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Monday, 19 March 2012

Toulouse’s Cruel ‘Boxing Day’ Tradition!



It’s strange how the weather may both cause and reflect a national mood. Today in Karmiel,  Northern Israel, the temperature has been relentlessly icy. But the sky - which should have been an infinity of pacific blue – was  a blurred haze of ill-concealed, sand-darkened rage

We received the first online Press reports mid-morning  of the multiple murders at the Otzar Hatorah (‘Treasure of the Torah’) Jewish School in Toulouse, South Western France. By late afternoon, the awful facts were clear:

The victims were an Israeli emissary to the local Jewish community, Yonatan Sandler, 30, of Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem, his sons Aryeh, 3, and Gavriel Yissacher, 6, along with the 8-year-old daughter of school principal, Miriam Montesango.

The outrage may not have been inspired by antisemitism, as is generally believed by many people including Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu. If not, it certainly smacks of anti-Jewish hate and the historical record of local intercommunity relations leaves much to be desired.

Israel Hayom reports that the city has had a Jewish population since the 8th century.

“In the early centuries of Jewish settlement in Toulouse, a grotesque tradition evolved among the gentiles in the community, in which one of the most respected Jewish elders -- generally a male scholar from within the community -- would have his ears boxed in public on Good Friday. By the 12th century, this physical humiliation had evolved into a financial one, with the Jews of Toulouse avoiding public floggings but nevertheless being forced to pay an annual tax.”

But despite a chequered past of murderous hatred, humiliation and enforced conversion, Toulouse presently boasts two Jewish schools serving a community of about 7,000 – many of them from North Africa.

It is a shameful irony that in recent years five Israeli shlichim (emissaries) have been either massacred or woefully exploited while serving abroad.

The first were Lubavitch organisation representatives in Mumbai, India, Rabbi Gavriel and Mrs Rivka Holtzberg who were murdered by Islamist terrorists during November 2008. Then, in early February this year, the current Lubavitch leaders in Mumbai were deported on apparently trumped-up charges of espionage.

Today,  France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is of Jewish origin, mm,described the attack as an “abominable drama” and  a “frightening tragedy.”

But I conclude by asking if this incident is purely the work of modern terrorist groups like Hezbollah or if it is another spew of the ancient anti-Jewish hatreds and slurs which have recurred in France since Jews first settled there.


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