JC Competition 2009
WINNER: NORTH WEST LONDON JEWISH DAY SCHOOL
NWLJDS opened its doors to parents, teachers and pupils on Mitzvah Day Sunday in order to take part in our project of hospital gown making for children in India with cleft palates. Not only were an impressive number of gowns created, but the atmosphere and good will was felt by all. There were even children who were compelled to talk about their own experiences of cleft palate operations. Six months on these kids hold their heads high and there seems to be a greater awareness in the school about how we can really help other children, even those far away and with complex problems. A truly one-off Mitzvah Day!
RUNNER UP: ST. ALBANS MASORTI SYNAGOGUE
A teenage interfaith event that brought young Jews together with Muslim refugees. Cooking, chatting and spending time together brought joy where it was needed to otherwise isolated young refugees. Six months on, the effects of Mitzvah Day are obvious. SAMS has continued its links with the Muslim young people and are planning more events into this year
RUNNER UP: LEEDS UNIVERSITY JEWISH SOCIETY
The students of Leeds used this opportunity to change the attitudes of people of all different faiths in Leeds by doing a highly visible project for the local community, proudly and deliberately as Jews. Their project, Mitzvah Day Shopping, involved collecting food outside Sainsbury’s and taking it to a local charity distribution point. It was a great success and involved students who previously had not chosen to be involved in JSoc. Six months on the effects are still felt and Mitzvah Day is established as a key day in the calendar.
RUNNER UP: HENDON TIMES GROUP
The Hendon Times Group of newspapers adopted Mitzvah Day as their project inviting readers to send in projects. On Mitzvah Day the journalists went to Oak Lodge School to transform their gardens. Oak Lodge School clearly benefited in many ways and this initiative will lead to longer term community building opportunities. Editor, Rachel Sharp commented ‘Local newspapers are all about connecting with their local residents. Following our Mitzvah, our staff have an even better idea of what an incredible difference just a few people can make in the community.”
Please note that the Runners Up and the general entries are in no particular order.
North West London Jewish Day School
The most exciting aspect of Mitzvah Day at North West London Jewish Day School was the fact that the whole school community came together to do the projects. At one point the school hall was filled with over 150 people of all ages either making T-shirts into operating gowns for Operation Smile or sorting clothes for World Jewish Relief. Members of staff, past and present, parents, grandparents, former students and younger siblings not yet at the school, joined present students to do the itzvoth. The buzz of people enjoying being together and doing good works together was electrifying. When I asked in assembly the next day if they had enjoyed themselves, the children took the roof off with their response of “YES!!!”
Two of the children in the school had themselves been born with cleft palates and had asked if they could give a short presentation explaining what cleft palates are and how and why they are fixed. The elder of the 2 is 8 and he gave a very impressive three-minute presentation speaking without notes whilst his 6 year-old brother held up the photos. In fact they were so impressive that they gave the presentation twice. Their self-esteem has been enhanced immeasurably and they are the “experts” as far as this operation is concerned in the eyes of the other children.
We are very proud of the fact that we made 211 operating gowns which is 1%of the national target set by Blue Peter at the launch of the appeal in October. The children are thrilled to think that they will be helping so many of their contemporaries to overcome this handicap and that many Jews in the Ukraine will have a warm jumper or a toy to play with this winter thanks to their efforts.
Hendon Times Group
Mitzvah Day for the Times Team was certainly a special experience, on a variety of levels. Our team wholly embraced the principles of this year’s theme of interfaith and comprised both Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers.
We also went over and above our role as being simply a media outlet and just reporting on the day, by literally getting our hands dirty for a good cause and providing something which would profoundly affect our beneficiary, Oak Lodge School in East Finchley.
Our involvement in the project also enabled us to spread the positive message of Mitzvah Day to the Mill Hill Garden Centre, which donated all the plants and equipment, and manager Matthew Cooke said he would be really keen to get involved again next year.
Before undertaking the project, I was informed that the school had kept the garden locked, as it was deemed “unsafe” for the special needs pupils. Upon our arrival on Mitzvah Day, the garden was covered in weeds and leaves and there were only a few plants scattered around the 50ft plot. There was also a pond which was filled with toxic algae, and another which, as it was uncovered, would pose a health and safety risk to the children.
Over the duration of six hours, our team got to work, digging out all the weeds and clearing the leaves. We then prepared the ground by digging it over and laying down membrane and bark chippings, before planting colourful shrubs, border plants and evergreens. The pond that was once held only toxic algae was cleared and filled with soil. Instead we planted an apple tree and colourful plants. With the other pond we cut cage meshing and placed this over the water, to make it safe for the children. Around the pond we planted a variety of grasses and placed a bench into the ground, so that the children could have somewhere safe to sit. We also installed a bird table, to encourage wildlife into the garden.
