It’s a special kind of hatred. The kind that motivates a killer to murder children. A real-life monster that pulls up to a school and opens fire, repeatedly, knowingly, purposefully, gleefully, murdering a father and three small children.
There are, unfortunately, no end to the ways someone can perpetrate evil. But targeting children, specifically, seems beyond comprehension. It’s hard to even read about Mohammed Merah, the killer who murdered four people outside a school in Toulouse, France, first gunning down a rabbi and his two small sons, then chasing after an eight-year-old girl, grabbing her by the hair and shooting her in the head. It’s harder to imagine how someone could hate so, so deeply.
The victims: Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, 30. Aryeh Sandler, 6. Gavriel Sandler, 3. Miriam Monsonego, 8.
Leaving behind bereaved families; parents who lost their little girl, a pregnant wife who lost her husband and two sons, brothers and sisters who will never play with their siblings again.
This is anti-Semitism as its purest and most unadulterated. A killer targeted the small and innocent just because they were Jewish. It is, unfortunately, a frightening reminder of how we can never really stop looking over our shoulder. As Yonatan Sandler’s father hauntingly said at the funerals, after telling about a cousin that died in the Holocaust, “I thought that children would never be murdered again in France or the entire world.”
How can we even begin to move on from such a tragedy? Ironically, an answer comes from none other than Eva Sandler, wife of Yonatan and mother of Aryeh and Gavriel. Her reaction to the violent deaths of her husband and sons was not a call for vengeance or a cry of grief. In an article she wrote for the Chabad website, Eva implores her fellow Jews to increase their Torah study and good deeds as a way to remember her slain husband and sons. Kiss your children, learn more Torah, light candles on Shabbat, invite others to your Pesach seder.
It is hard to wrap my mind around a world that can encompass both a Mohammed Merah, the very personification of baseless, deep, visceral hatred, alongside an Eva Sandler, the embodiment of purity and chessed. Literally, chessed means “good deeds,” but the Hebrew word invokes more than that. “Chessed” is a desire to improve the world, to better the lives of those around you; a desire that emanates from your very soul.
I thank Eva Sandler for giving us something to hold onto. In the midst of terrible, wrenching grief, she has given us a small glimmer of hope. I will try to take her words to heart. I will light candles this Shabbat and throughout Pesach a few minutes earlier as she suggests, to “add holiness to our world.” I will think about the Sandler and Monsonego families and pray for the recovery of the boy critically injured in the attack.
And I will remember what Eva Sandler so movingly reminded us—our Jewish faith offers us a way to cope. By holding on to Torah study, to mitzvot, to chessed, we can begin to rise up from unbearable tragedy.