The idea for Mitzvah Day – which has become the UK’s largest faith-led day of social action – dates back to the year 2000, when Laura Marks CBE and her family moved from London to Los Angeles.
They joined their local Jewish congregation, Temple Israel of Hollywood, and became involved in the community’s day of good deeds – also known as Mitzvah Day.
Assigned to a Korean care home in downtown LA, with only a group of small children and some instruments, they at first found it hard to connect with the non-English speaking residents. Then, by playing Beatles songs, the whole place came alive.
In that moment, seeing not only joy in the eyes of those in the care home but also of the young volunteers themselves, it became clear how small acts of kindness can really make a difference to everyone involved.
2005 - 07
Returning to Britain in 2005, and working with what is now the JW3 Jewish community centre, Laura decided to set up Mitzvah Day for the UK.
A single event took place at the Britannia Hotel, Belsize Park, with 100 people in attendance – almost of all whom were from the Jewish community. Over the next two years, Mitzvah Day grew slowly, with 600 volunteers involved in 2007.
It was in 2008, registering as a charity for the first time, that Mitzvah Day really took off. Thanks to the support of faith leaders, local politicians and the press, more than 10,000 people took part in activities all around the UK.
A key change in 2008 – inspired by a very successful interfaith Mitzvah Day being run in Nottingham – saw the Jewish community reaching out to Christians, Muslims, Hindus and neighbours and friends of all faiths and backgrounds.
People of different religions, who had never spoken before, were suddenly bonding while chopping vegetables or making get-well cards. It showed that not only are our values universal, but that differences can be broken down and real friendships made.
Interfaith social action has been a key part of Mitzvah Day ever since.
In 2009, Mitzvah Day was taken back abroad as it expanded internationally with projects in France, Hungary and Israel. Soon Mitzvah Day Australia and Mitzvah Day Germany were set up, running multiple projects with hundreds of people taking part.
The growth continued with 15,000 volunteers in 2009 becoming 37,000 by 2014. Those supporting and taking part in Mitzvah Day included Prime Ministers, Mayors and major politicians from all parties. An event, which has now become annual, was held in the House of Commons.
In 2018, celebrating 10 years since becoming a registered charity, Mitzvah Day made headlines all over the world with the Chicken Soup Challenge. Partnering with Muslim Aid, a world record 5,000 servings of chicken soup for the homeless and vulnerable were made at 20 interfaith cooks across the UK with kosher, halal and even vegan versions created.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the social action still continued. Moving to Zoom, celebrities including Maureen Lipman and Hugh Dennis led online sessions to make everything from food to masks so that volunteers could support vulnerable neighbours and family members.
After coming back together in-person, Mitzvah Day continued to grow and develop, year on year. Today 55,000 volunteers take part in projects in 40 different countries – connecting people, causes and communities around the world.
The day has become an established part of not only the Jewish calendar, but also Britain’s Inter Faith Week.
Ultimately, this history of success is down to our small staff and trustee team, loyal funders and volunteers who, on Mitzvah Day and every day, make our world just a little bit better. Thank you all!