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March 21, 2012 9:33 am

New York Family of Toulouse Widow Responds to Tragedy

avatar by Maxine Dovere / JNS.org

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Annette Herzkowicz, aunt of Ava Alulon Sandler, the widow of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, who was murdered with their two small sons as they waited outside Ozar HaTorah School in Toulouse, France. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

NEW YORK—The Jewish community in New York gathered for a memorial service at the Consulate of France Tuesday afternoon.  The well-attended service was organized by Rabbis Joseph Potasnik and Avi Weiss. Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, Senior Rabbi of the 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 to Gan Eden.

In a private conversation with Annette Herszkowicz, the aunt of Ava Sandler, widow of the assassinated Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and mother of Gavriel and Aryeh, she spoke of the joy and happiness the Sandlers were enjoying as they began a life of academic and outreach activities 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.

Jonathan and Ava Sandler had returned to their native France from their home in Jerusalem only seven months earlier.  He would teach Torah to the Jewish community of South Western 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. He did outreach work as a volunteer for Shoresh, bringing Judaism to secular Jews.

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Ava, a mother of three small children, could be close to her mother. Of Sephardic heritage, she was raised in Paris. Jonathan was of Ashkenazi background.  He 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 her father directed.

In Israel, MK 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.”

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  • Wendy

    Shalom, I’m Ashkenazi lineage, but was kept away from most of my family-of-origin, internationally, [a long story]. Condolences. France must protect us : Jews in France; Israel, us half-French. I haven’t been able yet to send snailmail condolence cards. the tourists, whom I’ve met from Toulouse, France; I’m nopt sure what their religion was/is. More than some of Islam, messes up the neighborhood, which I was moved to, recently; unfortunately, not in my French inheritance.

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