I’ve pretty much given up watching the news. Social media is a no-go zone. I brace myself before joining numerous interfaith or even communal catch ups.
Like so many people I am hurting and anxious, worrying about loved ones in Israel, desperate for the hostages and, inevitably, facing inwards where it feels safe. With antisemitism at record levels it’s hard not to feel it in every shop, street, radio broadcast, nook and cranny.
At the same time, I see pictures of innocent people suffering in Gaza and my heart breaks.
What, I ask myself, has happened to normal life?
Five weeks in to this horrific, frightening conflict I am wondering how we resist the temptation to hide ourselves away from a world which feels different.
This is the context for Mitzvah Day this weekend – a day I call “proudly in-your- face Jewish” where we give back to local charities, hands-on and with people from other faith communities. It would be naïve to say it will be business as usual, particularly on campus or in non-Jewish schools where anxieties run deep.
The theme for Mitzvah Day this year is Repair the World and never has that been more apt. At a basic level, our charities need us. They rely on this annual day of giving to help them with collections, food drives, visits or gifts, as does the Annual AJEX Parade – Remembrance is a Mitzvah. To let down local charities which need us would be a travesty.
Next, we reach out to other faith communities through Mitzvah Day. True some communities may choose not to take part this year – which is tragic – but we have neighbours and friends who are looking for ways to engage and reaching out to see how they can help.
We should not forget that whilst antisemitism is rocketing, so is Islamophobia and there is even increased hatred of Hindus (for looking different and for being stereotypically associated with a particular political rhetoric). This week we are volunteering with a church in Tottenham to help them with their regular foodbank – and building a new and hopefully lasting relationship. We are also cooking meals in a synagogue both with local Hindu and Muslim women, which will be donated to church-run foodbanks.
We are truly all in this together.
Finally, and like other faith communities, we are at our best when we are giving back. To care for our neighbours is 101 Faith – it is our bread and butter. Not only is it integral to all faith doctrines, it is also a joy, a pleasure and something we all agree matters.
As the late Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote: “The paradox of giving is that when we lift something to give to another, it is we ourselves who are lifted. I believe that what elevates us in life is not what we receive but what we give. The more of ourselves that we give, the greater we become”
Giving is integral to normal, everyday Jewish life. It is what makes so many of us tick and feel grounded.
This year, as we struggle to engage with the outside world and the darkness feels visceral, we urge you to revisit your favourite charity, gather your friends and family, put on a t-shirt, a beanie and above all, a smile.
It is essential to be safe – CST guidance is on the Mitzvah Day website – but let’s reach out in human kindness, something we do so well and something which makes us feel better.
It may be dark, but as a Jewish community, and with our non-Jewish friends and neighbours, by doing the normal we can bring a little light in to this abnormal world.
Laura Marks CBE is founder and chair of Mitzvah Day
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