Essex youth lead the way on Mitzvah Day

SCHOOL and cheder pupils from across Essex have been hailed by the founder and chair of Mitzvah Day for their “wonderful” achievements this year.

Performing a mix of good deeds – from entertaining at care homes to collecting for those in need – the young people were among 30,000 volunteers all over the UK taking part in the country’s biggest faith-based day of social action.

Laura Marks OBE said: “I started Mitzvah Day when my own children were three, five and seven and I could sense straight away how they, and all their friends taking part, just ‘got it’ and understood how they were making a difference.

“Now, years later, I continue to be passionate about the ability of young people to give their time meaningfully from a very young age.

“The stories I’ve heard about all the wonderful things Essex children and young people did this Mitzvah Day confirm that nothing has changed.”

Redbridge’s two Jewish primary schools put on a number of projects to tie in the with the day’s theme of Winter Warmers – aimed to bring comfort, warmth and cheer to friends and neighbours.

Children from Clore Tikva Primary School visited Jewish Care’s Redbridge Jewish Community Centre (RJCC) to entertain and chat with the older members at a special intergenerational event.

The pupils and older people swapped mitzvah trees. Each leaf contains a motivational, heart-warming quote which will be taken down and read to the children during their Kabbalat Shabbat assembly, while RJCC members will do the same at the centre.

Members, volunteers and staff at Jewish Care’s Redbridge Jewish Community Centre swapped mitzvah trees with pupils and staff from Clore Tikva Primary School – photo by Keith Gold

Clore Tikva Jewish studies teacher Samantha Bendon said, “This is such a wonderful project and we hope this Mitzvah Day will mark the beginning of a very special relationship between the children of Clore Tikva and the members of the RJCC.”

RJCC coordinator Timea Kasza added: “This project will continue to warm the hearts of our older members and of the young school children when they read out the positive messages and think of each other. Jewish Care’s community centres are keeping people warm this winter, not just physically, but by connecting older people with each other and with the community too.”

Wohl Ilford Jewish Primary School students and their families donated toys and books to Camp Simcha for children in hospital and wrote them get well cards. There was also a collection for Good for You, which distributes items to vulnerable people both in the UK and abroad.

Camp Simcha and Good for You benefitted from ​Wohl Ilford Jewish Primary School’s amazing efforts

Pupils were allowed to wear green instead of their school uniform for the day and the school was delighted to welcome the CEO of Camp Simcha, Neville Goldschneider, who spoke about the charity’s work.

Cheders in the area also got involved. The children at East London & Essex Liberal Synagogue collected toys and games for Haven House Children’s Hospice, while the adults donated dry in date food items and toiletries for Jason Lee House’s Single Homeless Project. Jason Lee House in Ilford provides temporary, and in some cases longer term, accommodation for homeless people.

East London & Essex Liberal Synagogue’s children collected for Haven House

Southend Reform Synagogue’s young people made get well cards for friends that are unwell, while the entire congregation collected for both HARP, a local homeless charity, and a nearby food bank.

Other projects included Ilford Federation Synagogue collecting food for GIFT and painting furniture at Jewish Care’s Vi and John Rubens House, and JBD tenants donating books to Langdon’s New Chapters.

Meanwhile SWESRS used Mitzvah Day to relaunch their food bank drives. Over the course of the day, members brought shopping bags to support the local Trussell Trust. Rabbi Lev Taylor said: “Our ambition was to fill a box. We filled seven!”

Back at the RJCC, member and volunteer Nettie Keene and her Knit and Natter with Nettie group – which includes RJCC members Rita Shaw, Sonia Black and Sadie Levy – made blankets which they sent to residents at Jewish Care’s Vi & John Rubens House care home.

Mitzvah Day has the support of all of Britain’s political and faith leaders. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Mitzvah Day is a very special time of year. It helps to foster a wonderful community spirt, celebrating diversity of faith or belief, and demonstrating that we each have a responsibility to one another.”

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, is a long-term Mitzvah Day supporter and took part once more this year, joining South Hampstead Synagogue to collect and pack clothes for people in need supported by local charities. He said: “Mitzvah Day is emblematic of the country we are, and the values we hold.”

Reflecting on the theme of Winter Warmers and the efforts of all those across Essex, Mitzvah Day CEO Stuart Diamond said: “It was very powerful to see so many communities came together with friends and neighbours of all ages, faiths and backgrounds to ensure that all the elements of warmth were taken care of this Mitzvah Day – from clothing and cooking to visits that bring cheer.”



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