(JTA) – Some 25,000 people, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, participated in British Jewry’s largest-ever Mitzvah Day.
Organizers said the number of volunteers for the faith-based day of social action, which this year was held on Nov. 27, was the most since Mitzvah Day was first inaugurated in the United Kingdom in 2005.
Bringing together Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others, activities included hosting tea parties, making teddy bears, wrapping Christmas presents, cooking meals, and collecting goods for immigrants and the poor.
Joining Khan, the first Muslim mayor of London, as volunteers were Communities Minister Lord Bourne, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Imam Qari Asim, Bishop of Edmonton Robert Wickham and numerous lawmakers.
This year’s Mitzvah Day was focused on building bridges in British society following the polarizing effect of a referendum held in May in which a majority of voters supported a British exit, or Brexit, from the European Union. The campaign to leave highlighted issues connected to immigration and integration. Following the vote, British watchdog groups reported a spike in xenophobic hate crimes and incidents.
“Since the E.U. Referendum and U.S. Presidential Election campaigns, we’ve seen a recorded rise in racism and hate crimes, and a heightened fear of the outsider,” said Laura Marks, a former vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the founder of Mitzvah Day. “The need to bring people together has never been greater.”
One of the activities conducted during Mitzvah Day included “wrapping Christmas presents, or making cards and teddy bears, for those who have been through so much hardship,” Marks added, in reference to children she described as refugees.
Khan and some of his staff collected biscuits and cakes for a Christmas party that the Alyth Reform Synagogue hosted for people they said were refugees.
“Thousands of volunteers of all faiths in London, and around the United Kingdom and the world, gave up their time to bring our communities together, in the service of others, for Mitzvah Day 2016,” the mayor said, adding that “this special day is a big part of what makes our city, and our country, so great.”
In addition to the 25,000 volunteers in Britain, some 15,000 people participated in Mitzvah Day projects abroad that were inspired by the British event and timed to be held simultaneously in 25 countries, Marks said.
In total, Mitzvah Day participants gave 150,000 hours of their time to help hundreds of charities and causes.