With Mitzvah Day and Interfaith Week on the horizon, Simon Phillips, director of interfaith at Leeds Jewish Representative Council reflects on the work the community is doing to build a more resilient Leeds.
As we reflect on the mass flooding in Whaley Bridge, the tragic fire at the Grenfell Tower, and the terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena, one of the things that all these events had in common was how communities of all faiths stood together in a time of crisis.
It’s been a busy six months for me in my role in overseeing interfaith partnership work on behalf of the Leeds Jewish Representative Council (LJRC). The role of faith communities in responding to terrorist attacks, natural disasters and pandemics was the subject of an event which I helped to organise in June at Leeds Civic Hall, where a sizeable contingent from the Leeds Jewish community attended.
Faith organisations across the city are currently working with Leeds City Council and the emergency services to develop a crisis planning infrastructure with the aim of developing business continuity plans for a wide range of scenarios. This event encapsulates a recent shift in the focus of interfaith activity from passive ‘cucumber sandwiches and samosas’ learning, to active engagement on key local, national and international priorities.
I also attended the annual Pride Shabbat in August, kindly hosted by Sinai Synagogue and joined by members of other faiths. The subject of relationships and sex education has been widely reported in the local and national news this year, against the background of wider debates around faith and sexual orientation. Speaking on behalf of the LJRC, I explained how great steps have been made by the Jewish community in being inclusive and welcoming – JPride is now an affiliated member of the LJRC. However, there is still much to be done to ensure that all community members feel included and valued.
November sees Interfaith Week take place, with activities including the annual Light for Leeds multifaith event at Kirkstall Abbey, a scriptural reasoning session from Leeds Faiths Forum and a Council of Christians and Jews event. Mitzvah Day takes place on 17th November, and this year will be slightly different to other years. LJRC are holding a Community Day as part of Mitzvah Day to encourage community members to voice their ideas and opinions on, among other subjects, how to encourage the spirit of volunteering, befriending and other support across the spectrum of the Jewish community.
The event will also have activities for children, including making gifts and cards for children who may be hospitalised at Christmas time, as well as an activity led by a local church focusing on recycling items of plastic as part of an emerging conversation about faith communities and climate change. There will also be a Mitzvah Month leading up the day itself, when people will have the opportunity to donate clothes, food and other items for local charities and good causes.
To find out more, email Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org.