Mitzvah Day is an international initiative established originally by the Jewish community in the United Kingdom. However, it has quickly spread across the borders, gaining particular popularity in Europe and the US. The principles of it are really simple – once a year Jewish groups, willing to participate in the project, do something good for the broader community in which they live. Hence the name of theinitiative – performing an act of kindness in the spirit of Tikkun Olam. However, in November 2015, the Masorti congregation in Berlin (Synagogue Oranienburgerstrasse), partaking in Mitzvah Day Deutschland, decided to take it a step further, inspired by the success of their action for children inhabiting one of the many refugee shelters in the city. A simple idea of bringing crayons, colourful papers, toys and most importantly – positive energy, was met with an overwhelmingly enthusiastic welcome, in spite of the initial concerns that an openly Jewish group would face hostility from the mostly Muslim refugees. In the end it was quite the opposite!
As the situation at the Spandau shelter, where the action took place, left a lot to be desired, members of the congregation spontaneously decided to get more involved and help not just once a year, but once a month instead. Filip Kusmierski, a young volunteer from Krakow, Poland quickly took the lead and began organising and engaging people around the idea of Mitzvah Day. Since the start of the project in November, it has become a well-oiled machine, as the group of people representing all ages and backgrounds comes now to that particular refugee shelter on every last Sunday of the month and does programming for both children and adults. As one group of volunteers plays sports, does arts and crafts and face-painting with children, the others focus on adults, providing a relaxed German-speaking space, where newcomers from Syria and Afghanistan can practice their language skills. These activities, devised and planned in cooperation with trainers and specialists from IsraAID, are always aimed at helping with trauma relief, but also establishing personal relations between the two groups – Jews and Muslims living Germany. As there is much fear and backlash against refugees arriving to Germany and Muslims in Europe in general, it is crucial for the open-minded Jews to stand together with their Muslim friends, as only through solidarity we can build a modern, stable and flourishing society. And that is exactly what Mitzvah Day stands for!
Join volunteers from Oranienburger Synagogue this Sunday, August 7, at 10:30am at Mertensstraße 63, 13587 Berlin, Deutschland. See here for more info.