Sunday, 14 July 2024 19:12

A story about an elderly Jewish lady and her Muslim neighbours that will warm your heart

Thursday, 04 June 2015

Sometimes you hear a story that serves to counteract the relentless negativity towards religions that washes around us on a daily basis.  More recently it is Muslims who have bore the brunt of this, with almost a third of schoolchildren believing that Muslims are “taking over our country”, and the fact that British Muslims face the worst job discrimination of any minority group.

I feel it is important to pass on to others a very special family story in an attempt to straighten out what can be a highly skewed view of humanity.

My mother’s first cousin, always known to me as Auntie Lilly, turned 105 in March.  She received her second birthday card from the Queen – in case you’re not aware, you get one at a hundred, then another at 105 and one every year after that if you request it!   Lilly came here as a Jewish refugee from Germany in March 1939, working first as a domestic servant and later marrying and having a daughter.  She lived in the same three-bedroomed, semi-detached house in Willesden Green, in north-west London, for the past fifty-four years.  For the past twenty-five, since her husband Joe died, she has managed on her own.

When she was ninety-nine and a half she fell and broke her hip.  Everyone thought she would have to make a dramatic change in her lifestyle; she would certainly need to go into an old-age home.  Auntie Lilly, however, had other ideas.  After quite a considerable period of hospitalisation and rehabilitation, she returned to her own house and was once again climbing the stairs to her bedroom.

Her only child, Regina, married to an American, lives three thousand miles away but they speak twice a day on the phone and on Facetime and she visits her mother several times a year, often bringing other family members with her.  For the past eleven years Regina has been given huge support and relief from anxiety about living far away from her mother from another source.

When Lilly was still a sprightly ninety-four and pottering one day in her front garden, she got chatting to the new neighbours who had just moved in next door. They were an extended Pakistani family of fourteen. The parents, Mohammed and Shamin Islam, had first come to England in 1977.   Having lived for a while in Middlesbrough, they moved in 2002 to Kilburn and then on to Willesden Green.  They were highly observant Muslims who prayed five times a day.  The women wore the hijab and, in keeping with their traditions, could not be alone with men who were not family members.  An essential part of their religious belief and moral code was an immense respect for elderly people, no matter what their religion.  The youngest member of the Islam family, a little girl of about two, took to Lilly immediately and began to call her “grandma”. From that day onwards they became fast friends and adopted her as their own.

Mohammed would pop in frequently to do odd jobs in the house and garden or just to chat over a cup of tea.  Shamin and her daughters would bring food they had cooked and check up on her on a daily basis.  They would keep in regular touch with Regina to reassure her that Lilly was being well looked after.  At Lilly’s 100th birthday party, held in a restaurant, her Pakistani neighbours were honoured guests and had pride of place at the top table.

Source: The Independent

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