PARIS – Hundreds of French Jews and non-Jews took part Sunday evening in a ceremony at Paris’s Synagogue de la rue Nazareth, commemorating five years since the terrorist attack on the Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school in Toulouse, which killed four people.
The French political class honored the event, with former president Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed at the synagogue with applause.
Also present were President of the Senate Gérard Larcher, presidential candidate François Fillon, former prime minister Manuel Valls and several ministers, as well as Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the mother of one of the soldiers murdered by the same assailant who perpetrated the Toulouse attack.
On March 19, 2012, Mohammed Merah arrived to the Toulouse Jewish school on a scooter and started shooting. Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two young sons Arié, 5, and Gabriel, 4, together with 7-year-old Myriam Monsonego, were killed.
Fifteen-year-old Aaron Bryan Bijaoui was also wounded.
In the days preceding the attack, Merah, who declared himself an al-Qaida fighter, had already murdered three people.
On March 11, he killed paratrooper Imad Ibn Ziaten in Toulouse, and on March 15 he killed paratroopers Mohamed Legouad and Abel Chennouf in the nearby town of Montauban. Another soldier, Loïc Liber, was seriously wounded and is paralyzed for life. Police killed the terrorist three days after the attack on the Jewish school, during a siege on his apartment in Toulouse.
Calling this week upon French Jews to attend the ceremony, Joel Mergui, president of the synagogue council, emphasized that Sunday’s service was dedicated to all victims of jihadism, whose names will forever be associated with the history of France – a country that refuses to give in to barbarism, hate and exclusion.
The council chose the Nazareth Synagogue as the venue since at the time, just hours after the Toulouse attack, a similar ceremony was conducted at the very same place. Then-president Sarkozy and candidate François Hollande, along with hundreds of ordinary Parisians, had arrived in silence to the synagogue, expressing their shock and indignation over the murder of French citizens simply for being Jews.
“Being here, I relive the ceremony we conducted five years ago. I relive taking the airplane to Jerusalem with the bodies of the four Toulouse victims to be buried in Israel,” said Mergui, adding that the family members of the victims never called for vengeance or hatred, but turned their anger and pain into a drive to be better French citizens and better Jews.
“We, French Jews, we must keep fighting... Our republican values and our Jewish values must serve as a uniting force. We cannot let the enemies of France make us weaker or divide us,” he said. “The jihadists are making war in our country. Their war is unconventional, trying to erase democracy here and around the world. Facing this, France must be strong. The ideology of hatred has no place in the cradle of human rights.”
Earlier, Francis Kalifat, the president of the French Jewry umbrella organization CRIF, together with Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux, took part in a series of ceremonies in Toulouse, including a commemoration ceremony inside the Jewish school itself.
“Today, five years after, we are still consumed with horror and pain,” the minister said. “These feelings have not dissipated and we have not reconciled with them. Five years after, we cannot forget.”
In honor of the victims, the minister inaugurated “The Tree of Life” sculpture by French artist Charles Stratos in the school’s courtyard.