Mitzvah Day: A day of action with ever-broadening appeal


As key Mitzvah Day personnel enjoyed its awards party at JW3 in Finchley Road on Sunday night, the breadth of the reach of the social action enterprise was all-pervading.

The screening of video messages from organisers in Australia, Poland and Ukraine was evidence of its global take up - it has been adopted in two dozen countries.

Award recipients reflected how the UK programme crosses religious boundaries and involves Jews of all shades of observance from communities large and tiny. Those honoured ranged from Bradford Reform to Watford Grammar and from Dublin Progressive to JLGB. There was also a company award for Dropbox.

Before the party, JW3 had been a hive of Mitzvah Day activity, hosting a varied programme that drew more than 1,000 people through its doors.

Raymond Simonson, JW3's chief executive, reported enthusiastic multifaith support, in particular for a drive to provide winter survival packages for the homeless. Savvy contributors had taken advantage of a Sainsbury's Nectar card promotion to double their contribution. "People have been turning up with carrier bags full of new gloves, socks and toothbrushes," he said.

Mitzvah Day in numbers

40,000 participants worldwide
25,000 UK volunteers
150,000 hours volunteered globally
380 UK Mitzvah Day venues
1,200 UK Mitzvah Day projects
80 interfaith activities
8 faiths involved

Jewish, Muslim and Hindu women had knitted squares for blankets for refugees. Volunteers wrapped gifts for Camp Simcha's toy drive. There had been challah baking for a church welfare project.

"People are not just sitting down singing Kumbaya. They're saying 'we're going to work together to do something for the greater good'."

For Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks, a long day had started at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue launching a social action project for young people. She then joined Alyth Reform chefs in Golders Green preparing food for a church winter shelter.

In Primrose Hill, she met Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who was helping South Hampstead Synagogue members deliver clothing to a shelter run by St Mary's Church.

Ms Marks then went into central London, where an interfaith group was collecting toiletries in Oxford Street. Heading back north-west, she took in activities at JW3, as well as a singalong at the Clara Nehab care home with Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev. To make the Australian-born envoy feel at ease, "we sang Waltzing Matilda".

She attributes the enduring appeal of Mitzvah Day to it "making people feel good. We are in a climate where we need that."

Particular emphasis this year has been placed on helping refugees.

"Our role is not to get involved in the politics but to show them kindness.

"The many interfaith projects bring people together who have never met before. I love the good feeling, the smiles."

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