Opinion: Mitzvah Day celebrates ‘shared values’

Laura Marks OBE, founder and chair of Mitzvah Day was 'Going Green' on Sunday for the interfaith day

Laura Marks OBE, founder and chair of Mitzvah Day was 'Going Green' on Sunday for the interfaith day of social action. - Credit: Archant

I don’t normally spend my Sunday mornings with a trowel in my hand but having spent this one at digging and planting, I might change my mind.

This weekend was Mitzvah Day, the Jewish led interfaith day of social action and our theme, was Going Greener.

All around the country, and particularly here in north London, thousands of people got together to plant, clear, recycle, reuse and redistribute in projects designed not only to focus on the environment but, crucially to do it with our neighbours.

Mitzvah Day is based on shared values and starts in the faith communities. It is inclusive and positive, bringing people from different faiths and backgrounds together to do good deeds (Mitzvahs) locally.

Every year people turn out in their thousands to commit a day (or often more) to local charities which need us.

We are all responsible for our local communities and getting together for the day leads, in my experience, to ever increasing levels of commitment

The focus on the environment this year was a first for us but looking at the pictures "flooding" in over social media, I realise just how much people they can actually do.

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We encouraged the use of recycled materials, walking to projects, wearing old T-shirts and reducing waste.

People rolled up their sleeves, found their old trowel or spade, purchased some bulbs and gardening gloves and made our world a bit greener. Volunteers planted trees, bulbs in pots to donate to a care home, or even simple foods

This was most certainly out of my comfort zone. I've hardly planted a thing in my life having grown up in urban north London, but I found something utterly satisfying and positive about putting on my gloves (protecting my nails!), and helping to make things grow.

Most important, however, was volunteering with people I don't normally meet.

We were welcomed with open arms at the Al Khoei centre where, with the Chief Rabbi, Dr Sheikh Ramzy and Ayatollah Dr Sayyid Fadhel H Al-Milan and families with teens right down to toddlers, we planted a fig and an apple tree plus dozens of beautiful flowers.

Then on to the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association in Finchley, newly rebuilt after an arson attack by the EDL several years ago, to plant their pristine flower beds promising to return in the spring to see the result.

Our next stop was the Markaz Hippodrome Islamic Centre in Golders Green, at the heart of an acrimonious planning battle yet delighted to come and plant bulbs in biodegradable cups with the Muslim and Jewish women from Nisa-Nashim in an act of building new friendships.

My day ended, as every year with a singalong, this year at Mora Burnett House in Swiss Cottage. With members of Shir Hyim synagogue who had baked the cakes, we danced, we sang and we laughed with the residents showing, yet again, just how much joy we can bring to people who may feel low, and how much fun we can have in the process.

Mitzvah Day is once a year but its impact and the projects last all year round.