My words from Friday night
On Monday, the Jewish community was rocked to its core yet again.
Rabbi Yonaton Sandler, 30, a teacher at Ozar HaTorah Jewish School in Toulouse France was walking into school, along with his two young children, Gavriel, 3, and Aryeh, 6. Along with them was Miriam Monsinego, 8, the daughter of the school’s principal. Before they were all safely inside, they were gunned down by a radical Islamic terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda.
This act of hatred against our people hit very close to home for me. I am the husband of a rabbi who works at a Jewish school and she brings our two children with her to work every day. (For my Orthodox friends reading this, you read that correctly, my wife is also a rabbi.)
Monday’s attack was a brutal reminder of a fact we in America just don’t want to accept: people still want to kill Jews – just because we are Jews. We falsely believe that this is not true. Monday pulled our heads out of the sand and stuck the reality before us.
As the bodies of Rabbi Yonatan, Gavriel, Aryeh and Miriam arrived in Israel for burial on Wednesday, the images of their funeral served to remind Jews everywhere of just how important Israel is to us all – a safe place, a true haven during horrific storms.
As I looked at the photos from the funeral, I was reminded of stories I had heard a few years back about French Jews purchasing property on the coast of Israel as their “just incase homes” – just incase things in France got so bad they had to flee to Israel. As I read an interview of a Jew who calls Toulouse home and learned that he no longer feels safe in Toulouse, I wondered if he had a “just incase” home somewhere in Israel or if he had to continue living in a place where he felt threatened just because he is a Jew.
Monday was a terrible reminder for all of us Jews – no matter where we live – that the world can be a very unsafe place for us.
Upon learning about the murders of Rabbi Yonatan, his children and little Miriam, I felt outraged. Outraged at the killer. Outraged at the hatred and antisemitism that exists across the globe. Outraged at the response of some global leaders to this tragedy. As I watched the reaction of the African-American community to the senseless murder Trayvon Martin, I even found myself feeling outrage at the global Jewish community – wondering, where is our reaction!? Where are our rallies and demonstrations!?
As I prepared for Shabbat, I was having a hard time letting go of the outrage – not an emotion I wanted to bring into Shabbat. Fortunately, I was blessed to receive a powerful message in the form of a letter – a letter written by a mother, not just any mother, Chava Sandler – the mother of Gavriel and Aryeh, the wife of Rabbi Yonatan. Chava had the courage and the strength to write to her community, the Jewish community and speak to us all via Chabad’s website. Her words allowed me to move past my outrage:
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 Jonathanand 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 (the Jewish Messiah).
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.
For some of us living outside of the Orthodox world, Chava’s words are difficult to relate to at first. But, when you stop to reflect upon her words, you realize that they do indeed speak to us all.
Chava reminds us that we are one community: French, Floridian, Orthodox, Liberal – we are brothers and sisters – Jews. The murder of her family was an attack against us all. But, outrage is not going to move us forward. Yes, it is a logical feeling at this time. But it is not productive.
What is? Remembering that the Jewish spirit can never be extinguished if we do everything possible to make certain that this spirit survives.
And how do we do this? By living Jewish lives. By being proud of our heritage and tradition and making them our own. In Chava’s Orthodox community, this is done by lighting candles, observing Shabbat, studying Torah. In our progressive Jewish world, many of us do the same things and do them proudly. But these are not the only ways to proudly embrace Judaism. Coming to services, learning more about our faith, raising Jewish kids, giving tzedakah, volunteering, traveling to Israel, performing tikun olam – these are just a few ways to live Jewishly. No matter how we decide to embrace our Judaism, Monday’s murders demand that each of us finds our Jewish path and embraces that path with pride. Monday cried out to us all to do what we can to live as proud Jews. Chava Sandler is asking us, in memory of her family, to do the same thing. As I read her request on Friday afternoon, her words helped me to transform my outrage into pride. What an incredible blessing….
In each generation, Chava reminds us, they have stood against us to destroy us – and we have survived. As we remember these Jewish lives that have been taken from us – we need to insure that our Jewish lives are as bright and strong as possible and that our Jewish light – our spark of G-d that the Kabbalists teach us dwells within us all – burns so brightly that it is visible – like a Chanukah menorah placed by a window – to all, that it touches and inspires everyone. If we can share our light like this, we will be living our lives as proud Jews. And, when we do this, we will send a clear message to the world that we Jews are alive and strong and well – despite the obstacles we have had to face and continue to struggle with. Nothing can stop us.
By living proud, Jewish lives, we will honor the memory of our brothers and sisters who were murdered on Monday and teach the world that despite their senseless deaths, Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish people lives.
Thank you Chava for your courage, your words and your wisdom during the darkest moments of your life. May the memory of your dear husband, your little boys and their friend Miriam only serve as a blessing.