Although none of us profess to be expert gardeners, we certainly put plenty of effort and dedication into making the garden a cherished place for the youngsters to go during break times.
The next day I contacted the school to ask what the reaction had been to the revamped garden. Assistant headteacher Teresa Ellis wrote a wonderful email, in which she told me how she had taken an autistic boy up to the garden that very morning. She told me he had never spoken to her before, but when he saw the garden he pointed and said, “apple tree”. For all of us, this made our Mitzvah Day efforts so very worthwhile.
St. Albans Masorti Synagogue
Our most inspirational project brought together teenage members of SAMS and unaccompanied refugee young people resident in Hertfordshire who have struggled to make friends with British young people of their own age. At a series of social meetings, the young people met and planned their own activities for Mitzvah Day, leading to a joint get-together on 15 November. They cooked Kosher/Hallal dishes from their home countries, watched videos and chatted as teens like to do.
The group consisted of young people aged 15-18, including the refugee young people who are from places such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Kurdistan. They all have their own unique story of how they came to the UK, fleeing problems at home. Typically they endured difficult journeys across Europe and are looking for a safer life and a better future in the UK. These youth are looked after by Hertfordshire County Council and, according to Laurence Chester, Head of the Achievement of Refugees & Travellers Team and member of SAMS, ‘Once settled, it is important these young people are not left isolated from normal teenage life,’ so HCC encourages interaction with local young people to help them integrate.
The Mitzvah Day get-together, as well as two previous social meetings, proved highly successful, with all the young people having learned a great deal about each other’s cultures, and they all had the chance to sample new food. Yohans (17) from Kurdistan cooked a traditional dish called zigni, which is usually eaten on special days and holidays.
All hope this is the beginning of ongoing contact, with a further event in the new year in the pipeline. ‘We are privileged to be involved is this project, which reminds us that many of us were once refugees to this country,’ explained Nick Grant, a member of the SAMS Mitzvah Day Team, whose own mother came alone to the UK on the Kindertransport during World War II.
For SAMS, it was important to have a project that enthused our members to use Mitzvah Day as an inspiration for continuing work, not just a one-day-per-year splash. After the first social, two of the migrant youth independently told their social worker that it was the first time they had had interaction with UK kids their age, although they have been here two years!
For Mitzvah Day the Eritreans wanted to cook lamb, and we explained that it would have to be Kosher. One of the HCC social workers made contact with a local Imam who told the migrant youth that if the meat was Kosher then it was Hallel, and it would be OK for them to eat it. It was not only a pleasure to see them all preparing food together, but also to see them bundled up on the settee afterwards, eating and enjoying each other’s company. One of the migrant youth told his social worker afterwards that it had been the nearest thing to being with his own family that he had experienced since leaving his parents.
Setting up a food drive in the local student area creates and builds on the community relationship within the wider student community, and not just the JSoc. When students see other students trying to do a good thing for people who need it, it slowly chips away at the apathy amongst all students. When Freshers see just how easy it is to increase and invent different social action activities it instils in them the power to pick up from our example and take it to new levels.
Included in this is the tremendous team effort of those standing outside Sainsburys for hours, together and united for a great cause. This is how communities are built and upheld. We have shown that we can work with each other and that the Leeds Jewish Student Community is bonded together with the inspiration to create something great.
Together with everything mentioned above, whilst all wearing our ‘mitzvah day’ t-shirts we create a massive Kiddush Hashem, showing all of Hyde Park that we are Jewish and we are increasing the good in the world. When people asked us who we are and why we are doing this, we show everyone that Jews try to help people and are charitable. This enhances cross-communal relationships as so many people gave us food and consequently worked with us and helped out our cause. People of all ethnicities saw what we did and will now think of Jews in a good light. And hopefully we will have spurred them out to do these kinds of things themselves.
Social Action is a great way to make all students feel included and welcome in their JSoc, all kinds of different students showed up and worked together with each other and re-instated the community feeling of our JSoc. Showing all Jewish students that they are welcome and wanted in Leeds JSoc.
The Year five children did a project where they made channukah cards for Jewish soldiers serving in the armed forces in Afghanistan. Without hearing from someone who has been to war for their country, the children cannot really imagine what it is like.
