Shooting stuns Toulouse chief rabbi, Jewish groups

Rabbi Avraham Weill said his community in "misery" after attack; AJC, World Jewish Congress condemn assault on Jewish school.

Toulouse France shooting police 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Philippe Arles )
Toulouse France shooting police 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Philippe Arles )
Jewish groups around the world expressed outrage while the chief rabbi of the southern French city of Toulouse, Rabbi Avraham Weill, was at a loss for words on Monday after news broke that four people – a teacher, his two children and another child – were shot dead by an unknown gunman outside a local Jewish school.
“It’s difficult to express what we’re going through,” said the religious leader over the phone from France. “I know the dead and wounded personally.”
Weill, who became chief rabbi almost two years ago, said he was informed of what had happened just as he was leaving his synagogue. He said he was told the assailant opened fire from his scooter before fleeing the scene and did not enter the school, as some reports claimed.
“We are in a state of misery today,” the 29-year-old rabbi said.
There are about 20,000 Jews in Toulouse and some 600 Jewish children attend Ozar Hatorah, the school where the attack occurred, Weill said.
While there have been small anti-Semitic incidents in the past, the rabbi said there was no reason to suspect an attack of such magnitude.
“There was no phone call, no warning that this might happen,” he said.
Weill said his top priority now was to help the families of the victims and prepare the bodies of the dead for burial.
“I am fully committed to helping the community and assisting in any way the widow of the man who died,” he said.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a Jewish relief group, said it was “horrified and outraged by today’s barbaric attack at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse.”
In a joint statement, JDC president Penny Blumenstein, CEO Steven Schwager, and Europe director Alberto Senderey said the group “mourns the loss of these innocent lives and stands together, at this time of sorrow, with the entire French Jewish community. We hope and pray that the perpetrators will be swiftly apprehended and brought to justice.”
The American Jewish Committee said its prayers went out to the grieving community and wished those wounded in the attack a quick recovery.
“This is a brazen assault on France and French society, and another telling reminder of the dangers that exist for Jewish communities in today’s world,” said AJC executive director David Harris.
The World Jewish Congress said the fact that the unknown assailant, who escaped the scene of the crime on a scooter and is still at large, picked a school as his target was particularly deplorable.
“Today, Jews everywhere in the world are weeping in sorrow and disgust in the face of this despicable terrorist attack,” said WJC president Ronald Lauder. “Targeting children is a particularly sick and vile act, and nothing can justify it. This attack is an attack on all of us.”
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the umbrella group for Jewish fundraisers across the continent, expressed its solidarity with its Jewish brethren across the Atlantic.
“Words cannot describe the shock and outrage – and deep mourning – that result from a terror attack that is specifically directed at children,” said JFNA’s CEO and president, Jerry Silverman.
“We have long known that Jews can be targets of vicious attacks wherever they are in the world. And it is clear that even today, in 2012, that statement remains true. Jewish federations stand with the Jews of France at this time of sorrow.”
The security arm of the US Jewish federations asked Jewish officials to remain vigilant in the wake of the deadly shooting, citing the possibility of copycat attacks.
“While this event initially appears to be localized, we are always concerned about the possibility of copycat attacks,” a spokesman for the Secure Community Network, the Jewish Federations of North America’s security initiative, told JTA. “We’ve been in contact with our European partners and are continuing to monitor the situation.”