He Would Never Use One Word Where None Would Do

If you said “Nice day,” he would look up
at the three clouds riding overhead,
nod at each, and go back to doing what-
ever he was doing or not doing.
If you asked for a smoke or a light,
he’d hand you whatever he found
in his pockets: a jackknife, a hankie –
usually unsoiled — a dollar bill,
a subway token. Once he gave me
half the sandwich he was eating
at the little outdoor restaurant
on La Guardia Place. I remember
a single sparrow was perched on the back
of his chair, and when he held out
a piece of bread on his open palm,
the bird snatched it up and went back to
its place without even a thank you,
one hard eye staring at my bad eye
as though I were next. That was in May
of ’97, spring had come late,
but the sun warmed both of us for hours
while silence prevailed, if you can call
the blaring of taxi horns and the trucks
fighting for parking and the kids on skates
streaming past silence. My friend Frankie
was such a comfort to me that year,
the year of the crisis. He would turn
up his great dark head just going gray
until his eyes met mine, and that was all
I needed to go on talking nonsense
as he sat patiently waiting me out,
the bird staring over his shoulder.
“Silence is silver,” my Zaydee had said,
getting it wrong and right, just as he said
“Water is thicker than blood,” thinking
this made him a real American.
Frankie was already American,
being half German, half Indian.
Fact is, silence is the perfect water:
unlike rain it falls from no clouds
to wash our minds, to ease our tired eyes,
to give heart to the thin blades of grass
fighting through the concrete for even air
dirtied by our endless stream of words.

by Philip Levine

Faith leaders show unity after Paris attacks

Leading members of Britain’s religious communities held a joint conference at a prominent London mosque on Friday in a show of unity and shared condemnation a week after the Paris attacks.

More than 20 leaders from Jewish, Muslim and Christian and other faith communities gathered at London Central mosque in Regent’s Park for an “interfaith unity gathering” in response to the terror attacks that left 17 people dead.

Dr Shuja Shafi, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, opened the event by saying: “We come together in difficult circumstances. Last week, we all watched in horror as people were killed mercilessly. Last week, we saw gunmen kill, insulting our faith, and defying the Quranic injunction to save life.

“We come together in solidarity … There has been a lot of heat generated in the last week about freedom of speech, about security and about the place of British Muslims in society.”

Shafi went on: “Yes, Muslims are no doubt hurt and offended by those depictions [of Muhammad]. But nothing offends us more than the insult, hurt and dishonour this attack has brought on our community and faith.” He added that he was particularly hurt and shocked by the attack on the kosher supermarket in France and said: “Islamophobia and antisemitism have no place in society.”

Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputy of Jews, who sat beside Dr Shafi, said: “It’s lovely to see a unity of people from different faiths.” He said the attack on freedom of speech in Paris was an attack on values in our society: “You attack one minority, you attack us all.”

Senior Rabbi to Laura Janner-Klausner speaks
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner (centre) speaks to invited guests during an interfaith unity gathering at the Islamic cultural centre in London. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
Senior Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner from the Movement for Reform Judaism, who was in Paris last week, said: “Just a week ago, somebody tried to break something.” But she went on to say that Friday’s event offered a moment of sanctity. “Jews and Muslims are united by the word shalom/salam. This word doesn’t just mean peace – it also means completeness. We will not allow that [disunity] to happen,” she said.

Dr Harriet Crabtree, director of the InterFaith Network for the UK, told the Guardian: “At times such as these, where events overseas have an impact on inter faith relations in the UK, the response of faith groups and interfaith bodies here is very important.

“It is clear, though, that there is recognition that there are serious issues involved which call for long-term, considered reflection and engagement. Identifying and building on shared values and also finding ways to discuss areas of disagreement is crucial.”

After the joint conference, the religious and community leaders held up “#hopeunity” banners in a photo shoot beneath the golden dome of the Central Mosque before the Friday call to prayer for Muslims.