At Alyth we have a member of the community who is 90 (something) years old who was a Spitfire pilot in the second world war. Once again this year he joined us to share his story with the year 5 children. The children watched in awe as John walked in to the classroom wearing his medals and his sixty year old leather, fighter pilot bomber jacket. He was carrying an old brown suitcase in which he had his flying hat and goggles and a book – his story. The children sat perfectly still as John told them how his platoon had fought battle after battle in the skies and on the ground. He told them that he had lost friends in the war – shot down by an enemy pilot. He spoke of the emotion, the loneliness and the fear – of losing your life, losing friends who are fighting alongside you, and of never seeing your family again. Then, when he had finished the children asked questions. How he felt about shooting someone down. Did he have lots of Jewish friends in the army? Did he find a shul to go to where he was stationed. And many more. Rarely have they been so enthralled by a speaker.
When it came time to make their Channukah cards the children did so with real feeling. The notes inside the cards tell the story – “Dear Soldier” Be brave. You will come home to your family”, “Thank you for protecting us” and many more.
West London Synagogue
A group of the Religion school’s post bnei mitzvah group asked shoppers at Sainsbury’s Local Marble Arch to donate an extra item of non perishable food to be donated to the local homeless day centre in Seymour Place. Over 100 items were collected on Sunday morning and the teenagers made their own posters and kindly asked people to support their cause.
The food was then taken to the day centre, which is in the same street as the synagogue and passed over to the manager, with Mitzvah day tshirts and woolly hats, which they also need for their clients.
A real difference was made and the young people learnt important life skills as well as gaining the knowledge that on Mitzvah day they were able to help others in need. This was a cross communal W1 project empowering young people as well as supporting those in a crisis.
Bristol Jewish Community
Mitzvah Day in Bristol - our first time of participating - was “special” for several reasons:
All the Jewish organisations in Bristol came together to organise or support Mitzvah Day. We’re a small Jewish community but with a number of different groupings; we’re into “doing” and we talk to one another. So participants and supporters included members of Bristol Hebrew Congregation, members of Bristol and West Progressive Jewish Congregation, members of DAVAR - the Jewish Institute in Bristol and the South West, members of WIZO, the University Jewish Chaplains, and last, but certainly not least, members of Bristol University’s Jewish Society, JSoc.
And JSoc brought in ISoc, the University Islamic Society. The two societies have worked together in the past on campus; on this occasion they came together to work in public for the benefit of a rather high number of disadvantaged people in Bristol, refugees. In our publicity we noted that Arabic has an equivalent word for “mitzvah”: “hassana”.
Bristol is also the home of Salaam Shalom, founded three years ago to promote understanding and good relations between Muslims and Jews, locally, nationally and internationally. Salaam Shalom runs an internet community radio station, available from its website. During Mitzvah Day afternoon JSoc students hosted a two hour radio programme on another of Bristol’s community radio stations, BCfm. The programme can now be heard - for ever - as a webcast on Salaam Shalom’s website.
During the programme, the three student presenters played Jewish, Israeli and Arabic music with a theme of giving and loving, explained the purpose of Mitzvah Day, interviewed people about the Jewish and Muslim approach to charitable giving, encouraged people to get down to a local shopping centre to buy and donate foodstuffs to be distributed by our local branch of Refugee Action, and broadcast live from the shopping centre during the afternoon to monitor progress.
And progress was amazing. We had people coming over to check out what they should buy, we had animated conversations in front of our stall abut the doing of mitzvahs, and during the afternoon the pile of foodstuffs grew and grew. We reckon we were visited by close on two hundred people. What was especially noticeable was the number of young people who donated, and did so generously. One young donor rang BCfm and can be heard on air with his approval of our effort.
About twenty minutes before the shopping centre’s closing time a mum and her very young daughter came over. Our volunteers at the entrance to the centre had explained about us and Mitzvah Day. “Do we have time?” Mum asked. Ten minutes later, daughter - Alice - aged all of about three, came rushing over very excitedly and in high glee gave us her donation. We couldn’t resist recapturing that moment on film.
What was special about this Mitzvah Day project was that it targeted Young Professionals, many of which are sadly not involved with community and social action projects. By coming along to a social event, yet gaining access by donating an item really made people stop and think. Not only did they wonder what this party was that didn’t involve money, and thus causing them to look into Mitzvah Day, the ethos of it and ask about it, it also gave them a unique opportunity to think about what it means to be homeless. They were asked to bring an item that can be used by the Beit Shanti Homeless Shelter for Youth at Risk in Israel. They had to stop and realise what it meant to be homeless, and what little luxuries that we have in our every day lives – these people don’t have, and thus what they take for granted.
