A dozen members of South London Liberal Synagogue walked through the Streatham High Street shopping centre on 20 November, but they weren't looking for pre-Hanukkah bargains. They talked to shopkeepers, asking how they coped with crime, keeping streets safe and helping neighbours - writes Jo Siedlecka.
It was one small project that was part of 'Mitzvah Day 2011', an international day in which the Jewish community reaches out to neighbours with a range of good deeds, and it had extra resonance after a week of rioting last summer affected London and other British cities.
"This was the first time the South London Liberal Synagogue has been involved this scheme," said organiser Tom Chigbo in an interview with ENInews.
"There was a great deal of interest from shopkeepers and customers. One lady who ran a stationers told us how she'd helped a man who collapsed in the street. Another had reported an attempted burglary on a car," he continued.
"There was a renewed sense that these problems cannot be left to the police alone. The synagogue plans to hold these walks regularly. We hope businesses will be talking to each other more from now on and the streets will feel safer," he added.
The walk was modelled on a three-year-old civic programme called CitySafe, in which shop owners put a CitySafe poster in their window and sign a charter pledging to monitor and report crime and support anyone in trouble.
At the end of the walk, led by Rabbi Janet Darley, the group were welcomed into the evangelical New Covenant Church for refreshments. They went on to spend the afternoon meeting parishioners at St Augustine's Anglican Church.
On the same day, other members of the synagogue marked the day by planting 1,200 bulbs in the grounds of Ravenswood, a residential centre for people with disabilities.
Mitzvah Day, which is marked on different dates by Jewish congregations around the world, was founded in the UK in 2005 by Laura Marks. Its founding principle is that supporters should give, not money, but time to make a real difference within and beyond the Jewish community. 'Mitzvah' is Hebrew for 'good deed.'
Marks said in an interview with ENInews that "hundreds of projects are taking place around the country and in 15 other countries ... these include visiting care homes, collecting food for the hungry, sending, planting trees and food and other local initiatives. Many involve people from different faith groups - Muslims, Christians and Hindus working side by side with Jews in their shared vision of a better world."
She said than while Mitzvah Day cannot heal neighbourhoods on its own, "by rolling up our sleeves and getting involved and taking responsibility, it most certainly can help." She said she feels the day is particularly important for young people. "We need our young people to know they live in a world where people notice and care."
The day also marked the beginning of Interfaith Week across the UK, when different faith groups gather for services, discussions, exhibitions and other events.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]