(JTA) — Muslims from a mosque that was opened recently in a heavily Jewish part of London gave blood at a nearby synagogue during the Jewish community’s annual charity drive.
Several members of the new Golders Green Islamic Centre, which opened despite opposition from some local Jews, donated their blood last month at the Golders Green United Synagogue as part of Mitzvah Day – a Jewish community initiative that encourages good deeds and that began in the United Kingdom 12 years ago.
“The blood drive at the synagogue is a really wonderful opportunity to find common ground and realize how much we share when we look past the externals,” The Jewish News quoted Ahmed Al-Kazemi, a faith community leader at the center, as saying at the synagogue on Mitzvah Day, which this year was on Nov. 19.
Earlier this year, a petition opposing the opening of the Muslim center received thousands of signatures. It cited parking issues and other practical problems, but the petition’s critics said those concerns were a thin veil for anti-Muslim xenophobia. The criticism triggered a debate among British Jews, with some arguing that fears of a mosque inside a Jewish area were not unfounded.
In another interfaith activity, British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis sorted clothes for the Holy Trinity Shelter with Cardinal Nichols, the kingdom’s most senior Roman Catholic.
This year’s Mitzvah Day also saw the event gain its greatest global reach ever. Volunteers seeking to re-create the day’s success in the United Kingdom, where it is inspiring similar initiatives in other communities, held activities in 30 countries including Australia, Germany, France and Israel, as well as Belarus and Romania, organizers said. In total, 40,000 volunteers took part in 731 Mitzvah Days around the world.
One of the events highlighted in the United Kingdom by the organizers was initiated in a small village by its only Jewish resident, Abigail Mann.
The daughter of a Masorti rabbi, Alan Mann, inspired church-going volunteers from the village of Hawkshead 90 miles north of Manchester to undertake a variety of actions, including serving tea to the elderly, knitting for the homeless and tree planting.