Many people on the night made the pledge to do more, and took this opportunity to realise what we can do to help others.
Muswell Hill Synagogue
Our Mitzvah Day this year was an amazing community experience that really broke down many of the barriers between the generations at our shul. Our shul is very split into young families with children and the older members many of whom have been at the shul for a long time. On Mitzvah Day we set up a hub for people of all ages to wrap gifts for Barnadaos together. One of our volunteers, 80 year old Norma Brewer, had the inspired idea to teach some of the young children how to sew mobile phone holders to put in the boxes for the children at Barnados. She sat with children aged 9-12 some of whom had never sewed before and patiently taught them how to create beautiful and unique mobile phone holders.
Shul Chair Anthony Sober says, it was wonderful that our events at Mitzvah Day, which was organised by young parents, were able to attract the support of all ages, from children to 80 year olds. What a delight it was to see such a varied group preparing and wrapping seasonal gifts for the children at Barnados. The whole day is a triumph of cross-generation and inter-community awareness and action.
This event had a huge impact on all of the community and was one of the first truly intergenerational events we have had at our shul, hopefully the first of many.
Mitzvah day has not only had an impact within our own community but also on how we affect the wider community.
Mitzvah day shopping was a huge success. The enthusiasm that this has created in the community has now led to a committee being set up to find a non Jewish charity in our local area for Muswell Hill to twin with and volunteer with on a regular basis. To us Mitzvah Day is not a one off event, but a starting point, an impetus has been created, the first steps in an exciting journey that we hope will continue for a long time.
New London Synagogue
Mitzvah Day impacted on membership throughout the community, from every age and every level of involvement in the Synagogue, regular members as well as irregular ones all came out in numbers to help. The event helped crystalise and take forward my own efforts to encourage New London to develop as a centre for social action, particularly regarding issues around refugees.
The agencies all responded with delight to the donations. As well as the NNLS Asylum Drop-In Centre and Salusbury World, the nearest refugee support centre to the Synagogue, we also partnered with the St Mary Magdalene Centre (in a nod to Inter-Faith week) and the Separated Child Foundation (founded in memory of the daughter of our Mitzvah Day co-ordinator, Ester Gluck ob’m). St Mary’s called our donation ‘the most wonderful [they] have ever received’ and we are developing our relationship further through visits and publications.
The vibrancy and energy on the day was palpable, transformative and very exciting. Angela Gluck, NLS Mitzvah Day project co-ordinator, writes, ‘As we worked in the rganiz hall and used the synagogue itself as a loading bay, I was struck by how our spaces were transformed. The places where we study and eat and pray became places where we reached out to others in tangible ways. For sure, what we did today will do much to relieve heart-breaking poverty and to bring happiness to others.’
Before we were done there was talk of “the next one” and a number of members are pursuing volunteering opportunities with our partner rganizations and other local NGOs throughout the year. We are currently responding to a request from the Refugee Council and the Separated Child Foundation to host an after-school homework club for refugees in the Synagogue premises and there is real excitement amongst the lay and clerical leadership that we will be able to do this. Mitzvah Day has been an incredibly important step forward in our attempt, as a Synagogue community to develop more of a social action focus. Its impact in the community is growing, even as the memories of the day fade.
Chigwell & Hainault Synagogue
Our objectives resulted in some 120 adults and children of our community participating and touching the life of 200 plus families of all faiths and spreading mitzvah and interfaith awareness to all our members.
As participants we felt positive we were doing good for others really by giving our time and just putting a smile on faces that we may never see or know …ie a soldier,an orphan,a neighbour that may just appreciate our work in the community for all.
Stanmore United Synagogue
Events at the Broadwalk Centre in Edgware were exciting for our shopathon project. A team of Stanmore shul volunteers stood outside the Broadwalk asking shoppers to buy an additional item of shopping to be donated to the Watford New Hope Trust for the Homeless. Bright green bunting and balloons festooned our collection tables. Our volunteers wore Mitzvah Day T-shirts and beanies. There was a festive atmosphere and much laughter, but our mission was serious – to collect as much food as we could for the homeless. We were overwhelmed by the response as shopper after shopper delivered items to our bright green tables. Our shleppers brought bags and bags of food back to Stanmore. Car boots were overflowing, our collection point was jam-packed with the mountain of food we had collected from generous shoppers – tins of soup, jars of coffee, bags of sugar, boxes of tea, and mounds of pasta and rice were just some of the items in the enormous pile. All the volunteers said how good it felt to see such generosity first hand. On Tuesday, two volunteers from the Watford New Hope Trust brought an enormous van to collect our donations. Even these experienced workers were amazed at the sheer scale of what we had collected in 5 short hours.
