Many of us spent the week after the March 19, 2012 massacre at the Ozer Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, France, unable to get the images of it out of our heads. We pictured the killer, Mohamed Merah, riding his motorcycle calmly up to the school gates as parents droppecd their children off at the start of the day. We kept replaying the survivor’s words as they described the scene: first shooting Rabbi Jonathan Sandler along with his two sons, 6-year-old Aryeh and 2-year-old Gavriel. Then grabbing 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego by her long blond hair, and, according to witnesses, holding on to her while he fumbled, trying one gun then another, finally shooting her in the head before easily walking away.
French news reports minutes after the massacre showed a tearful woman sobbing as she told reporters “I feel like these are my own children,” and for a moment all Jews around the world – indeed, all feeling people – knew what she meant. I imagined the ache in the hearts of the victims’ families, their loneliness that night without their slain children.
And then, four days later, I didn’t have to only imagine any more. When I opened my email in-box before Shabbat, there were several emails from different people, all forwarding me the same letter written by a grieving Mrs. Eva Sandler, penned days after her husband and two sons were murdered.
As she contemplated the first Shabbat of her new life, her first Shabbat without her husband and beautiful boys, she had no words of recrimination, no thoughts of revenge. Instead, she had a message for all Jews. In memory of what happened to her own family and to little Miriam Monsonego, Mrs. Sandler, asked Jews around the world to undertake a few simple actions.
• Kiss your children, and tell them you love them. Tell them how much it means to you that they grow up with Torah values, showing love of their fellow people and a connection with their Creator.
• Increase your study of Torah, and take it one step further: help others to study Torah too.
• Light Shabbat candles, and even do so early, to “increase light in the world."
• Finally, in the memory of the Toulouse victims, invite guests to your upcoming Passover Seders. Make sure every Jew has a place to celebrate Passover.
I forwarded the email to everyone I know, and, as I got ready for Shabbat that night, vowed to put Mrs. Sandler’s thoughts into action.
The first request was a challenge: I do light candles as the sun sets on Friday evenings, but this time I raced around, finishing my usual preparations, in a rush to light them earlier than required. My family chipped in, and we did it, bringing extra minutes of Shabbat light into our homes. We used our extra Shabbat time to sit together, reading to each other and chatting. Mindful of the letter, I told my kids I loved them. It was a strange feeling: I was indebted to Mrs. Sandler for her suggestions, but also felt guilty, enjoying myself while she is in mourning.
Later, as we welcomed Shabbat guests, Mrs. Sandler’s letter was all everyone could talk about. So many people had read it already: in just a few hours before Shabbat, it had raced around the blogosphere, being forwarded again and again, reaching untold numbers of inboxes.
The timing was propitious.
Somehow, through her grief, Mrs. Sandler managed to send her letter to world Jewry just hours before the start of the Hebrew month of Nisan, in which the holiday of Passover falls. Thousands of years ago, all the Jews gathered together to leave Egypt.
It’s so hard to imagine that sort of pulling together among our diverse community today. But every now and then, an event catches all Jews attention, reminds us all that we are one extended family. The horrible deaths of Jewish school kids in Toulouse got our attention, and Mrs. Sandler’s letter helped channel many of our feelings in the aftermath.
The next day, Shabbat, I was still trying to live out the letter. I dragged my kids to a Torah class at a local synagogue (to increase my Torah learning) – and found it packed with people, many of whom were consciously trying to fulfill Mrs. Sandler’s wishes. One woman stood up and asked people to contact her if they were looking for a Passover Seder, specifically citing Mrs. Sandler’s letter. Another woman had sponsored a beautiful meal at the synagogue for those attending the class, and she stood up too. She said she wanted to dedicate the meal and the learning that was to follow to the victims of the shooting in Toulouse, but was soon overcome with tears and found it difficult to go on. We all knew how she felt.
As Shabbat wore on, I was troubled by one thought. Mrs. Sandler’s letter, and my own efforts to implement it, had enriched my Shabbat. I’d lit candles in memory of her sons and husband, I’d learned Torah in their memory, I’d hugged my kids extra because she couldn’t hug hers. But was this enough, I wondered? In her letter, Mrs. Sandler had urged people to bring extra light into the world. Was the extra light – the extra happiness, the extra good will and friendliness – I’d managed enough to really honor the dead? Was I doing enough?
