Back when I was in elementary school, the words “school” and “shooting” did not go together. One did not flip on the car radio and hear a brief mention of a school shooting, where children were killed by a gunman who was either a random shooter or one of their disenfranchised peers. And if one did hear it, one certainly would not shake one’s head, flick off the radio, and then go about one’s business without thinking about it. But that is our new modern way of life.
I was in the carpool line for elementary school, of all places, when I heard the latest news. And by “heard,” of course, I mean “heard” in the 21st century sense. I was bored waiting for my turn to finally turn onto my street, and checked my smartphone email. I read the “Breaking news” subject line and my stomach sank: “Four reported dead in shooting at French Jewish school.“
As I returned home from dropping off my own children at school, I read that a gunman pulled up in front of the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, France around 8 a.m. local time and started shooting at the crowd of parents taking their children to school. The gunman, who escaped via motorbike, shot a 30-year-old father in the head, along with his two sons, ages 6 and 3. An elementary-school age girl was also murdered, and a 17-year-old and two others were wounded in the attack. A French prosecutor has already gone on record saying that the gunman may have links to a French Neo-Nazi group, though the truth of this remains to be seen.
In reading the facts, laid out in the clinical way as we journalists often do, I felt sorrow and anger. I know I will be judged for what I am about to write, but it is this: I am moved in a certain visceral way that some would call, in a derogatory way, tribal. I believe these victims were deliberately chosen, rather than any other school children in France, God forbid, and were chosen for murder because they were Jewish. And that brings up a special, particular kind of anger, fury, and sorrow in me.
I am not ashamed of this feeling of kinship, although I feel it is more politically correct to deny it–to say that I am just as upset by a school shooting in Kentucky, for example, as I am by this one. And of course, I am horrified and saddened and never want school shootings to happen anywhere, regardless of to whom.
But it would be disingenuous of me if I did not say that I feel a special pain when I heard the news from Toulouse today. It’s not just the fact that the sore nerve of the Holocaust is pressed by violence against our fellow Jews. That emotional bruise lies deep down in many of us, where we are perhaps secretly or not so secretly convinced that most of the world, if it doesn’t actively wish us dead, basically wouldn’t really miss us if we were. The silence of so many as we were murdered 60 years ago still rings a little too loudly in our ears.
No. What I feel and what I would hope that we, as Jewish parents, would feel, is that deep-seated, unshakeable, and undeniable bond with this news. It’s the feeling one feels for family.
Don’t misunderstand me: as the Jewish people, we certainly have plenty of familial grudges and disagreements. For example, there are those who feel that I, as a woman, shouldn’t be able to stand at the bima and read Torah. There are those who believe I belong behind a mechitza (the divider between the men’s and women’s sections of some synagogues), and that my legs belong beneath tights. There are those who would scoff at the way I keep kosher, the way I observe Shabbat, the way I identify as a Jew. Perhaps those are even the feelings of those who were in the gunman’s sights this morning.
But in order for the Jewish people to survive, we must bind together not only when we are at the wrong end of the weapons of murderers, but also when all is well. We must help those Jews who are hurt by tragedies when we securely sit in the carpool line on the other side of the world. More importantly, we must realize that we are irrevocably tied to the Jews in Toulouse, in Tel Aviv, in Trinidad, and in Tasmania. As Jews, no matter what our ideological stripe, we are all responsible for one another. As Jewish parents, we are blessed by our children with a new dimension of love and empathy. We must use it for good.
This morning, there are Jewish mothers in France who lost their children. And my heart aches in a particular way, as though we lost people on a distant branch of our own family tree.
Because we did.