By Maxine Dovere / JointMedia News Service (JNS)
NEW YORK—The Jewish community in New York gathered at the Consulate of France Tuesday afternoon for a memorial service for the rabbi and three children murdered outside a Jewish day school in France the previous day. The crowded service was organized by Rabbis Joseph Potasnik and Avi Weiss. Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, senior rabbi of 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 in the Garden of Eden.
In an interview with JointMedia News Service (JNS), Annette Herszkowicz, the aunt of Ava Sandler, widow of the slain Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and mother of Gavriel and Aryeh, spoke of the joy and happiness the Sandlers were enjoying as they began a life 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.
Seven months earlier, the Sandlers had returned to their native France from their home in Jerusalem so that Jonathan could teach Torah to the Jewish community of southwestern 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.
Ava, a mother of three small children, was raised in Paris and was pleased to once again live close to her mother. Jonathan 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 directed by Monsonego’s father.
In Israel, Member of Knesset 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.”
In New York, Consul General of France Philippe Lalliot told JNS that Monday was “a difficult moment for all, but a day of solidarity. The entire national community of France is devastated by the tragedy. There is a profound sense of unity. We have to educate people and make sure that all children learn from history. This will not happen. Never again. Never again.”
New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler reflected the thoughts of many at the memorial service. “I am absolutely horrified by the senseless and cowardly act of violence at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, France,” he said. “That Jews continue to be targets of hate and violence by lunatics and feeble-minded antisemites is despicable. And that a madman would single out children is unspeakably depraved and tragic.”