Last night I joined the vigil at Trafalgar Square. I stood with people of all ages, walks of life and faiths.
Three feelings were expressed.
First, there was sorrow for PC Keith Palmer, Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran and their families, and concern for all the wounded. They had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had our El Al flight back from Tel Aviv not circled for forty minutes before being given clearance to land at Heathrow, Nicky would have been crossing Westminster Bridge at exactly 2.30. It’s a reminder that we are all here by the grace of God and none of us knows what tomorrow may bring.
I hope that somehow, in the secret way in which thoughts travel, our prayers for the strength, consolation and healing of the wounded and bereaved will remain with them and their families in the challenging months when the papers have long been filled with other headlines.
Secondly, there was deep appreciation for the courage of the police and the skilled compassion of the emergency services. I made a point of thanking some of the many police-men and -women I passed as I walked from the tube station to the square. It’s easy to take for granted the risks others take on our behalf and the care with which they serve us. As a community rabbi, I often see ambulance crews at work and have almost always been moved by their humanity and professionalism.
Thirdly, and most profoundly, there was an embracing sense of solidarity. As the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:
We stand together in the face of those who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life. We always have and we always will.
I’ve asked myself what the terrorist murderer saw in front of his eyes when he drove his car into a crowd of holiday-makers, parents collecting their children from school, people on their way to meetings. What did the driver of the lorry in Nice see, or the perpetrator of any such outrage, anywhere? What possesses their minds to turn fellow human beings into enemies and dirt in their eyes? There are answers to these questions, doctrines of hate, propagandists of evil…
But they are not the issues which interest me most deeply. What really engages me is the question of what those people see, here in London and anywhere in the world, who rush to help, who show no fear, who try to heal, who offer comfort and encouragement. I don’t expect they ask themselves anything at the time; they simply follow their intuition and their hearts.
Earlier this week I was with a friend and colleague in Israel whose daughter was badly burnt in a freak fire. Thank God, she is recovering. ‘It was terrible’, he said. ‘And’, he continued, ‘It was inspiring’. Noticing my perplexity, he added: ‘The total devotion of the nurses, social workers, doctors, whether Arab, Druse or Jewish, – it was humbling, it was wonderful.’
I love my Jewish faith. But I don’t find God just in creeds. In this remarkable, beautiful, cruel world, in one another and our hopes and dreams and needs, in our toughness and our vulnerability, there the living God awaits us, always.