French pupils' fears in wake of Toulouse

By Jessica Elgot, April 26, 2012
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French Jewry "may never recover" from the shock of the murders of three children and a rabbi in Toulouse last month, a French head-teacher fears.

New security measures are being implemented across France by the Fonds Social Juif Unifié, whose chairman, Baron Rothschild, is now organising funding for security at every Jewish school in France.

Sara Pinson's Kerem Menahem School in Nice is twinned with Gan Rashi, the Toulouse elementary school attended by Aryeh and Gavriel Sandler and Miriam Monsonego, shot dead, together with the boys' father, Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, by Mohammed Merah.

Kerem Menahem's new security guard was appointed last week. "We wanted to recruit a Jewish guard, we wanted him to have that connection to us," Ms Pinson said.

A 15-year-old boy who tried to protect children from the gunman, and was injured, was from Ms Pinson's local area. "He is actually from the French Riviera, and was only temporarily in Toulouse. Thank God, he is back at home now but he has not returned to school. He is still undergoing treatment."

This week, 16 of the Nice pupils were in London, and visited the Jewish Museum. Looking at a photography exhibition on British Jewry, the children noticed dramatic differences between Jewish life in the UK and in France.

Yaelle, 11, said: "London is very different. People are not afraid to be Jews here, you see Jews everywhere.

"After the attack, I suddenly realised people don't care about us, and many people hate Jews in France. But I don't care. I'm going to live my life just the same, and carry on being proud to be Jewish."

David, 11, echoed Yaelle's concern: "We are very afraid of antisemitism. I feel it is more dangerous for me on the street if I am wearing my kippah. It makes me afraid to wear it."

Ms Pinson said: "We were particularly affected by the cruelty and the brutality of the attack… French Jewry is going to take a very, very long time to recover. We may never recover.

"Our children were already in school when we had the news [of the shooting], and we had to keep up a strong front. We made arrangements to close early, but the children never knew a thing. Our school was surrounded by police.

"As the last child left, we just all broke down; we were inconsolable. No one expected it to happen in Toulouse, in that quiet little residential back-street".

Last updated: 2:38pm, April 26 2012