Tragedy unites us in grief and outrage

Some crimes are so monstrous, they unite even bitter opponents in revulsion and condemnation.

Such was the case with the unspeakable terrorist murders in France this week, which took the lives of a rabbi and three innocent young children in front of their Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19.

The prime suspect, Mohammed Merah, also allegedly killed three French paratroopers in the nearby city of Montauban the previous week.

As j. went to press, the suspect was holed up in his apartment, but we already know a lot about him. A French citizen of Algerian descent, Merah reportedly spent time in Afghanistan receiving terrorist training from Taliban and al Qaida experts.

According to press reports, Merah told French police he wanted “to avenge the deaths of Palestinians.”

Palestinian leadership was having none of it. The Palestinian Authority, the PLO and others in that community blasted the murders as “a racist crime” and “attacks on hum-anity.”

Though the French Jewish community and Jews around the world are shattered, we take comfort in the swift response of French law enforcement, the unequivocal condemnations from French governmental leaders — from President Nicolas Sarkozy on down — and the sympathies of the French people.

After the murders, the streets of Paris filled with distraught, silent protesters marching in solidarity with their Jewish countrymen.

While the families of the victims, and Jews everywhere, take solace in such support, one fact remains chillingly clear: In Europe and elsewhere, Jewish children, Jewish institutions, indeed anyone who makes his or her Jewishness apparent by forms of dress or signs on buildings, are at risk.

Even in the United States, our own children and institutions are targets. The heinous 1999 shooting of five people at a Jewish community center in Granada Hills, and the 2006 murder of one woman and wounding of five others at the Jewish federation in Seattle, remain fresh in our minds.

Besides beefing up security wherever we can, what should the world’s Jewish communities do in the face of such threats?

How might Jonathan Sandler, the 30-year-old French rabbi who died on the streets of Toulouse with his two young sons, have answered that question?

We think he would urge us to remain proud, open Jews, unwilling to cower in the face of homicidal hatred. To honor him and the other innocent victims in France, we should strive to do nothing less.