Laura Marks: Our work is now more vital than ever

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Laura Marks, Mitzvah Day Founder and Chair, writes:

Although Mitzvah Day is a charity that operates all year round, it’s this time of year when things start getting very busy… and exciting.

As we approach Mitzvah Day itself, on and around Sunday November 19, this weekend saw our official launch event take place at Jewish Care’s Michael Sobell Jewish Community Centre. Even more importantly, communities, organisations, schools and other groups can now sign up for Mitzvah Day 2017 via www.mitzvahday.org.uk

I’m delighted that Mitzvah Day has become a key fixture in the Jewish calendar, especially as our goal of bringing people together is now more vital than ever.

If 2015 and 2016 were tough for all those of us who believe in tolerance, respect and togetherness, then 2017 is the year the world went truly crazy. We’ve seen the far right on the rise, especially in America. We’ve seen hate and terror attacks becoming a far too regular occurrence, the whole world over.

While very different, the recent outrages in Charlottesville and Barcelona were all the more worrying and depressing for knowing they will happen again and again.

Put simply, there is a lack of tolerance everywhere.

That is what makes our work of building stronger local communities, and reaching out to our neighbours of all faiths and none, even more important.

But while the current climate is challenging, we also need to recognise the world has always been a difficult place and each generation has faced many problems.

Last week I went to see the amazing new performance of Fiddler on The Roof, a scary reminder of what happened to the Jews of Europe when hatred flourished.

Set in Russia under the Tsar, the play’s final violent eviction brought home just one of the horrors we Jews faced in the previous century. Whole communities, and their way of life, were destroyed forever.

Like most other British Jews my great grandparents lost everything – including their families. For each person who escaped, countless others remained trapped or were sent back.

Surely, in 2017, it’s finally time we all stopped hating each other?

This year the theme for Mitzvah Day is L’Dor Vador: From Generation to Generation.

Having this theme provides an opportunity to recognise how we can all do something for others, together with our families, friends and neighbours. However young or old we are, we can always give back.

The strength of family, and passing on knowledge and kindness through the generations, is something we Jews believe in firmly – as do people from all backgrounds, so we are expecting more intergenerational interfaith projects that ever along with our Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other faith partners.

Not every project will lend itself to the theme, but intergenerational ideas could include taking a group to visit a care home, day centre or isolated older person. We’ve found bringing babies, children and young people along makes it an especially joyous occasion.

There are also many other projects that generations can enjoy together – whether it’s outdoors looking after the environment, cooking together for refuges or the homeless, or even a good old collectathon.

I can’t wait to see all the projects that take place on Mitzvah Day this year and, to celebrate them properly, we are moving our awards ceremony and party. 

Previously taking place on Mitzvah Day itself, this timing made it hard for our volunteers to attend and harder still to submit award nominations. That’s why we are moving the whole thing to Monday February 19, in order to give people plenty of time to reflect on their Mitzvah Day and then enter it for the relevant award. We’ll have more details on this soon. 

For now, please visit our website and start signing up. Our Mitzvah Day team are here to help you find the perfect project… and we all look forward to seeing you on November 19.