Tears flow amidst a determination for democracy

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Click photo to download. Caption: Annette Herzkowicz, aunt of Ava Alulon Sandler, the widow of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, who was murdered with their two small sons as they waited outside Ozar HaTorah School in Toulouse, France. Credit: Maxine Dovere.

NEW YORK—The Jewish community in New York gathered for a memorial service at the Consulate of France Tuesday afternoon.  The well-attended service was organized by Rabbis Joseph Potasnik and Avi Weiss. Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, Senior Rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue, offered the comfort of psalm and prayer.  The warm sun belied the shutter felt deep in the souls of all who listened as Cantor Paul Zim intoned the “El Male Rachamim,” plaintively calling for the souls of the victims to be gathered to Gan Eden.

In a private conversation with Annette Herszkowicz, the aunt of Eva Sandler, widow of the assassinated Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and mother of Gavriel and Aryeh, she spoke of the joy and happiness the Sandlers were enjoying as they began a life of academic and outreach activities in the Jewish community of South Western France.  “They have killed innocents.  Wonderful young people who had no time to enjoy life and happiness,” she said, as tears ran along her cheeks. 

“They were so happy.”   Herszkowicz, who had “exchanged blessings” with her sister during a Sunday night telephone call, said she now had no words to say, no way to comfort her sister or her niece.  She has not spoken with them since the tragedy occurred.

Jonathan and Eva Sandler had returned to their native France from their home in Jerusalem only seven months earlier.  He would teach Torah to the Jewish community of South Western France and do kiruv—outreach—in the community.  At 30, he was already well known as a columnist in Kountrass, a Lithuanian Haredi monthly newspaper distributed in France and Israel. He did outreach work as a volunteer forShoresh, bringing Judaism to secular Jews.

Eva, a mother of three small children, could be close to her mother. Of Sephardic heritage, she was raised in Paris. Jonathan was of Ashkenazi background.  He had studied in Toulouse before making aliyah. Several members of his family had survived Auschwitz, said Herszkowicz. 

“They were overjoyed about life, their children, and one another. Jonathan was scholarly, dedicated to enhancing Torah knowledge.  They were reveling in their growing family, pleased with the birth of a little girl, following her two big brothers,” said their disconsolate aunt.

The massacre at the entrance to the Ozar HaTorah Jewish school in Toulouse, France, brought death to four members of Annette Herszkowicz’s family.  Miriam Monsonego, the 8-year-old executed by bullet to the head, was a cousin.  Jonathan Sandler had come to France to teach at the school her father directed.

In Israel, MK Danny Danon, Chair of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, called for an urgent debate stressing that “the attack on the Jewish school in France is a red warning light for the whole of world Jewry. The countries of the world must unite against such attacks against the Jewish People, and take action to destroy the seeds of anti-Semitic terrorism being planted around the world. We shall not permit the pogroms of the early 20th century to be repeated in Europe.”  

Click photo to download. Caption: From the right, H.E. Pierre Lalliot, Consul General of France in New York, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis, Ibrahim Kurtulus, Advisor to the President of the Federation of Turkish American Associations. Credit: Maxine Dovere.

In New York, Consul General Philippe Lalliot spoke privately with JointMedia News Service. Calling Monday “a difficult moment for all, but a day of solidarity,” the Consul said, “the entire national community of France is devastated by the tragedy. There is a profound sense of unity."

Consul General Lalliot continued, saying, “We have to educate people and make sure that all children learn from history” He stated with determination, “This will not happen.  Never Again.  Never again.” 

In a conversation with the Consul General and Dr. Paul de Vries, President of the New York Divinity School and member of the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, both the diplomat and the clergyman spoke of their identification with the tragic events as parents.  “The Consul General termed it a “horror that is beyond words. A democracy must remain vigilant,” he continued.  “We must stand for the rights of all people.”  Lalliot commended the spontaneous gathering in support of the Toulouse community when 200,000 gathered in Paris Monday night.  “France is a democracy, governed by the rule of law, not hatred and killing.   We must stand for our principals.”  The Consul was adamant about the need to create awareness from a child’s earliest years.  “We must teach courage, we must teach respect.  We must recognize the core value of every member of humanity.”

The words of New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler reflect the thoughts of many in the American community.

“I am,” he said, “absolutely horrified by the senseless and cowardly act of violence at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, France. That Jews continue to be targets of hate and violence by lunatics and feeble-minded anti-Semites is despicable. And that a madman would single out children is unspeakably depraved and tragic.”

Posted on March 20, 2012 and filed under News, U.S., World.