Toulouse still struggles with daily life



Heavily armed policemen line the street on both sides. Four more stand at a pair of high gates, near towering walls topped with barbed wire.

"We cannot live with military surrounding us," says local Rabbi Avraham Weill, standing in the playground of Ohr Torah school in Toulouse where, three years ago, a Muslim extremist gunned down three children and a teacher.

Life never returned to how it was before the 2012 murders, he says. "There was a life before the Toulouse attacks and there is one after. It is not at all the same. We have had to learn to live with that."

Then, after the Paris attacks in January, armed soldiers were posted at the school 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "They even sleep in the schools," he said.

All major community events are now attended by soldiers with machine guns. Local Jewish volunteers agree that working for the community security services is tantamount to putting your life on the line - and the expectation of verbal abuse on the street has morphed into the terror of being shot dead.

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Among the four murdered at Ohr Torah was eight-year-old Myriam, the daughter of the headmaster, Rabbi Yaacov Monsenego. Three years on, the trauma is still fresh in his mind. "We haven't moved on. We live with it all the time," he said.

His face contorted with emotion, Rabbi Monsenego tries to explain how he manages to get through the day: "Imagine a man who has to get to Paris. He used to have a big car with a powerful engine, but now he has a small, old and dented car, but it can still get him there. He stops along the way and says if I don't have the big car I'll never move forward, but he does move forward anyway, even though it is harder."

The school and the wider Toulouse community have faced the double bind of having to learn lessons from the attack while trying to forget the horror of the past in order to move on.

Rabbi of Paris suburb Raincy, Moché Lewin, one of the organisers of a memorial event to commemorate the dead at the school two weeks ago, said: "I was in the school three hours after the attack happened, so I have a good idea of the level of trauma the community has been through," he said.

"Since then every time we talked of Toulouse we spoke only of what happened three years ago. So I said, now we must speak of something else."

However, for Rabbi Weill - Toulouse's chief rabbi - the community has used the attacks to find new kinds of internal strength. "The first few weeks were difficult. We didn't know how they were going to react. We tried to encourage people to come together, not to disperse and not to be scared. In the end the community managed to stay strong: the synagogues did not empty and the Jewish schools remained full."

One student, who was at the school on the day of the attack, said: "It was only after a few months that we started to feel normal again. I saw the strength of the head teacher. Now we try to look forward. We are like a big family here so we are happy," he said.

Ohr Torah was the chosen location for the Conference of European Rabbis' (CER) biennial convention two weeks ago. Over 200 rabbis from across Europe came to the school to pray and hold a memorial service for the dead.

Rabbi Lewin, who is also CER's executive director, said the four-day conference did not coincide with the anniversary of the attack - March 19 - because there was a desire to convey a positive message rather than focus on the tragedy.

He said: "We came here to show that we won't give in to terror. At the site of an act of terror we will bring 200 rabbis and chief rabbis to the same place so that we can say the Jewish community is here and has no intention of running away," said Rabbi Lewin.

"We have a future, the Jewish community is not going to shut down."

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