In aftermath of terror attack, Manchester Jews pull together, think of Israel

Jewish volunteers were onsite Tuesday in downtown Manchester to give moral and physical support to law enforcement in the aftermath of the United Kingdom’s deadliest terror attack in 12 years.

Twenty-two people were killed, including children, and dozens injured the previous evening in an apparent suicide bomb attack at the end of a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena.

“We’ve been out the entire night visiting the crew, helping people who were separated from their families and trying to get back home. We’ve been bringing warm blankets, and now in the morning we brought hot drinks and danishes for the police and law enforcement,” Rabbi Shneur Cohen told The Times of Israel by phone from the scene.

Reached by phone, Jonny Wineberg, chair of the Jewish Representative Council, was in obvious shock at the attack. “My daughter was actually at the concert. Thank God she wasn’t injured, but it is a very scary thing,” said Wineberg.

The Jewish Representative Council released a statement on Tuesday calling for a united front in the face of the attack.

“Our commitment is to unite and remember that Manchester is a great city made up of many communities. A city that has faced adversity over the years. A city that has always recovered because of the resilience of all its communities.

“We commend the thoroughly professional work of the authorities and emergency services and the generosity of the hotels, taxi drivers and others who gave free accommodation and transport to young people last night. We remain resilient and vigilant in the face of adversity.”

For the police and rescue teams who have been working around the clock since the attack, Cohen, of Chabad of Manchester City Center, was organizing ongoing volunteer efforts — including setting up a lunch stall.

“Terrorism doesn’t differentiate between people. We’re in the heart of the city. When the news came in we were right away in touch with the agencies to do all we can,” said Cohen. “There’s a lot of precaution going on, places are being evacuated. The police are doing great work.”

Cohen’s brother, Rabbi Yisroel Cohen of L’Chaim Chabad Lubavitch, was also keeping abreast of new developments.

“So far there haven’t been any reports of Jewish people injured or killed, but we’re in touch with law enforcement and hospitals, and everybody is standing together — both the Jewish community and non-Jewish community are standing together to help out,” he said.

Rabbi Shneur Cohen. (Courtesy Chabad of Manchester City Center)

For the past several years, European Jews have been keeping track of a growing number of terror events on the Continent.

“The country has been on a very high alert,” said Yisroel Cohen. “The Jewish community has been on alert for some time, with security around schools and synagogues. At Jewish events, we always have security. At the same time, people stand together and they march on.”

But an increasing familiarity with terror is anything but comforting.

“I’m just coming to terms with it,” said an ex-IDF soldier living in Manchester who asked not to be named. “I know it happens now all the time, but when something like this happens in your hometown it shakes you.”

‘I’m just coming to terms with it’

“Manchester has always been a city of mixed cultures and religions with over 80 languages spoken in the city,” he said. “Jews and Muslims live side by side day in, day out with no trouble whatsoever. It’s a very sad day for Manchester.”

All who spoke with The Times of Israel were quick to point out parallels between the security situations faced by Israelis and Europeans.

“The last attack I was at was in Israel at Sbarro,” said Shneur Cohen, referring to a 2001 suicide bombing that killed 15 and wounded 130 at a Jerusalem pizza restaurant. “And I want to say that when Israel is strong, the entire world will be strong. When Israel stands up for its rights, the entire world sees and learns. Israel is on the front lines, but all people all over the world are affected by terror.”

The 32-year-old ex-infantryman, who served during the Second Intifada in 2004, echoed Cohen’s sentiments.

“As a former IDF soldier I feel a strong connection to Israel, but Manchester is where I live and have grown up,” he said. “The fact is that Israel has been dealing with this problem day in, day out, year after year, and the rest of the world is now starting to see what they have had to deal with.”

Police talk to people affected by the deadly terror attack at Manchester Arena in Manchester, northwest England on May 23, 2017. (Oli SCARFF / AFP)

The Jewish community was also looking to Israel as an example to follow in the wake of such attacks.

“Many people across the community are coming to volunteer with our efforts to visit and help the law enforcement agencies,” said Shneur Cohen. “In Israel, this is in their DNA. When something like this happens, they reach out to the person standing next to them, a neighbor, a friend, someone they never met, and they give a helping hand, a kind word.”

It’s a model that has been working for a community that works together closely not only during tough times but good ones as well, said Yisroel Cohen.

“It’s a unique thing about the Manchester Jewish community,” Cohen said. “As diverse as it is, people come together from a Jewish perspective. The Jewish community is very united in a lot of ways — it’s very, very special.”

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