Silent Vigil for Peace 29th November 2023

Over 120 people, the majority of whom were from the local Muslim and Jewish communities, met in Hale last week for a silent vigil for peace in the Middle East at the invitation of Altrincham Interfaith Group.

Elinor Chohan MBE introduced the event, which was welcomed as being dignified, uplifting and positive in bringing local communities together in solidarity. A bell rang, initiating a profound 20-minute period of silence. In this shared stillness, Jews and Muslims sat side by side, bowing their heads in a collective reflection for resolution to the longstanding conflict that has divided Israel and Palestine.

The diverse attendees echoed a common sentiment – a yearning for peaceful coexistence and collaboration in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The vigil clearly demonstrated that hate and violence have no place within this community, aligning with the truth that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” echoing the wisdom of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Both sides have their own and differing narratives, but the commonality is that there are civilian casualties and human suffering on both sides. Contemplating the occasion, attendees conveyed a deep sense of positivity, departing from the event with uplifted spirits and a hopeful outlook. There is now an appeal for leaders to draw inspiration from the community’s unity, fostering collaboration to bring an end to the sorrowful conflict, and seeking a resolution that acknowledges the diverse needs and aspirations of those affected.

Tom Ross, Leader of Trafford Council, commented on the significance of the vigil, stating, “We have all been shocked by the harrowing events in the Middle East, and the vigil was an opportunity for people from different communities in Trafford to come together, reflect, and pray for peace in the region.”

Rabbi Yisroel Binstock of Hale Synagogue, remarked, “There was a powerful and palpable energy in the room as friends and neighbours of all faiths and none gathered in silence together, united in our heartfelt desire for peace. I wish we could share that moment with others; it is difficult to heal a fractured world, but we can do it one village at a time.”

Elinor Chohan, Chair of AIG, reflected on the event, expressing, “In the tranquil silence, a healing essence pervaded, and the collective presence was powerful. It is my sincere hope that such gatherings can serve as a guiding light, illuminating a path for our communities to coexist harmoniously as neighbours and friends.”

Nasser Kurdy, surgeon and Imam said, “In this collective effort to transcend religious boundaries and come together in solidarity for peace, the Altrincham Interfaith Group exemplifies the potential for positive change that can occur when diverse communities unite for a common purpose. Strong friendships forged over the years are being severely tested and strained but they will not be broken for we all share a unified understanding of humanity. Being part of this gathering was very humbling and like everyone there, I left with a renewed sense of hope. I pray for the end of hostilities and the end of the senseless loss of lives. I pray that innocent people can return to their innocence and I pray for peace, prosperity and security for all people of Israel and Palestine.”

Carolyn Jones, Secretary AIG

The Alf Keeling Memorial Lecture, November 23rd, 2023

“Who is my neighbour? Families seeking asylum arrived in Hale needing help. What can we learn from the Ashley Hotel story about ourselves and our faith?” delivered by Kevin Jaquiss, Methodist Church Local Preacher.

About 70 people attended the lecture this year, which was held in the brand new Parish Hall of Holy Angels Church in Hale Barns. Elinor Chohan, Chair of Altrincham Interfaith Group, welcomed the speaker, a trained solicitor and mediator who, for the past year or so, has been involved in welcoming refugees to the Ashley Hotel in Hale.

Kevin began by citing a case from 1928 where a judge ruled on the question of who is one’s neighbour, and said that your neighbour is anyone affected by what you do. But do we think about the effect our actions may have? The richest 10% (that’s us) produce the same level of emissions as the other 90%, and this has driven global warming resulting in extreme weather events and rising sea levels, causing the annual displacement of, on average, 21.5 million people; by 2050, 1.2 billion people could be displaced globally. According to the Judge’s ruling, these people are our neighbours – they are closely affected by what we do.

Saying “Stop the boats” will not work – numbers of refugees will increase, and this is the direct result of our actions. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone is entitled to seek refuge from persecution. The UK signed up to giving refugees rights to access to courts, education and possible citizenship, not to impose penalties or return them to their homelands. We have obligations, and now families are coming to the Ashley Hotel. Initially there was a negative reaction to this, but other people wanted to help. Clothes were collected, English classes organised etc but these efforts seemed inadequate when people were housed in a depressing hotel, with no means to get their own clothing or shoes. Volunteers at the Hub, run by Altrincham Baptist Church and Trafford Council, worked with local Christian and Muslim associations to organise welcome packs and presents for Eid and Kevin, working with Care UK in Warrington, helped to provide clothing. But legal advice is not available and demand is overwhelming. Helpers feel ashamed that they cannot do more. The UK houses only 1% of refugees, of which 75% are legally entitled to our protection. In law, there is no illegal way to travel, but Kevin stressed that we are not being swamped. Refugees are, however, being sent to unsuitable places where no housing is available such as Liverpool. He cited the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus said your neighbour is someone who shows you mercy. Faith teaches us to have compassion, and though some people may be opportunists, we must still help. Kevin concluded by stating that we are all human, all connected, and we all need each other.

After a series of questions by concerned people, refreshments were offered. Finally, Altrincham Interfaith Group would like to express thanks to Holy Angels Church for allowing us to use the wonderful facilities in their new Hall.

Carolyn Jones (Hon. Sec., Altrincham Interfaith Group). If people wish to volunteer, they should contact Kevin in the first instance ( Financial donations should be made through collections by faith communities, not individuals. Contact Chris Graham ( at Churches Together in Hale. Collections of warm clothes (coats, jumpers, hats, scarves, gloves only) are most important at present and can be left at St George’s Vicarage (Church Walk off Townfield Road, off A56) Monday 8.30-10.0 and Wednesday 10.30 to 11.30. .