|Birmingham and West Midlands Jewish Community||
MITZVAH DAY 2016
Mitzvah Day in the West Midlands is promoted and sponsored by the Representative Council, which is grateful to the steering group led by Sandra Lipkin and all those who participate in some way or another locally in one of the projects or on an individual basis, joining together with more than 40,000 Mitzvah Day volunteers in the UK and abroad. We are a small community yet we manage to make Mitzvah Day happen here. The steering group would really welcome some new members to ensure that next year is even more successful.
Responding to a request from Mitzvah Day UK to organize a Mitzvah Day project in Sajid Javid MP’s constituency, as he had indicated that he would like to participate. The Birmingham steering group sought the assistance of Yvonne Stollard and Melanie Mendelsohn and it was decided to approach Bromsgrove’s Princess of Wales Hospital to see if it would like to have free refreshments served to patients, visitors and staff on Mitzvah Day as has happened every year in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The hospital was very happy to have this offer and volunteers from different faith communities in Bromsgrove came forward. Yvonne Stollard writes: ”Brilliant afternoon feeding cake to patients, their visitors and the staff at the Princess of Wales Hospital, Bromsgrove. A very special thanks to all the fantastic helpers from the local Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities, and our wonderful supporters - Cllr Malcolm Glass (Vice-Chair of Bromsgrove Council) and Revd Owain Bell (Chair of Worcestershire Interfaith Forum). Not only was it a good way to serve the community, and to network, but it was a great opportunity to demonstrate to the general public that people of different faiths.” Unfortunately, at the last minute, Sajid Javid was unable to come and help,, but maybe next year …?
Birmingham's Council of Christians and Jews decided to have a Mitzvah Day tea for refugees and asylum seekers, which was held at St Catherine’s Church by Holloway Head. CCJ members together with members of the church and the Jewish community (including BPS Cheder students, who baked a phenomenal number of chocolate crispies) donated dips and crudités, crisps, cakes, biscuits, fruit, chocolates and drinks as well as wrapped Xmas gifts, (many of which came from the Knit and Natter coffee morning) and blankets, knitted jumpers and hats made by the Knit and Natter ladies. The tea, gifts and knitwear were excitedly and gratefully received and really appreciated and enjoyed by the 30 refugees of all ages from Iran, Iraq Afghanistan, Mexico and Guatamala, some of whom had only just arrived in the UK a week before, now living at the Stone Rd refugee centre. Many expressed pleasure and gratitude not only for the food and gifts but also for the care and welcome they were given. The children enjoyed playing in the vast church whilst the adults chatted with each other and with the volunteers , telling their stories and expressing their hopes for a better future in the UK. Left over food was taken to the Stone Rd Centre and unopened food to the St Albans Church food bank.
This year it was possible to participate in an environmental project, thanks to the enthusiasm of Rabbi Margaret Jacobi. Fortunately the weather was good and her group of volunteers cleared 20 bags of rubbish from Blackberry Way at Shire Country Park in Hall Green/ Moseley.
Two highly successful Mitzvah Day projects, which have take place every year, continue to provide great satisfaction for the participants as well as the recipients:
More than 30 blankets have been knitted and sewn during the year since last Mitzvah Day by the dedicated knitters who have met monthly since the first year. Those who come just to natter on Mitzvah Day are annually amazed at the buzz of activity which this project generates as well as the outcome of the knitting- tables laden with blankets, baby clothes and hats as well as more than 80 gifts (this year to be given to the refugees and also to women and children in need) donated by both the knitters and the natterers who come to show support for the incredible handiwork the knitters produce. This group of mainly senior ladies, facilitated by Ros Benjamin and Jenny Pinnick, are a great credit to our community and must have knitted many hundreds of blankets between them over the years, all of which have been donated to worthy causes in the Ukraine, Israel and in Birmingham. Xmas cards designed by Sandra Brown were written for injured soldiers recovering at the QE hospital. It was a great pleasure to welcome Mary Locke, City Councillor for the ward where Silverstone Court is located, who came with some gifts and chatted to those present, expressing her interest and support of the group's activities as well as her desire to come and participate at future sessions.
As in previous years, many visitors and patients enjoyed the refreshments and entertainment during afternoon visiting hours at the Queen Elizabeth hospital. Mitzvah Day volunteers organized by Sandra Lipkin, served hot drinks and delicious cakes and biscuits, provided by the wonderful bakers (including the BPS cheder students) in the Birmingham community. A young trio of violinists, Ben and Daniel Robinson and Jeremy Shechtman (all either current or past pupils at Kind David School), entertained passers by with a delightful repertoire of jazz and classic pieces. This was later followed by music from Ellie Stanton and fellow members of her Klezmer Band. Grateful visitors and patients relaxed and enjoyed it all:
"I have been visiting daily for the past 3 weeks; its not been easy - you never know how things are until you get here and sometimes it's been really hard; this is a real treat to sit and listen to these young people playing their music, and having a nice cup of tea as well. It's lovely".
"Thank you for this - you have made my day, you taking time to listen to me, and enjoying this cup of tea - thank you. " Passers by were invited to do their own mitzvah by writing cards to lonely patients in the hospital- more than 50 cards were written. Unused Cakes and biscuits were given to the Highgate food bank and although donations are not requested, grateful customers gave money which is passed on to benefit the hospital.
