By Rabbi Amir Ellituv
A RABBI’S life is never predictable — events can turn what seems to be a normal day into something that lives in your memory for a long time.
On Monday evening, I heard a fascinating lecture by Yosef Garfinkel at the Manchester Jewish Museum, spent time with my rabbinic colleagues and, after some shopping, went home.
Having just gotten into bed the phone rang at 12.30am.
A voice said: “Amir, it’s Peter Gomm. The police have declared a major incident, there has been a large explosion with many casualties, get down to the hospital if you can, we need you, bring your ID badge and mobile.”
I only then saw the reports coming up on my phone about what occurred.
I told my half-awake wife Tova: “I will see you when I see you.”
As I drove quickly to the Manchester Royal Hospital, I heard the reports on the radio and realised the enormity of what we were dealing with.
In my 18 years of being a hospital chaplain, we have trained for major incidents, but never actually dealt with one until now.
I never knew what to expect, just go in and report to the multi-faith chaplaincy.
I went in to see Siddiq the imam, Peter the line manager and Laurence, another Christian chaplain.
They were sitting round the computer hearing the news reports while Peter was ringing around.
We were told to go to the adults’ outpatients unit, where the families of the victims were being brought in.
In our usual multi-faith team style, the rabbi, the priest and the imam walked down the corridor to offer support.
As we arrived there, another of our colleagues was sitting with the victims and updating us.
We were spoken to by the police and doctors as to what we should do, and we stood by the families offering them support and help.
There wasn’t much you could say to the people who found out that their family members were killed — just give them a hand, tissues, a drink of tea or water and listen to them.
The atmosphere in the room was tense, but also full of shock and numbness. There weren’t any angry shouts, just silent sobs and stunned expressions.
We had families who drove over from Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Grimsby and Liverpool to find their kids.
Some of the parents were relieved when they just found out that their kids were safe.
We saw the tears of relief from those being reunited with their kids, we heard about the accounts of people stemming blood from the neck of victims who had shrapnel lodged inside.
After an hour, I met up with two other colleagues and we went towards the children’s outpatients, on the way another chaplain, David, went into the adults’ outpatients.
We were eight in total dealing with the incident. We first went into the children’s accident and emergency.
We saw loads of shell-shocked children just waiting outside, they weren’t injured, probably just waiting for their friends being treated.
We went into the treatment area, the place was organised chaos, everyone knew what they were doing while we stood on the side, the professionalism was phenomenal.
You could see the pain on the faces of the staff, but they were putting it to one side in order to treat efficiently the victims.
Each nurse had a special coloured overall used in emergencies.
One of them came over to us and said they would need our support after they had finished dealing with the patients.
We introduced ourselves to the child psychologists who were standing around waiting to be called when needed, and sat in the children’s department.
We saw kids being wheeled in, interviewed by the police, being treated by the staff.
They were shivering, shocked, but also had a quiet determination about them not wanting to be beaten by the terrorist’s actions. They showed bravery.
As chaplains, we moved from site to site, from the children to the adults.
On one of our journeys, I was walking with Siddiq towards the children’s department. He is a great guy, with whom I have a great working relationship.
A couple walked past us. The eyes of the father looking towards the imam said a thousand words. He never said anything, but there was a look of anger, of recriminations, of blame.
We continued walking towards outpatients and sat down together to speak.
It wasn’t the time for recriminations, but a time to treat the wounded and give solace to the mourners.
I told my fellow chaplains about my different experiences, how I walked with Tova down Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem at the height of the suicide bombings.
People screamed there was a terrorist bomb and suddenly everyone ran. But moments later everything was fine and from the fear of death, life carried on normally.
I said to them how we have such immense security around our schools, synagogues and Jewish institutions and, unfortunately, the reality in the UK is that unless extremism isn’t sorted, it will be like this for many other places.
As I reflect, I pray that the image that we projected in the hospital of coexistence is played outside in the wider public.
However, after the shock wears off and the anger rises, we have to be careful, we have to do what we can to show that religion is a model of peace and understanding, we have to show that extremism has no place in our society and has to be driven out.
We have to educate the message of peace and not hatred.
And let the love of God shine in our lives to help those around us.
The professionalism of the NHS and our police is unquestionably immense, and every person dealing with the victims are heroes.
I pray that we shouldn’t have to deal with such tragedies and that all children can play peacefully and not need to be brave over such events.