Finally, late in the day, Shabbat drew to a close. The end of the day also marked the end of Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the new (Hebrew) month. It is customary at this time to recite a beautiful prayer over the reappearance of the new moon, now just a crescent in the sky. “He is a worker of truth whose deeds are true. And to the moon He instructed that she renew her glory to His chosen people, for they too will be renewed.” Like the moon, the fortunes of the Jewish people waxes and wanes. At times it the situation appears hopeless, but we know that like the cycles of the moon, we’ll see light again.
Perhaps by themselves my actions were not enough. But added together with Jews the world over who wanted to do something to help, it can have an effect. Like the moon gradually gaining light, night by night until it is full, we can all – together, slowly – create more light.
Mrs. Sandler’s letter gives us a formula. Kiss our children. Tell them we love them. Give them a Jewish education. Light Shabbat candles. Learn more Torah. Invite guests for Seder. Bring more light into the world.
Massacre in Toulouse
A Call From the Heart by Mrs. Eva Sandler
A Heartfelt Plea for Increased Light by Mrs. Chava (Eva) Sandler of Toulouse
My heart is broken. I am unable to speak. There are no ways for me to be able to express the great and all-consuming pain resulting from the murder of my dear husband Rabbi Jonathan and our sons, Aryeh and Gavriel, and of Miriam Monsonego, daughter of the dedicated principal of Ozar Hatorah and his wife, Rabbi Yaakov and Mrs. Monsonego.
May no one ever have to endure such pain and suffering.
Because so many of you, my cherished brothers and sisters in France and around the world, are asking what you can do on my behalf, on behalf of my daughter Liora and on behalf of the souls of my dear husband and children, I feel that, difficult though it may be, it is incumbent upon me to answer your entreaties.
My husband’s life was dedicated to teaching Torah. We moved back to the country of his birth to help young people learn about the beauty of Torah. He was truly a good man, loving, giving, and selfless. He was sensitive to all of G-d’s creatures, always searching for ways to reveal the goodness in others.
He and I raised Aryeh and Gavriel to live the ways of Torah. Who would have known how short would be their time on this Earth, how short would be the time I would be with them as their mother?
I don’t know how I and my husband’s parents and sister will find the consolation and strength to carry on, but I know that the ways of G-d are good, and He will reveal the path and give us the strength to continue. I know that their holy souls will remain with us forever, and I know that very soon the time will come when we will be together again with the coming of Moshiach.
I wholeheartedly believe in the words of the verse: “The L-ord has given, and the L-ord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the L-ord.” I thank the Almighty for the privilege, short though it was, of raising my children together with my husband. Now the Almighty wants them back with Him.
To all those who wish to bring consolation to our family and contentment to the souls of the departed: Let’s continue their lives on this Earth.
Parents, please kiss your children. Tell them how much you love them, and how dear it is to your heart that they be living examples of our Torah, imbued with the fear of Heaven and with love of their fellow man.
Please increase your study of Torah, whether on your own or with your family and friends. Help others who may find study difficult to achieve alone.
Please bring more light into the world by kindling the Sabbath candles this and every Friday night. (Please do so a bit earlier than the published times as a way to add holiness to our world.)
The holiday of Passover is approaching. Please invite another person into your homes so that all have a place at a Seder to celebrate the holiday of our freedom.
Along with our tearful remembrance of our trials in Egypt so many years ago, we still tell over how “in each and every generation, they have stood against us to destroy us.” We all will announce in a loud and clear voice: “G-d saves us from their hands.”
The spirit of the Jewish people can never be extinguished; its connection with Torah and its commandments can never be destroyed.
May it be G-d’s will that from this moment on, we will all only know happiness.
I send my heartfelt condolences to the Monsonego family for the loss of their daughter Miriam, and I pray for the speedy recovery of Aharon ben Leah, who was injured in the attack.
Thank you for your support and love.