LONDON – London School of Economics students showed up with the matzo meal, the Halal caterers came schlepping 90 chickens and 40 kilos of carrots and the Muslim scouts from the 8th East London troops rolled up their sleeves, joining in with the New Stoke Newington synagogue youngsters in chopping up wedges of garlic.
The chicken soup cook-a-thon Sunday, which saw hundreds of young volunteers getting together at dozens of venues across the country to cook up traditional pots of soup – was this years’ flagship event for the national Mitzvah Day. As its name implies, Mitzvah Day gets Jewish communities and individuals to sign up for projects and spend a day doing mitzvahs, preferably sweeping up their non-Jewish friends and neighbors in the efforts.
Ishaq – “I don’t actually like chicken soup” – Haque, 17, was one of those who epitomized the spirit. Recruited by Muslim Aid, a charity that partnered with Mitzvah Day to sponsor and coordinate the #ChickenSoupChallange, Haque found himself spending the sunny Sunday on a celery chopping line at the East London Muslim Center.
“The taste of this kind of soup is too different, isn’t it? Not sure about it…” he admitted to some volunteers from Bnai Brith Youth Organization, alongside him on line, who were busy comparing their moms’ recipes. "But I am here because I like to help people,” he added.
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Beyond shredding chickens and carefully placing bay leaves, the mitzvah aspect here involved what would come afterwards – sending out the thousands of portions of soup to homeless shelters, supported housing centers and the Salvation Army.
And for the vegetarians, there was also a mitzvah day “Spinach, Yogurt and Walnut soup” option being cooked up – a recipe contributed by Master Chef winner Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed. The Jewish Vegetarian Society, not to be outdone, also came up with a vegan chicken soup option.
“In that chicken soup for Jews symbolizes nurturing and home, the idea here is to share those values with everyone,” said Laura Marks, founder of Mitzvah Day.
Now living in London, Marks got the idea for creating Mitzvah Day when she and her family were living in Hollywood, California a decade ago. The U.K.-based charity began as a day of social action with a handful of projects. Ten years later, it has become a movement with close to 40,000 volunteers from 450 different communities around the country.
Mitzvah Days has an additional 30 spinoff mitzvah days in other countries, participating in events as diverse as hosting teas for refugees, cleaning cemeteries, planning singalongs in old age homes, and, of course, spreading chicken soup love.