A Jewish woman and a Muslim man, whose photo mourning together in the aftermath of the Manchester terror attack went viral and symbolized hope for coexistence to many, have been good friends for over 10 years.
Renee Black, a 93-year-old Jewish woman and Sadiq Patel, a Muslim man, traveled to Manchester on Wednesday from the nearby town of Blackburn to mourn the victims.
The pair were captured on video and in photos talking and joining in prayer next to a makeshift memorial in Albert Square, in the city’s center.
“When we were walking through Albert Square I kept asking Sadiq: ‘Why is everyone looking at us?’ I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about us being there together. All I could think about was that poor little eight-year-old girl,” Black said, referring to one of the victims.
“God’s been good to me. I am at the edge of life now, while hers should have been spread out before her.”
According to the Daily Mail, the two Blackburn natives have been close friends for more than a decade and are members of an interfaith group.
The death of Black’s partner Harry three years ago, and several minor strokes that she suffered, have led the two to become even closer, with Patel visiting Black every few days and driving her into Manchester to buy Kosher food, the pair told the newspaper.
Black was born in Blackburn in 1924 to a Lithuanian Jewish father, while her maternal grandfather was a Russian Jew. Despite the town once having a synagogue and a Jewish community, Black told the Mail she believed she was now the only Jew remaining there.
She told the British daily that as a result of the Holocaust and a number of experiences of anti-Semitism in her youth, she always felt it was important to build bridges with other immigrant groups.
“I was 15 when World War II started and I remember being horrified when we learned of the gas chambers and death camps,” she said, while adding that “I have always felt I owe something to the millions of Jews who were murdered, to make a stand against hatred.”
Patel, meanwhile, was born in Blackburn to a family of Muslim immigrants from India.
He said that while his friendship with Black may seem “unusual,” it is a testament to their ability to focus on what they have in common, rather than their differences.
“It’s unusual for a Muslim man in a robe with a hat and beard and a Jewish lady to be friends, but let’s celebrate what we have in common with a vengeance. We all share the same things, births, marriage and deaths, so let’s reflect and tolerate each other’s differences,” the Mail quoted him as saying.
Black and Patel told the daily that he was only Muslim at the funeral of her Jewish partner Harry, while she in turn was the only Jew at the funeral of his mother.
Patel said that he was “humbled” that Black attended his mother’s funeral, even though it was on Shabbat.
“That was iconic for me,” he said. “Renee has never broken the Sabbath for one day in her life.”
Patel said that “As a Muslim, I felt quite nervous about going to Albert Square. You are never sure how people might react to you, because these radicalized terrorists have tarnished the Islam faith.
“I was worried we might attract attention, but I was surprised by how much. The atmosphere was so sombre and quiet and we both felt very emotional. Renee was really upset thinking about the poor children who died.”
Patel added: “For both us it felt incomprehensible that someone could take all those innocent lives in the name of faith. It’s certainly not a faith either of us recognizes.”
Responding to all the attention given to the images of the two of them together at the Manchester memorial, Patel said he hoped it could serve as an opportunity to bring people together.
“We never expected those pictures to go round the world, but I really do hope people will look at them and see that two people from different faiths can come together in harmony and stand united,” he said.
“Ours is just one example of the thousands of friendships and acts of kindness we don’t see.”