In silence, under a steady sun, thousands of people crowded around three piteously small shrouded bodies and one adult-sized one as they accompanied the four victims of Monday’s Toulouse shootings on their final journey.
A crowd of mostly French Jews, many in the black suits and hats of the ultra-Orthodox, murmured along with the Sephardic chant of the psalms and then heard a series of anguished eulogies in memory of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, his two children Arieh and Gavriel, ages 5 and 4, and Miriam Monsonego, age 7.
A little after noon, the crowd accompanied the bodies from the funeral hall to their final resting place. In the combination of the heat and the raw sorrow, 30 mourners fainted or required medical treatment.
In Toulouse itself, as the funeral was taking place, the alleged perpetrator of the attack was holed up in his home, surrounded by police.
Miriam Monsonego’s mother arrived at the funeral ceremony by ambulance, and had to be carried out. A BBC reporter at the funeral said that Sandler’s wife, who is pregnant, has indicated she has decided not to return to France.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was the first to speak at the ceremony. He said Jews around the world were “standing with us today,” in shared pain, facing “people filled with hate, murderers, who kill indiscriminately.” Rivlin cited a list of terrorist attacks in Israel, at settlements, in Buenos Aires, in Toulouse and elsewhere — “massacres that did not distinguish between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, ultra-Orthodox and secular,” but were all targeted at Jews.
“The Jewish people face wild beasts who cannot be sated,” he said. The vast, dark, unflinching hatred for Jews, he said, would not prevail. And it was “the responsibility of the State of Israel,” he said, to ensure that Jewish life could and would thrive around the world despite that hatred.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai and the two Israeli chief rabbis, Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger, were the next to speak, all bitterly lamenting the killings of the young children and of Rabbi Sandler who, said Rivlin, had gone out into the world to spread the teachings of Judaism.
Yishai said he expected the French government to take the most serious possible measures against the perpetrators.
Amar, who broke down in tears several times during his speech, said Israel’s enemies’ hatred of Jews — “Esau’s hatred of Jacob” — will never change, and that God would “avenge the spilled blood” of the victims. Israel’s enemies should not regard it as weak because it cries for its dead.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein referred to the perpetrators several times as “Amalek” — biblical arch-enemies that the Jews are obligated to eradicate — who “lack both the strength and the courage to face up to us on the field of battle, and so they target the weak and the unprotected among us… They have been able to kill us but they will never destroy us.”
Turning to the victims’ families, Edelstein said: “An entire nation embraces you.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told the mourners that “anti-Semitism negates the values of France” and was “intolerable.”
“We will fight anti-Semitism everywhere in France,” he vowed. “Every time a Jew is cursed, attacked, or injured on French territory, we will react. Attacks on French Jews are not just attacks on the Jewish community, but on millions of French citizens who cannot tolerate such behavior.”
He spoke of the “solidarity” of the entire French nation with the victims.
“Your children are being laid to rest in Israel,” he said, “but their memories will be cherished in the land where they were born, in France.”
“May their souls be bound to the souls of the living,” he said, in Hebrew, at the end of his eulogy.
Miriam Monsonego’s older brother, Avishai, one of the last speakers, described his sister as a fine, “righteous” person. In his name, and in the names of his siblings Moshe, Benny and Yaeli, he urged his parents to be strong.
“I have not asked much of you, Miriam,” he said, in a high wail, “but I ask you today to cry and not to stop. You are the closest to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and I ask you to pray to him to give our parents strength.” He ended with a prayer: “God give them strength. Continue. Continue to lead us. They don’t need to be told what to do. You know. Carry on and do not slacken… Father, continue to lead us… Mother, we need you too.”
An El Al plane carrying the bodies of the four victims arrived at Ben Gurion International airport shortly before 6 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon greeted Juppe and members of the families of the victims at Ben Gurion Airport. Juppe later went to meet President Shimon Peres, and then to the funeral.
In the name of the Israeli government, Ayalon thanked Juppe for his “human and emotional gesture” in coming, and for the French authorities’ full cooperation in trying to bring the culprits to justice.
Juppe thanked Ayalon and said, “This was a crime against the Jewish community, against France and against all humanity,” adding that the government in Paris will do everything in its power to bring the murder to justice
A closed-door memorial ceremony, attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was held at Charles de Gaulle Airport before the flight departed Paris. Sarkozy reportedly used the opportunity to laud the courage of the mourning families.
“[It] is a moment of contemplation in front of these four coffins. And a moment of exchange with the families. You can imagine their upheaval. I have to say we were impressed by their courage,” he said, according to news website ITV.
Speaking at a press conference, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins — head of the inquiry into the Toulouse murders — said, “We’re up against an extremely determined individual who knows he’s being hunted and could strike again.” He noted, “This is someone who has killed every four days.”
A team from Israeli rescue service Zaka was brought to France for the transfer of the bodies.
The four were murdered outside the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse on Monday morning.
Tuesday, schools across France held a minute of silence to honor the victims.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sarkozy wrote that since some of the victims held dual Israeli-French citizenship, he wanted to express his sincere condolences to Netanyahu and the Israeli public.
“You can be sure that French authorities will do everything to arrest the perpetrator of this heinous crime and bring the full weight of justice to bear, as appropriate to a crime of this gravity and cruelty,” he wrote.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the costs of the funeral will be covered by Israel’s National Insurance Institute. Due to the “extraordinary circumstances,” it was decided, funds normally used to bury terror victims in Israel could be used in this case.
The Jerusalem Burial Society, which oversees Jewish burials in the capital, had sought a deposit from the families before registering the graves — prompting a wave of criticism for the insensitivity to the victims’ families.
People seeking burial in Jerusalem who are not residents of the capital are routinely required to pay, burial society officials explained, acknowledging that relatives in France had initially been asked to provide a check as a deposit for the burials.