'If we all did this we would be in a better place'


Looking at the joyful photos of this year's Mitzvah Day, you might well say a picture is worth a thousand words. But some photos do not tell the whole story, as is the case with the photos taken by volunteer Sarah Ezekiel at the Mitzvah Day event she organised at the Marie Curie hospice.

These images were not snapped on her iPhone 6, instead Ms Ezekiel used special software that allowed her to take pictures using her eyes, one of the only parts of her body she can still move.

Ms Ezekiel has Motor Neurone Disease. She is paralysed from the neck down and can no longer speak, yet she has organised volunteering projects at the hospice, where she attends day therapy, since 2011.

Inclusive volunteering is a value central to the Mitzvah Day ethos, the idea being that everybody, no matter what disability they have, can be involved in the day. Using the same eye-recognition software to type on a tablet fixed to her wheelchair, Ms Ezekiel, 49, shared her story.

"I was diagnosed with MND 14 years ago and I don't think I would be alive today without the hospice. It's my second home, so it's nice to give something back," said the mother of two.

Friends of Ms Ezekiel, Camden councillors and members of Belsize Square Synagogue made up the 15-strong group who tidied the Hampstead hospice's garden.

Hospice fundraising manager Arlene Main said: "Without volunteers we cannot provide half the services we do."

The same is true of the volunteers who help out at Norwood's Kennedy Leigh Centre where a host of Mitzvah Day projects took place.

The centre provides a nursery, holiday schemes and family support for children with learning disabilities.

Children from Norrice Lea, Edgware United and Edgware Reform synagogues got involved in making Shabbat mats and decorating plant pots for Norwood's residential home, Ravenswood Village, before snacking on goodies donated for the volunteers by local delis. In one room pupils from JFS and Hasmonean Girls painted canvas panels to decorate the Jewish Women's Refuge.

Gloria Stoll, who has been on staff for 23 years, said: "Our hope is that the children who come here today will learn about our services and help us do the wonderful work we do."

Michael Keperberg, 44, receives support from the charity and works in the Kennedy Leigh centre's café.

"I am a barista, I work the coffee machine," he says, demonstrating how he works all of the shiny knobs and levers of the espresso machine.

Mr Keperberg has helped out with Mitzvah Day for a number of years.

"I really enjoy it. It is important for the Jewish community to come in and enjoy themselves. Then they can see what Norwood does and raise money and awareness for the charity," he said.

Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue members got stuck in with shears and shovels at Woodcock Hill Village Green as one of a multitude of projects organised by the shul.

Fifty volunteers from the Woodcock Hill Village Green committee, Hertsmere council, the youth council and youth groups joined forces to remove litter and tidy up the village green.

Hertsmere council leader Sandra Parnell, 74, is a member of the Borehamwood and Elstree synagogue and treasurer of the Woodcock Hill Village Green. She said: "People are always ready to help. People of all religions get to know each other. If everybody did this we would be in a better place."

Back at Borehamwood and Elstree shul around 70 children got messy making greeting cards and loom bands as gifts for children in hospital, and painted bunting for the new Noah's Ark children's hospice. Community members donated over 400 pairs of shoes and old football kits to charity, while other congregants contributed their culinary skills to homeless women's shelter Townsend House, where a rota of 12 volunteers spent two weeks cooking meals for residents.

Lauren Schogger co-ordinated Borehamwood and Elstree synagogue's 15 Mitzvah Day projects. "We analysed every project to see if it would appeal to people in the community. I wanted to get people who perhaps don't usually get involved in things."

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