Synagogues, mosques, churches and schools threw open their doors as people came together for Mitzvah Day.

More than 40,000 volunteers and 800 organisations in all parts of Britain and 30 other countries too part in Mitzvah Day, with projects ranging from planting trees and tidying cemeteries to collecting for food banks and entertaining in care homes.

In a unique event to start the day, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis visited the Al-Khoei Islamic Centre in Queen’s Park where congregants from the mosque, Brondesbury Park Synagogue and Hampstead’s Roslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel planted trees and herbs of relevance to the other’s faith. 

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Al-Khoei Islamic Centre (By Yakir Zur)

These included an apple tree, to produce fruit for the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, and fig trees of importance to Islam, as well as basil and hyssop. They all promised to meet again over the next few years to reap the produce.

The Chief Rabbi was joined at the mosque by Muslim leaders Dr Sheikh Ramzy and Ayatollah Dr Sayyid Fadhel H Al-Milan, as well as Mitzvah Day’s founder Laura Marks OBE, chief executive Georgina Bye and interfaith advisor Rabbi Jeff Berger.

The Chief Rabbi said: “In a very challenging world, by standing here together we are making a huge statement. Being on this site, which used to be a synagogue, with our Muslim brothers and sisters on Mitzvah Day is charged with that symbolism of unity. This is what the world should be like all the time.”

Dr Ramzy, of the Oxford Islamic Information Centre (OIIC), added: “If you look at every part of the world, there is war and hatred. But by coming together and planting this seed of peace in this holy place, we can start to bring peace to our heart, our families, our communities, our cities and around the globe.”

Five rabbis, representing different branches of Judaism, took part in a moving project at the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association (SBWA) in Finchley, where Jewish and Muslim youth planted bulbs for a local care home. The new centre only opened recently. 

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Golders Green Islamic Centre bulb planting - (By Yakir Zur)

The community’s previous home was destroyed in an arson attack six years ago when the letters EDL – standing for English Defence League – were found sprayed on the side of the building.

Liberal Judaism’s senior rabbi, Rabbi Danny Rich, attended the planting along with Rabbi David Mason of Muswell Hill United Synagogue, Rabbi Miriam Berger of Finchley Reform Synagogue, Rabbi Rebecca Birk of Finchley Progressive Synagogue and Rabbi Jeff Berger who comes from the Spanish & Portuguese Sephardi Community. They were hosted by the SBWA’s Abu Bakar Ali and Asma Mohamed Ali, who were integral in the efforts to re-open a London home for the Somali Bravanese community.

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Somali Bravanese Welfare Association planting project - Lady Daniela Pears and Georgina Bye of Mitzvah Day with Muslim youth (By Yakir Zur)

The rabbis joined the Jewish and Muslim youth in planting bulbs and attaching labels with notes and pictures for the care home residents, many of who came to the centre to be part of the day.

Mitzvah Day chief executive Georgina Bye said: “Following the arson attack, the Jewish community supported the SBWA and it was truly special to be welcomed back for Mitzvah Day.

“This was an amazing demonstration of how communities can support each other in adversity and open our doors to share positive moments together. Planting bulbs at the centre and in pots to be donated to a local old age home, we look forward to returning to see them bloom and to continue this wonderful relationship.”

The same bulb planting project was replicated in the afternoon at The Centre for Islamic Enlightening at the Hippodrome in Golders Green, organised and carried out by the Jewish/Muslim women’s group Nisa-Nashim.

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Somali Bravanese Welfare Association 

The new centre has come under attack from some locals, with petitions, social media campaigns and anonymous websites targeting it as it seeks planning approval. The Mitzvah Day project showed real and growing bonds between the centre and local Jewish communities.

Centre manager Razi Zadeh said: “It was a pleasure to work together with our Jewish friends and neighbours on Mitzvah Day, in our local community, to do something nice for people in care homes. It was a great way to bring everyone together to work on a local cause.” 

There was also a full day of activities at the JW3 Jewish Community Centre on Finchley Road, including a fun event where volunteers from six different faiths came together to cook for those helped by Pond Square Chapel Night Shelter, with an environmental twist – using produce from their fridges, gardens and cupboards to produce a meal. 

The day at JW3 also saw volunteers aged from two to 82 wrap festive gifts for vulnerable children, register as potential stem cell donors with DKMS and turn old T-shirts into tote bags for charity.

As well as people of different faiths, politicians from different parties also took a break from the General Election to do good deeds. The Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates for the seats of Finchley & Golders Green, Hertsmere and Hampstead & Kilburn all took part, as well as many councillors. London Mayor Sadiq Khan posted a Twitter video of support, while candidates Rory Stewart and Siobhan Benita joined Mitzvah Day projects. Conservative Shaun Bailey sadly had to pull out due to a bereavement.

Outside of London and Hertfordshire, Mitzvah Day events also took place in Essex, Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, Berkshire, Bristol, Cumbria, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Scotland, Wales and the Midlands. 

These included a whole cross-communal day of events in Leeds, tea parties and collectathons in Manchester, school kids baking for the elderly in Redbridge, blanket-knitting for the homeless in Newcastle and a huge beach cleans on Walney Island and Maryport in Cumbria.

The theme for this year’s Mitzvah Day, now in its 11th year, was Going Greener – as the charity turned its attention to projects to help the environment.

Mitzvah Day founder and chair Laura Marks OBE said: “In this political climate, when everything is so unclear, one thing we can be sure of is that our environmental climate needs our attention. By focussing on the environment for Mitzvah Day this year, something we share with all humanity and with our neighbours from all faiths and backgrounds, we ground ourselves in real tangible and positive local action."