Toulouse tragedy: questions over Jewish school security provision

By Marcus Dysch, March 22, 2012

There were surveillance cameras and a tall fence around the Otzar HaTorah school in Toulouse. But the cameras were not manned and there was no guard.

The tragedy was "an accident waiting to happen" according to a British member of the city's Jewish community. Stephen Peters, a former board member of London's New West End Synagogue, said the threat of a deadly attack had not been taken seriously. "There were no security arrangements. The best access to the school is to drive down the road. The school is on the right-hand side. Parents open the car door and the children walk in through the front gates. [The killer] walked straight in the same way and shot Miriam Monsonego."

In the immediate aftermath of the murders of Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, his two children Arie and Gabriel and eight year-old Miriam Monsonego, the leaders of the Toulouse Jewish community blamed the authorities for taking away the guard. It soon emerged, however, that the guard had always been paid for by the community and it was the school's own decision to lower the level of security.

"We had no choice because the security costs are very high and we have to keep the school fees down so parents will continue sending children to the Jewish schools," said one community leader. "As it is only about 30 percent of Jewish children in Toulouse attend Jewish schools."

Mr Peters said he did not think the community ever thought about a possible attack. "They are not security-minded. Even at the shul I go to on Shabbat there is no security. The community believes it is the state's responsibility to provide security. They have not learned that we have to look after ourselves. They will put a sticking plaster on it now but not get to the real root of what they have to do."

‘They will not get to root of security issues here’

One community leader said there had not been a serious attack in Toulouse "for about ten years. The last time there was any vandalism was around the Gaza operation over three years ago".

Baruch Sabbagh, a teacher at the school and a study-partner of Rabbi Sandler, said: "We didn't have any anti-Semitic incidents here. This is a quiet area without many Muslims".

Following the attack, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant promised that all religious schools would be protected by the police. Community president Arie Ben Simhon said: "We have been given assurances that all the twelve synagogues and three Jewish schools in the city will have constant police protection. Until now the policy has always been changing. One day there were guards, another there were none. I hope now they will remain constant."

But not everyone was optimistic. Dan Zikri, an 18 year-old student and former Otzar Ha-torah pupil said: "We can't go around the city with a kippah openly because you will get shoved or cursed by Muslims. It isn't comfortable being Jews here, everyone will tell you that and many of the young men have undergone training to help provide security for the community."

Shool principal Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego, father of one of the victims, is a friend of Mr Peters. "The shock will not subside for some time," he said. "It's a very tight-knit community here. Everybody is affected. At my shul many members have children who attend the school. You cannot imagine the damage it has done to people here. It's just too terrible for words. It is shocking to see your friends going to Israel for the funerals.

"One friend said to me on Monday night: 'I was late this morning. If I had been on time it could have been us'."

Last updated: 4:27pm, March 22 2012