Written by The Jewish Chronicle Thursday, 20 November 2008 21:13
Kentish Town City Farm might not seem the most obvious venue for Jewish workers. But that was not the case on Mitzvah Day as many joined an ethnically diverse group of volunteers who came to clean and refurbish the educational facility, visited by children with special needs, or from socially or economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
As Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians worked happily side-by-side, West London Synagogue volunteer Laurie Haller, 26, observed: "This is one of the few opportunities for such a wide range of people to come together to relieve hardship and poverty." During the day, the farm was also visited by the government's independent champion of volunteers, Baroness Neuberger, journalist Jonathan Freedland and Mock The Week producer Dan Patterson, along with his band, Jonah and the Whalers.
Nationwide, one of the most popular initiatives was setting up stalls outside major supermarkets and requesting customers to purchase an additional item for charity. One example was at Tesco at Belsize Park where South Hampstead Synagogue members stood for six hours. They were collecting food for the New Horizons homeless centre in Kings Cross, having already filled 200 bags with clothes for asylum seekers in North London.
Over 120 shul members gave their time, receiving celebrity support from former Eastenders star Tracy-Ann Oberman, who said afterwards: "Mitzvah Day is a great opportunity for Jews to work with the wider world to show how charity is at the forefront of our religion and community. It was great to stand outside Tesco and talk to people who had never heard the word ‘mitzvah' and yet embrace it and its spirit. I hope we raised awareness for the homeless shelter and also collected lots of useful goods for the shelter to use."
Finchley Reform Synagogue's cheder was one of many taking part in Mitzvah Day projects. The youngest class, with the help of professional artist Emma Gurner, made challah covers to be sent to Finchley Reform's twin community in Belarus.Other pupils put together food boxes to be taken to the asylum seekers' drop-in centre in East Finchley. Parent Wendy Gold praised "this remarkable project, which allows the children to understand that giving help can be rewarding".