitzvah Day is a must for London

November 11, 2010 14:21

It has become the fashion in recent times to talk in almost reverent terms of the importance of the volunteer in our society, the unheralded army of committed people who give freely of themselves to make their local streets and neighbourhoods better places to live and work.

In City Hall, we feel we have been at the head of the curve when it comes to the importance of celebrating and supporting the difference that volunteering can make. Even before he was elected Mayor of London, Boris Johnson made a firm commitment to establish a Mayor’s Fund for London to provide funding support to voluntary sector organisations improving the life chances of young people in London.

And under the Chairmanship of Sir Trevor Chinn, the Mayor’s Fund has secured over £7 million of funding commitments in its first year, a monumental achievement in these difficult economic times. Projects we are supporting through the fund include City Year London, bringing together 18-25 year olds who spend 10 months as full-time volunteers, dedicated to improving the lives of young Londoners through mentoring, tutoring and after school support in primary schools.

But to make a difference it isn’t all about the money – crucial though it is. This is why the Mayor is again supporting Mitzvah Day next week. The commitment of the Jewish community to voluntary activities is well-known, and it is that active community spirit that we want to replicate across London. Sometimes it is all too easy to forget that the most precious commodity any of us can offer to improve the lives of those around us isn't the money in our pockets, but the time that we can give. That is the essence of Mitzvah Day, bringing people together for social action in the common good.

And this year this is made all the more special by the fact that many of the projects are multi-faith, coinciding with the Hindu community’s first National Sewa Day, so that at the London Jewish Day School in Willesden Jewish, Hindu and Christian will be packing donated items into boxes for delivery to homeless shelters. Or at the Krishna Avanti School in Edgware, where Jewish and Hindu children will be making and sending cards and gifts to children in local hospitals.

This is precisely the spirit we wish to encourage, and under this Mayor of London we will always support those activities that bring people from all communities together - not least people of different faiths. We are all too aware that for many people of faith, it is that very faith that motivates them to ever greater resourcefulness in their efforts to serve – more often than not without any help from the taxpayer.

So if that means sharing faith through your work, that’s absolutely fine. We shouldn’t be unduly concerned about everything that hints at religious advocacy. On the contrary, we should be looking to embrace it where possible in the spirit of mutually-shared goals and aspirations. This could be working at the local level through volunteering and other acts of charity, to the wider world for which we all share responsibility – a world which we will all too soon be welcoming to London.

In less than two years time our city plays host to the greatest show on earth, the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and we need you to be a part of it by becoming a London Ambassador. We are looking for 8,000 volunteers from all over our city to be deployed at 35 locations across the capital - at airports, station concourses, tourist attractions and near Games venues - to provide a personalised, passionate and knowledgeable visitor experience. And in 2012, when the world comes to London and realises from its welcome that London is its home from home, we will know that we have succeeded.

It is absolutely clear to us in City Hall that volunteering can be the most valuable of experiences for all involved, and the GLA website has more details of how you can play your part in helping your community.

So whether it’s making Chanukah or Christmas cards for our soldiers serving in Afghanistan, hosting visitors to London in 2012 or simply offering to be a vessel for the community good in some other way, I urge Londoners to bring the spirit of Mitzvah Day to our whole city!

Richard Barnes is the deputy mayor of London

November 11, 2010 14:21

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