Mitzvah Day at Bromsgrove'sPrincess of Wales Hospital
More than 60 people came to Hillel House to enjoy the garden party organised by the Representative Council's Cross Community Activities steering group on Sunday June 19th. The decision to have the party at Hillel was made to ensure that should the weather be inclement, there was plenty of room inside for an enjoyable afternoon. The venue also provided the opportunity for the community to see the many changes made at Hillel House over the last few years to bring the student residential accommodation and the non residential facilities up to the standard of university and other commercially run facilities. Many people had not been to Hillel for a long time- some not since the Midsummer Fayre took place! - and were really impressed by the achievements of the Hillel committee funded by grants from the Sebba Trust, from money raised by selling off a large part of the back garden and from careful management by the Hillel Treasurer, Harvey Brown of the annual income - fees paid by the students to live there. Cream teas and ice cream cornets were enjoyed by those who attended and fortunately the weather for most of the time enabled the children to enjoy the bouncy castle, a trampoline, badminton and craft activities set up in the garden. A colourful plant stall organised by the Gardening group also attracted interest as did the tennis competition which was on the television whilst those who wanted to play snooker or board games were able to do so. Thanks to everyone who helped to organise the afternoon, Ben Posaner for designing such an attractive invitation, the CST for their presence and the Hillel committee for allowing us to have the event there.Elliott Brown took
Commemorating the Expulsion of Jews from Arab Lands
A new Representative Council initiative to mark the day designated by the Knesset, November 30th, to commemorate the Expulsion of Jews from Arab Lands was well attended by members of the community and some Christian wellwishers at the Aubrey and Betty Lynes Centre. The short ceremony commenced with the lighting of a memorial candle to remember the many Jews whose lives were brutally extinguished in those difficult times, and another candle was lit to remind us of the importance of the State of Israel. This was followed by a brief explanation of the importance of this event:
November 30th has special significance- as on November 29 1947 the UN General Assembly approved the partition of Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state, which was immediately and unanimously rejected by Arab nations. In the 20th century, with the rise of Arab nationalism and due to the conflict that shook Palestine (then under the British mandate), Jews were aggressed and their rights were violated on a massive scale. In the immediate aftermath of the adoption of the partition plan, pogroms were perpetrated against Jews in all of these countries. The expulsion of Jews from Arab countries where they had lived for more than 2700 years and long before the arrival of Islam, was at first presented as a kind of revenge for that decision. After Israel's victory over Arab armies in the 1948 war and later in 1967, the expulsion was reframed as an act of retaliation for Israel's military victory.
Tonight, Israel will hold the third annual commemoration of the expulsion of some 850,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim countries during the course of the 20th century whose narrative has all but been ignored. Unlike Palestinian refugees, they fled not war but systematic persecution. Seen in this light, Israel, where some 50% of the Jewish population descends from these refugees who became full citizens, is the legitimate expression of the self-determination of an oppressed indigenous, Middle Eastern people. For more than 50 years the phenomena of Jewish refugees from Arab countries went underreported – what some label “the forgotten exodus.” Moreover, Israeli representatives rarely raised the Jewish refugee issue during peace talks, assuming that it was water under the bridge and that Palestinian demands for fulfillment of the Right of Return was mere rhetoric.
The scope of the mass exodus is hard to grasp. Less than 6,000 Jews remain in Arab countries today, compared to an estimated 850,000 who lived in North Africa and the Middle East in 1947. Nearly all who remain reside in two countries – 5,700 in Morocco and 1,500 in Tunisia. The other Middle Eastern countries have only a handful of Jews if any. In the course of a few short years, the Middle East rid itself of more than half its Jews, and by 1976, that number reached 97%. That phenomenon of 1948 was dwarfed and swept to the sidelines in comparison to the enormity of the Holocaust. But now, in retrospect, its genuine scale and methodology is coming to light. The magnitude of Israel’s humanitarian endeavor between 1948 and 1954 is staggering. A nation of 650,000 absorbed a destitute population of 685,000 newcomers, all in the midst of and in the aftermath of a draining war. Arab governments seized more than $1 billion in communal and private property (at 1947 values) belonging to those who left – an amount that in today’s dollars would exceed $100 billion. Israel spent astronomic sums – most donated by the Jewish people – to assist Jewish refugees from Arab countries in their flight and rehabilitation in Israel.
Some of these Jews who were forced to leave their homes and country came to the UK and eventually to Birmingham where they have positively contributed to the fabric of our community in different ways.
The short ceremony continued with 9 members of the community who experienced this persecution and difficult upheaval in their lives, lighting 8 and 1/2 candles to remember the 850,000 Jews who were expelled. This was immediately followed by the blowing of 27 shofar blasts (thanks to Michael Rowe) – a poignant aural reminder of the length of time that Jews lived in these countries, and then these candles were snuffed out –symbolically marking the end of Jewish life across the Arab world. The film Silent Exodus was shown which clearly and movingly told the story of Jewish life in the Arab countries and the events leading up to the expulsion, the exodus itself and rebuilding of new lives afterwards. We were then privileged to hear from some members of the community- Mireille Fisher, Michal Arrowsmith and Joy Rowe - who spontaneously recounted some personal experiences and responses to the film. The meeting fittingly concluded with Hatikvah. This will become an annual event in the community calendar.
Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron