As a seasoned social activist, I always used to look at Mitzvah Day – the UK’s biggest faith based day of social action – with a healthy dose of scepticism. After all, what can one really achieve in a single day of volunteering?
So this year, I challenged my friends, colleagues and congregants at Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue (NPLS) – where I am a member of the Rabbinic Team – to show me.
NPLS was once again one of 380 synagogues, schools, offices and orginations in the UK – and 600 around the world – taking part in Mitzvah Day. And I’m really proud to share details of some of the wonderful projects that took place, which I do hope will make a lasting difference.
Following the moto “why do one thing if you can do four”, we packed four projects in. The day kicked off with a group of around 30 volunteers, aged four to 75, who came together to join Care 4 Free, a local environmental organisation, to help to clear Croxley Moor.
Strengthened by biscuits provided by the volunteer coordinators, our volunteers worked tirelessly for two and half hours, clearing an area three times larger than the volunteers normally manage in the same length of time.
Everyone present enjoyed the project so much that they pledged to be back for another clear out for Tu Bi’shvat and hoping to make this part of the regular calendar of shul activities.
While our environmental brigade were cooling down, the “Singing for the Soul” team of our Care Group went to visit one of the local care homes, Auburn Mere, where they led local residents in song. They repeated the success that they had enjoyed in the previous year on Mitzvah Day and were begged to return soon! The team already offers the singing group twice per month at the synagogue and will explore if they can offer more at local care homes in future.
At the same time a little down the road, our volunteers were already busy setting up the hall at St Mary’s Church Watford to prepare for our tea party for refugee families living in the neighbourhood.
Teaming up with members of the church, and volunteers of the Watford and Three Rivers Refugee Partnership, the team worked hard to get everything ready for more than 80 refugees arriving thanks to the help of our volunteer drivers.
Whether young or old – all of the more than 50 volunteers played a vital part in creating a wonderful party atmosphere. Kids were entertained by a magician while adults got to know each other over food and drinks and teens exchanged numbers for snapchat and Instagram.
Each child went home with a wonderful gift that had been donated by the children of our cheder and lovingly wrapped by the synagogue’s teenagers in the Kabbalat Torah programme. And there were even take-home gifts for adults – cosmetics that were donated by another synagogue member.
But most importantly, everyone left having learned from and about each other, with volunteers having benefitted from the afternoon as much as guests had. Far from being just a one-off experience the tea party kindled our volunteers’ interest in supporting refugees living locally with plans already made for sharing allotments, having more parties, helping out with rides and homework and so much more. I’m certain that the relationships that were forged on Mitzvah Day will grow from strength to strength in the year to come.
Oh, and I did say there were four project – the final piece in our Mitzvah Day puzzle was our collection of more than 25 bikes donated by our members and the members of the local community which will go to The Bike Project where they will be refurbished and then donated to refugees living in London.
As a synagogue we have been collecting bikes for several years now and Mitzvah Day simply provides us with the opportunity to make an extra effort to reach out beyond just our congregants.
While I will always retain some healthy scepticism, for Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue, Mitzvah Day was about more than just feeling good about ourselves for a day… though we definitely did.
It was a day to form, build and strengthen relationships with each other, with volunteers from the local community and with more vulnerable people living in our midst. It was a reminder about how much we have to give and about how much everyone is willing to give. It was a celebration of activism as it could be every day and for many this will just be one more step in their continuing journey of involvement with the protection of the environment, the elderly and with refugees.
I am confident that together we can indeed make a lasting difference.
- To see more photos of the NPLS Mitzvah Day projects, please visit http://npls.zenfolio.com/nplsgallery