The French community in Jerusalem came together Wednesday in sorrow as they buried four of their own on the Mount of Rest. Few of them knew Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his children Aryeh and Gabriel, or Miriam Monsonego. They came to show solidarity, to pool their grief and to reflect.
Eva Sandler, the rabbi’s wife and mother of the murdered children, was stuck in traffic, unable to reach the cemetery, and so the crowd, a diverse portrait of French Jewry, in stiff polo shirt collars and black hats, designer sunglasses and frosted hair, began to recite Psalms. Everyone around this reporter produced a small hard-covered copy of the 150-chapter book of verse and chanted along with Miriam’s uncle, Rafael Maman. “The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee; Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion.”
Jonathan Bibas, a new immigrant from Marseilles, was flanked by two Parisian friends. “All of us have been called dirty Jew in France,” he said. “We all grew up with anti-Semitism.”
The friends confirmed this with silent nods. Bibas went on to say that while Israeli army representatives had come to the Yavne school in Marseilles and taught the students some martial arts, the feeling of being a Jew in the heavily-Muslim south of France “was always like a little island facing a huge sea.”
A black-hatted teacher at the Yeshuat Yosef Yeshiva in Ramot, Eliyahu Hassan, formerly of Paris, said the situation was getting worse. Several months ago he was in the French capital, waiting on line at a government office. Behind him were several Muslims, and the clerk, thinking that all the bearded folks were of the same clan, beckoned them forward together. He turned to share the joke with the men behind him, “but they just stared right at me like this,” he said, assembling his face into a wrathful stare.
Bibas said he hoped that the tragedy would produce a thin silver lining and that, as with the dreadful 2006 murder of Ilan Halimi, it would spur aliya to Israel.
Rabbi David Dahan, a former teacher at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, predicted that the small community in Toulouse,” the most Zionistic in France,” would likely send more of its youth to study in Israel but that the majority of French Jews would stay put. “They are in denial,” he said. “They’ll say it was not anti-Semitism. It was al-Qaeda. It was an attack against France.”
When asked about the fervent Zionism of the community, he said, “they are connected to Israel, for sure, but business will go on as usual.”
Once the French foreign minister and the chief rabbis and the speaker of Knesset and the MKs and the French community leaders and the relatives and friends had delivered their eulogies, members of the burial society walked the tragically light stretchers of the children and the one adult down to the assigned plots of earth. The crowd watched in silence, mostly from above, as the victims were buried and the bereaved tore their shirts and donned rubber shoes instead of leather, which is considered too decadent for mourning.
Five hours after they’d come, the crowd trickled out of the cemetery in troubled silence.