Word on the street: There is no better way to break down barriers than to share food


- Credit: Archant

There’s always one moment on Mitzvah Day that brings everything home to you.

For me it was standing in JW3 – the Jewish community centre in Finchley Road – making soup for people who are homeless.

To the right of me was Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey. To the left, Labour MP Tulip Siddiq. We were surrounded by Jewish, Muslim and Christian volunteers, including two imams and the Dean of Camden.

They say you should never talk about politics and religion. But we did and found out how much we had in common as we made soup, vegetable curry, cucumber raita and apple crumble under the watchful eye of Daniela Pears, our interfaith chair.

Earlier that day I had a similar experience but, this time, at the UK’s largest mosque – in Whitechapel – where Mitzvah Day and Muslim Aid brought together 100 Jewish and Muslim volunteers to make 1,000 portions of a traditional Jewish chicken soup using Halal chickens.

It was another eye-opener as a Muslim scout group and congregants from the mosque genuinely mixed with Jews of similar ages, from youth groups and a nearby synagogue, who they would never have met otherwise, all while providing much needed sustenance for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

A local Muslim catering company, Elite, were so enthusiastic about the project they donated all the ingredients (including 90 chickens), as well as their time and expertise.

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Together around the country, including at JW3, we made 2,500 portions of chicken or vegetarians/vegan soup – a record amount. All of it was delivered to homeless shelters, often along with clothing or homemade cards explaining about Mitzvah Day, how the soup had been made and sending the diners warmth and good wishes.

Throughout the day I was joined by members of my family – just as I was at the 2002 event in America that inspired Mitzvah Day (see picture) – feeling the same excitement at seeing faith principles put into practice as we did back then.

Many of our 2018 events were interfaith, where people from each faith community taking part may never have spoken to a Jewish, Christian Muslim person before, let alone chopped vegetables alongside them.

But, as I saw with my own eyes, all left with a greater understanding of the other and many swappd numbers to continue the friendships they had formed. This is what Mitzvah Day is all about, bringing people together through social action to fulfil the real need in today’s world of breaking down barriers.

Hampstead will always be special to me. It was where Mitzvah Day first began and where we have our offices today. This region is a real melting pot and a place where faiths really do meet and break down a lot of the mistrust and prejudice that, after all, often comes from the unknown.

Over the last 10 years we have been exporting that message all over the country – encouraging people to get to know their neighbours.

And what better way than through making a bowl of soup?