When Laura Marks established Mitzvah Day in the UK, she had “no idea it would take off like it has”. The key factor has been its inclusivity, Ms Marks reflected as the 2018 version was launched with activities at Norwood’s Kennedy Leigh Centre in Hendon.
“It’s all about people doing things for the charities that need us — and for charities that are important to us,” she told supporters.
Norwood exemplified the “loving kindness” Mitzvah Day aimed to foster and the charity had been involved from the outset as “a solid, dependable, engaged partner”.
Mitzvah Day this year celebrates its tenth anniversary as a charity (and its barmitzvah year, based on its first activities).
It now involves around 40,000 people and, speaking to the JC, Ms Marks identified its strength as “allowing everyone in”, from primary school age to the most senior citizens and from every faith and none.
“It gives everyone the structure and format to do something. Norwood service users are doing it today, planting flowers and making coasters [for use within the centre]. It shows that whoever you are, you can do a mitzvah for someone else.”
After adopting specific themes in recent times, it would be “back to basics” this year, she added. “What is the main thing about Mitzvah Day? It’s about acts of kindness. They make a difference when you put them all together.”
There would also be increased collaboration with the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, marking the centenary of the end of the First World War. Volunteers would be sent out to support the Ajex parade, which falls on the Mitzvah Day weekend.
Although some of those at the Kennedy Leigh event were young adults volunteering for the first time, others spoke of involvement dating back to Mitzvah Day’s inception.
Norwood volunteer ambassador Glo Stoll recalled thinking “what a wonderful idea” when first hearing about the initiative. “We started off with a small band of volunteers. Last year we had 200 doing so many activities. It teaches young people the meaning of doing a good deed.
“A good percentage of volunteers who started with Mitzvah day have stayed with us. Without volunteers, Norwood could not exist. And volunteers are our donors and trustees of the future.”
Helen Abrams was a Mitzvah Day pioneer in Liverpool, helping to organise the first events locally. Now a teacher at Moriah Jewish Day School in Pinner and a leader at Mill Hill JLGB, she encourages the young to get involved.
“It’s very important to show others that the Jewish community is not isolated,” she said. “We play a major role in British society.”
Photo Credit : Yakir Zur
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