By Rabbi Avi Shafran
After a hail of French police gunfire relieved humanity of the noxious presence of Mohamed Merah, the 23- year-old Algerian-Frenchman who murdered seven people, including three children, in cold blood and declared himself ready to enter paradise, his soul must have really been surprised. If, that is, he had a soul and wasn’t just some demon in human guise.
Unsurprising for those of us back in this world was the revelation that when Mr. Merah was holed up in a building, his mother had refused to urge her son to surrender; or that, after Mr. Merah’s dispatching, his brother told police he was “very proud” of Mohamed and “approve[s] of what he did”; or that the murderer’s father plans to sue the French government over his son’s death.
Even the act of Lorraine Collin, a 56-year-old high school teacher at Gustave Flaubert High School in Rouen, Normandy, who asked her class to observe a moment of silence in memory of the deceased murderer, was not terribly surprising; it was pretty much par for the contorted conscience course.
What did come as something of a surprise, and a happy one, was the French Education Minister’s suspension of Ms. Collin’s from her job. Good for him, and may he make it permanent.
Surprising, too, at least to some people, were the words of Eva Sandler, the widow of one of the victims, Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, and the mother of two others: 5-year-old Arieh and 3-year-old Gabriel. Amid her unimaginable shock and grief, she had the presence of mind and conviction to pen a public message, thanking “the Almighty for the privilege, short though it was, of raising my children together with my husband.”
“Now, “she continued, “the Almighty wants them back with Him.” And she urged all Jewish parents to honor her dead family members by loving their children and teaching them to love “their fellow man.”
“Parents, please kiss your children,” she wrote. “Tell them how much you love them, and how dear it is to your heart that they be living examples of our Torah, imbued with the fear of Heaven and with love of their fellow man.”
Which takes us back to the “unsurprising” realm, namely the fact that, while Orthodox Jewish newpapers and magazines, and even secular media, duly reported Mrs. Sandler’s striking sentiments, the bereaved woman’s words were entirely ignored by the mainstream Jewish media.
Yes, those media that routinely seek out and highlight the worst examples of Orthodox Jews, individuals who commit crimes or show disdain for others, the media that do their best to leave their readers with the impression that such people are somehow normative and representative of the Orthodox community. The media that, it seemed, spilled more ink to recount and re-recount and comment and further comment on an allegedly uncouth Israeli individual’s saliva than on Iran’s nuclear program.
Those media, for some reason, didn’t find Mrs. Sandler’s words newsworthy. Why might that be?
Could it be because Mrs. Sandler revealed herself to be a true example of a dedicated Orthodox Jew? And that to bring attention to so refined, faithful, and purposeful an Orthodox Jew would only confuse their readers? After all, it might cause them to puzzle over the fact that there are Orthodox Jews who are truly selfless and deeply caring, who bear even the most unbearable burdens with grace and religious conviction. Could such a person, they might come to ask themselves, really be part of the same community that routinely flouts the law, harbors hatred, and spits on little girls?
Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe I missed mention of Mrs. Sandler’s sentiments in the Forward and the New York Jewish Week and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s dispatches. Maybe the search engines at the sites of each of those venerable institutions are all faulty, and reports of the bereaved widow and mother’s words lurk somewhere out of electronic reach.
Or maybe Mrs. Sandler’s words, and the meta-message they send about truly observant, believing Orthodox Jews, will yet appear in those media. It’s only been, after all, two weeks since she shared them with the world-at least the part of it that get its news from Orthodox or non-Jewish media.
© 2012 AMI MAGAZINE