In my early months as Vicar of All Saints, Friern Barnet, I was approached by our neighbours at the Sha’arei Tsedek Synagogue to take part in Mitzvah Day, along with friends from the Muslim Community and Education Centre (MCEC) in Palmer’s Green. Mitzvah Day (Hebrew for command) is a Jewish day of social action and outreach, but it has branched out, seeking to build friendships between other faith traditions with ‘Mitzvah Interfaith Day.’
Our task, which was agreed mutually, was to work together to collect donations of food from the public outside Waitrose in the High Road, Whetstone for Homeless Action in Barnet, and also to collect donations of clothes from our three communities. The clothes would be given to Homeless Action in Barnet and the North London Hospice.
It fell on Sunday, 17th November this year, and our three communities worked well together. The planning, though, began months before, and relationships were built through meetings and discussion. A visit by members of All Saints’ Church and Sha’arei Tsedek Synagogue to the MCEC on the evening of 10th November, the week before, cemented these new bonds. It was a hugely enjoyable tour, during which we offered generous hospitality; we also spent the evening planning the tasks of the following week, with the great assistance of Daniela Pears of the Mitzvah Day Foundation.
Our Mitzvah Interfaith Day itself attracted a good number of volunteers from all three communities: from teenagers, to children, and older adults: Waitrose customers and passers-by-commented on how surprised and delighted they were to see young people and adults from the three Abrahamic faith communities united for the common good, and for the benefit of the least well-off in our society. As the shop collection carried on, other teams from the three communities were sorting clothes and packing them at All Saints’ Church Hall, so that they could be transported to the various charities.
We were overwhelmed with the generosity of donations. I think I speak for all three faith communities, too, when I say how much we have all gained from working closely together, united not by dialogue about difference, but in common purpose for God’s poorest ones in our locality.
It is a great way of building local links with other faiths, as you plan and work together. There were practical frustrations and problems, all of which were overcome, and through which stronger relationships emerged. It is highly likely that we will unite again, perhaps on Mitzvah Interfaith Day next year, perhaps sooner.
Further possibilities of connection and contact have also emerged. There is something unique about working together logistically and practically; it offers opportunities that cannot be found in the (extremely valuable) work of dialogue and theological discussion. In the end, working practically for the common good as one, there is a feeling that one is able to fulfil God’s will for the poor in a tangible and immediate way.