Together with tens of thousands, if not more, I stood in the sunshine of Albert Square as the City I love gathered in a vigil to mourn the 22. It felt incongruous; the sun shining so brightly on a day that was so dark. Where was the typical Manchester weather? Where was the rain and the dark clouds? Had the angels stopped crying on this day?
But as I stood there, I looked around at the faces of my fellow Mancunians. Perched on top of one of the Square’s monuments was a young man whose arm was still bruised and red from his most recent tattoo, and standing by his side was a woman still dressed in her smart business suit. Next to me was a mother and her child, not more than six years old, whilst directly in front was a veteran, a man who had seen war back in the 1940’s. Standing at the base of the Square’s tree was a group of students from the Manchester University and a cadre of Street Preachers all dressed in blue. There were Jews, there were Sikhs, there were Christians and there were Muslims, people of all religions and none, all standing there with a Faith in humanity that outweighed any terror or misguided fanatic.
And so as I stood there in the sunshine I realised how appropriate it was. Yes, Manchester is a City in mourning, a city that has had its heart rent asunder with the loss of 22 precious and pure souls, with the pain and suffering of many many more, but it is also a city that has a heart that beats strong.
I first heard the news last night whilst driving back from a charity dinner in North Manchester and at that moment all we knew was that a loud bang had been heard at the Arena. Then as the news slowly filtered in over the next few hours, I did what everyone else does at these times; as we naturally look first to see if any of our loved ones were caught up in the bombing, if anyone we know has been killed or injured, if one of our community has been hurt. We ring our family and friends, we send out a call to our contacts and community members, and we wait with trepidation as one by one they signal that they are well; even if some are only safe through miracles and good luck.
As the news came in of the numbers killed and injured, we once again breathed a sigh of relief as we counted our children and loved ones safe at home, but it was tinged with pain as we thought of those who are still waiting for news of their loved ones. We answered the calls from our relatives and friends abroad reassuring them that we are fine, but we can’t help but think of those whose phones will continue to ring with no one to answer it.
Once the immediate panic is over, we are reminded that we are all actually one and in fact I have lost loved ones in this attack. For this isn’t about religion or race, gender or community, it is about people. Every child or young person killed or injured in the attack is someone’s baby and loved one. When we said extra Psalms and prayers in the Synagogue today we prayed for everyone in the Arena, regardless of their faith or belief.
I spent the last week riding through the Holy Land with a mixed group of Jews and Christians; we rode through Israeli and Arab villages and were greeted with love and smiles at all times. My first appointment this week, mere hours after landing back in England, was at an interfaith ceremony at the Christie Hospital. We unveiled a tapestry, stitched and embroidered by a cross communal group of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The message on that tapestry was “All paths lead to hope”.
This Shabbat in Shul I will reflect on that message, but with a twist. For as well as all paths leading to hope, the paths themselves must be ones of hope. Our journey must be one that doesn’t just lead to hope, but is also hope in and of itself. Our mission in this world and our lives on this earth, are not just a means to an end, but have a purpose itself. Our journey must be one of hope.
We pray for all those injured, for the souls of those who were brutally murdered and for the pain of the parents and siblings who are having to face their greatest nightmare. May the Almighty heal the injured, comfort the mourners and shelter the souls of the pure ones under His wings. Most importantly of all, may He implant into our hearts the true love that we must have for each other and the bravery to journey together in hope and peace.
For as I stood there in the bright sunshine of Manchester’s Albert Square what I felt was Hope. As the hairs stood up on the back of neck when the crowd cheered Manchester’s Chief Constable what I heard was Hope. As my ears rang with the clapping of thousands of hands as Tony Walsh read his poem ‘This is the place’ what resonated through my body was Hope.