March 20, 2012 / Adar 25, 5772
Rabbi Jonathan Sandler (29), his two sons – Aryeh (6) and Gabriel (3) – and Miriam Monsonego (8), daughter of school headmaster Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego, were killed on March 19th in a tragic shooting attack at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, home to approximately 20,000 Jews.
The gunman opened fire from his motorcycle, firing at students as they disembarked their school bus around 8:00 am.
Upon receiving the tragic news, synagogues throughout France held special prayer services and recited psalms for the fallen victims and the wounded.
Sandler, born in Paris, was educated in a Toulouse “cheder” (traditional Jewish elementary school) when he was a boy. An ordained rabbi, he learned for three years in Israel at the “Zichron Shimon” yeshiva in Har Nof, Jerusalem.
The headmaster of Ozar Hatorah invited Rabbi Sandler to return to Toulouse as a teacher in the local Jewish day school. According to the testimony of close friends, Sandler was happy to return to Toulouse, the home of his early childhood education.
Before returning to France this past December, Sandler completed a Jewish Agency-run teachers training program, says the head of Jewish Agency delegations in France, Ariel Kandel, who has dispatched an Agency Shlicha (emissary) to Toulouse for a few days to provide help on the ground.
With news of the grave tragedy, the Jewish Agency expressed sincere condolences to representatives of the Toulouse community and the city’s education system and quickly offered assistance in any way needed. The Jewish Agency Executive held emergency meetings to determine the best way to provide immediate assistance to the grieving community.
The morning of the attack, the head of Jewish Agency delegations in France received many phone calls of concern and condolences. One such phone call was from Adi Salame, a young emissary (Shaliach) from the youth movement Habonim Dror, who served in the Toulouse community three years ago.
She said she has maintained close contact with the community since the completion of her Shlichut. She heard the news by phone from a close friend in France before it made way in the press. “I know the community and the rabbi’s daughter who was killed. The images of blood and murdered children shocked me!” said Adi.
“This is a quiet, family oriented neighborhood and I know that this horrifying event comes out of the blue for the entire community. The [Jewish residents in Toulouse] are very warm and open. Even though I came from a secular movement (Habonim Dror), I would attend synagogue every Shabbat. I got to know Rabbi Monsonego’s daughters, including Miriam. Although the girls were not members of Habonim Dror, we participated in joint activities. This tragedy really caught me by surprise,” Adi said.
Keren Zenu, a Jewish Agency Aliyah emissary who was in Toulouse at the time of the attack, says that the city is generally a very quiet place where anti-Semitism is less prevalent than places like Paris. “This is truly a surprise and a shock to the community,” she says.
Keren is the daughter of new immigrants who moved from Toulouse to Israel 30 years ago. Her parents still have extended family living in Toulouse.
The school, Ozar Hatorah, has ties with Israel and the Jewish Agency through Israel Experience and Jewish education programs. World Zionist Organization programs like Ben-Ami also operate in the community.
Dr. Dov Maimon, Senior Researcher at the Jewish Agency-founded Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, says “It is impossible to prevent such an event, but I am sure that statements coming out of France will assert that the discourse of hatred among the extreme right in France provokes such things. There is some truth to this; the discourse of hate does encourage such acts. Every week we hear stories of Jewish children who are beaten by Arabs in the streets. But this is the first time that a shooting attack has targeted Jewish students,” says Maimon.
For more on the Toulouse shooting attack, please see the following link: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/french-police-suspect-neo-nazi-link-to-attack-on-toulouse-jewish-school-1.419707