Last year, before Rabbi Yonatan Sandler returned to his native Toulouse, France to teach in the Ozar Hatorah School, he taught ninth graders at Boys Town Jerusalem‟s “Naale Zion” program for French immigrants. Although the Boys Town work was required for Rabbi Sandler to receive a teaching certification for his upcoming job, he invested a great deal of time and effort to give his best to his Boys Town students. Stunned and saddened by the murder of Rabbi Sandler and his two toddler-age sons at the Toulouse school, his Boys Town students paid final homage at the rabbi‟s funeral.
“He was a wonderful teacher, and he was quite determined to make a contribution to Jewish education in Toulouse,” recalled Natan Encaoua, 16. “We all tried to talk him out of going. But when we reminded him how dangerous it is for Jews in France, Rabbi Sandler told us, ‘I must return there. I must give back to the community that gave so much to me.‟”
Rabbi Shimon Abiker, head of Boys Town‟s Na‟ale Zion program for French immigrants, noted that Rabbi Sandler was a brilliant scholar who was greatly admired by his students.
“He took his work here extremely seriously, intent on honing his teaching skills so that he could succeed in teaching Jewish youngsters in Toulouse.”
Once the news of the brutal murders of Rabbi Sandler, his sons, and the seven-year-old daughter of the school‟s principal became known at Boys Town, the French students were gripped with grief and worry.
“Around one-third of our students are here alone, with their parents and families still in France,” Rabbi Abiker explained. “And 100 percent of our French students have family and friends there as well. Nearly all of them have been victims of varying degrees of anti-Semitism while they lived in France, and they are quite worried about their relatives there.
“We gathered the students immediately after the Toulouse attack, and then again in the afternoon and the evening,” Rabbi Abiker said. “It‟s still very hard for them to express their feelings, but we‟re trying to give them as much support as we can.”
For 11th grader Eliezer Lavie, who is from Toulouse, the attack was devastating. “Eliezer knew the principal‟s daughter quite well, and he is in shock,” Rabbi Abiker said. “A tragedy of such huge proportions is almost inconceivable.”
“The situation for French Jews is a terrible one,” echoed Encaoua, who immigrated to Israel 18 months ago. “They live in constant fear of Arab attacks, and the government does nothing. These latest murders will make life even harder for those who want to enrich French Jewish life and education, like Rabbi Sandler tried so desperately to do.”
Situated on an 18 Acre campus in the Bayit Vegan suburb or Jerusalem, Boys Town Jerusalem is a middle school and high school with 850 students currently enrolled. Opened in 1948 as a trade school, Boys Town Jerusalem has now graduated more than 6,500 students with a wide-ranging curriculum in general studies, Jewish and Torah instruction and the most current level of training in high technology.