Another project was one for all ages and involved making things for children who are less fortunate than our own – a send-a-smileathon. As part of the Blue Peter Send a Smile campaign, children were asked to make surgical gowns out of T-shirts to be used by children in India who are undergoing cleft palate operations. Each T-shirt was beautifully decorated mainly by children (but with a fair number of adults getting their hands dirty too). The atmosphere in the shul was buzzing and purposeful. Everyone knew that they were giving up their time to do some good in the world. It was not simply an afternoon of arts and crafts! Yet, it did not feel like a sacrifice – all had a great time with fabric paint, buttons, ribbons, pom-poms and stickers, trying to make the happiest T-shirts to help a child undergoing surgery.
At another busy table, children were making Channukah cards for children in the Emunah Children’s home in Afula in Israel. We had a list of children from the home, so that cards could be personalised and it brought more than one tear to the eye to read the sincere messages from the children of Stanmore to the children of Afula. It allowed our children the space to think about other Jewish children whose lives may not be as privileged as their own.
By all accounts Mitzvah Day 2009 in Stanmore was a huge success. Yes, our recipient charities received great things from us. But it was more than that. It allowed our volunteers – both young and not-so-young – to experience the joy of doing something for someone else without needing or expecting to be thanked by the recipients – a wonderful means of doing tzedakah. On the 15th November – Mitzvah Day - we really experienced the true meaning of giving.
South Hampstead Synagogue
There are two parts to the shopping project that showed how lives were touched:
First of all our most senior volunteer from South Hampstead Shul, Alan Millet, at 81 years, was in bed for the week with pneumonia, and called me on the Friday before Mitzvah Day to apologise that he was not going to be able to make it, and was very upset that he had commited to come, but was not able to fulfil his pledge to volunteer…. Yet at 2.30pm on the Sunday, Alan Millet appeared at Tesco and said, nothing was going to stop him from coming and doing his part to help! He put the Mitzvah Day t-shirt over his coat, and helped on the stall for the rest of the afternoon, encouraging shoppers to collect extra items. Sue Nyman was our key driver on the day, making several rounds between Tesco and the New Horizon Youth Centre, and she told us of the significant difference we were making to the New Horizon Youth Centre in Camden, The staff and the youth who visit the centre were overwhelmed with the amount of food and items we delivered. When I visited Isioma the duty manager at the centre on the last delivery, the store room was packed to the brim with items, and Isioma was extremely overwhelmed by the generosity shown by all the team who volunteered for Mitzvah Day shopping.
NHYC serves 3000 homeless youth every year, and the food we delivered will be ensuring that over the Xmas period they have sufficient supplies for the youth who have nowhere else to go for the festive season.
The centre is going through renovations this year, and the new building will be opening in January, and we have been invited to their special opening.
The Chairman of the Youth Centre happens to be Jon Snow, and as this was the second year we have supported NHYC, he was so touched that we continued our support for the homeless youth in Camden that he has pledged that he will be visiting South Hampstead shul for a Shabbat morning in the New Year!
Oxford Jewish Congregation
Oxford boasts a very diverse population and the OJC decided to focus attention on the Interfaith aspect of our charity work on Mitzvah Day. Many faith groups were notified of our plans to plant 200 saplings on community land owned by the Cumnor Hurst charity. Guided by facilitators Grenville Clarke and Caroline Gregory over 50 people of all ages representing over 6 faith groups worked together with great communal spirit to complete the work. OJC President Mrs Kathy Shock dedicated the afternoon’s achievements to the memory of the late Danny Kemp, founder of Timbmet which donated the 17 acre site and established the Cumnor Hurst charity, and who died the previous week. Members of his family including his daughter Evie and son-in-law Simon Fineman, Managing Director of Timbmet, and also Timbmet employees, were present.
This bringing together of Moslems, Ba’hai, Quakers, Jews and members of different Christian groups to do good deeds made this an exceptional event. It fulfilled several of our hopes as a Jewish community. It further cemented the important efforts that the Jewish Community are making in reaching out to our wider community and particularly other faith groups. Many of those attending had not attended Interfaith activities before. Chairman of the local Interfaith Group, Bede Gerrard, said it was very encouraging.
It also fulfilled the mitzvah of Tikkun Olam, by emphasising the protection of and care for our environment and God’s world, on which we depend as human beings. It was an opportunity for families to work together and for parents and grandparents to demonstrate in a practical, fun way how to act to improve the world.