'Symbolises community spirit': Keir Starmer joins Mitzvah Day in Hampstead
- Credit: Tom Pullen
People of all faiths and none gathered in north London to help those in need on Mitzvah Day.
On Sunday (November 21), more than 25,000 volunteers around the UK, and 40,000 globally got involved in the interfaith day of social action.
Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer joined Mitzvah Day chief executive Georgina Bye for a food collection project at South Hampstead Synagogue and helped children litter-pick the surrounding streets.
He told the Ham&High: “It's lovely to be back. I’m very fond of this synagogue, and have always been very warmly welcomed whenever I’ve come here, both for celebratory events but also when awful things happen, such as racist graffiti in the area.
“Having just done the street around the corner, which looked relatively clean when we started, we’ve come back with two bags of rubbish and you realise how much there is.
“If these kids can go out and help clean up, then the adults can stop dropping the litter in the first place.”
The Labour leader has supported the day of social action for many years.
Sir Keir said: “Mitzvah Day symbolises that whole community spirit, where people give what they can and it’s distributed to those who need it as we lead up to the Christmas period. It marks something very real.
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“I look forward to the day when we don’t have to distribute food to people in Camden because whilst it’s a fantastic thing to do, it is also a reminder that too many families in our communities rely on food like this, and that is not a healthy sign of Britain in the 21st century.”
Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks, from Primrose Hill, said: “This year, coming back together felt essential. Whilst the pandemic has seen an outflowing of love and kindness, it has also revealed and exacerbated tensions, which working together for the common good defuses.
"As a local resident, it is wonderful to see people of different faiths and backgrounds people coming together in Hampstead and Highgate."
South Hampstead Synagogue Rabbi Eli Levin said Sir Keir's involvement is “very genuine”.
He said: “He takes Mitzvah Day on 365 days a year. He is with us and our community members on Mitzvah Day and beyond.”
Synagogue member Doris Hugh was on hand to sort toiletries and food donated for food banks and handbags for Afghan refuges.
The South Hampstead High School teacher said: "It brings people together - they’re working for a purpose. It’s a real community effort.”
In Childs Hill, volunteers planted 22 cherry trees donated by the Japan Association of Great Britain, as well as daffodil, iris and snowdrop bulbs.
Friends of Child Hill Park chair Ingrid Posen said: “Today has gone beautifully. We've had so many people, about 60 and 70, and lots of children, which we really wanted.”
Outside Marks & Spencer and Waitrose in Temple Fortune, volunteers collected tins and toiletries for Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen, the charity Gift, and Barnet Refugee Service.
Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue member Jeremy Callman said: “It’s amazing, we’ve had people drive back home to bring us tins they have accumulated over lockdown and didn’t use. It’s where you see the best of society.”
Fellow volunteer Robert Kastner said: “There are less people out and about but more people giving.
“I think after the two years we have been through, it makes people more aware of the plight of the needy. It’s a wonderful, wonderful day.”
This year’s Mitzvah Day received support from senior rabbis, imams and bishops, as well as politicians.
Prime minister Boris Johnson: “I am filled with so much pride to see the thousands of volunteers who every year donate their time to do something positive for their communities."
He added: “Mitzvah Day encourages people from all faiths and backgrounds to come together to bring about social action, and this Jewish-led day is an excellent example of the generosity and good spirit of the British public."