In its commitment to foster public-service oriented leaders, the Leadership Programme encourages first-year WHT Scholars to undertake a pro-bono project of their choice. Scholars are permitted to do this in Oxford, their home country or elsewhere, with the only requirement being that it involves engagement in unpaid public service. Many of our scholars embark on dynamic public service projects across the globe. Jade Weiner (2019 Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening) talks about her volunteering with local charities that aid the homeless community in Oxford. Read about other pro-bono projects here.
Pop-Up Clothing Store for the Homeless in Oxford – a WHT pro-bono project by Jade Weiner
Mitzvah Day is an annual international day of community engagement and upliftment. Mitzvah, in Hebrew, is accepted to mean a good deed. While good deeds should be done as frequently as possible, the 17th of November has become a time for communities, together with their neighbours and local charities, to get together and set up projects which address real needs. Jewish values such as acts of loving kindness, charity, healing the world and social justice are implemented into action to achieve stronger civil societies.
This year the Oxford Jewish Society partnered with Just Love, a local Oxford Christian Charity to set up a Pop-Up Store for homeless and vulnerably housed residents in Oxford. At the heart of both of these organisations is the mission to inspire others to respond to the call of social justice, intrinsic to both faiths. Oxford society encompasses the rich and powerful juxtaposed with people in need, having little social capital.
The Gatehouse is a drop-in café that provides refuge and a safe space for the homeless and vulnerably housed in Oxford. Supported by the Oxford Student Union, the Oxford Jewish Society, Just Love and the Gatehouse united to lead a team of passionate and dedicated volunteers to run Mitzvah Day 2019.
Posters and social media marketing started weeks before, rallying the community to donate warm winter clothing. The groups coordinated, sharing tasks like collecting clothing, advertising and arranging logistics. Volunteers created a Pop-Up Clothing Store at the Gatehouse premises in the city complete with clothes railings and sorted boxes of items ranging from socks to winter jackets. The guests who visited the store were assisted by the volunteers and offered styling, sizing and product advice to suit their needs. Guests could take up to 3 items of their choosing and left armed with a warmer winter wardrobe, smiles, kindness and love from their community. Volunteers together with guests also sang, played music and livened up a cold day with warmth, songs and laughter.
Homelessness looms large in Oxford and while it sometimes seems easier to ignore the person selling a “Big Issue”, asking for spare change or food for their dog, it is essential to treat each individual, as a precious person, recognising their plea and acknowledging their plight, even if we are not in a position to help. We enter dangerous territory as a society when we pay more attention to a cute animal from across the street than a human being pleading for our help. Society cannot be separated; it comprises of all those within it. The homeless and vulnerably housed in Oxford require and deserve our care, protection and love that we often reserve for the social, academic or financial elite.
Through an inter-faith, inter-organisational and inter-relational concern, the unequal power dynamics of everyday life in Oxford were transformed into positive interactions, empathy and the fostering of prosperous collaborations.
It is hoped that through a shared responsibility in the welfare of society at large – helping others, looking after our environment, and addressing diverse human rights, our current social troubles can be healed, improved and resolved.