Hawkshead honoured at Mitzvah Day awards for 'outstanding' interfaith programmes

The awards marked 10 years of Mitzvah Day


Hawkshead could hardly be described as a hotbed of Jewish life. The tiny Cumbrian village is, however, an example of how Mitzvah Day can bring together people from all faiths and none to work for the greater good.

And on Tuesday night, Hawkshead was honoured for the outstanding Mitzvah Day programme of 2018 at the charity’s awards ceremony, held at JW3 in Finchley Road and hosted by broadcaster Nick Ferrari.

Hawkshead invited 160 Syrian refugees for a day of family-friendly events ranging from bell ringing and hill walking to a Lake Windermere cruise. The refugees — brought in from throughout the county on a fleet of buses — taught the locals some Arabic dance moves.

Residents became as emotional as their guests as they saw people renew acquaintance in the village square, having last been together in refugee camps.

It is testimony to the scope of Mitzvah Day — now involving 40,000 people worldwide — that other shortlisted projects were from communities as diverse as Borehamwood and Elstree United and Peterborough Liberal.

Hawkshead project leader Abigail Mann, who also received the individual award, is actually a St Albans Masorti member but has a home in the village.

The solicitor and legal lecturer told the JC that the community had got behind the ambitious initiative. “Everything was donated. Nobody gave a penny.

“As a Syrian refugee, you don’t know you have come to a special place [Cumbria]. We wanted to make them feel that.

“It was much bigger than we intended because the need was so great. Just writing the thank you letters afterwards took six weeks.”

The day had been “life-changing for the community, the volunteers and refugees” and further activities had resulted.

Judith Dixon, wife of the local vicar, said Mitzvah Day was now an established part of Hawkshead life, although residents were more likely to refer to it as “green bunting day”.

She added: “Our currency is kindness. We opened our arms to welcome refugees.”

The JC is partnered with Mitzvah Day and award winners were voted for by readers. Others honoured on the night included Bushey United Synagogue for its year-round programme, incorporating collections, cooking for the needy and projects in partnership with other religious communities.

Manchester’s Friendship Circle took the prize for outstanding interfaith partnership (with the Muslim community and a Sikh group). Akiva School in Finchley won the youth achievement award and Neder Barcelona topped the international category. A special achievement award was presented to another St Albans Masorti congregant, Nick Grant.

On Mitzvah Day’s tenth anniversary, there was also a surprise award for its founder and chair, Laura Marks.

In a message of congratulation, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis wrote: “It is rare for one person to set in motion an idea that within a short space of time changes our world.

“You started with a small idea that has captured the imagination of many thousands of people. Mitzvah Day has done a great deal to promote inter-religious engagement and has encouraged countless people to selflessly perform the mitzvah of chesed through kind and considerate acts.

“No words are adequate to express our gratitude for your contribution to Judaism and our wider society.”

Ms Marks said afterwards that she was still surprised when people relayed to her the impact Mitzvah Day had on charities and communities. “The project co-ordinators are amazing in turning ideas into reality.”

In a video message, Home Secretary Sajid Javid described Mitzvah Day as “a beacon of hope — and you are its beating heart. Perhaps you can even sort out Brexit…”


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