The Tragedy in Toulouse
By Rabbi Benjamin Blech
To be a Jew, whether we like it or not, is to be a magnet for hatred, no matter how unjustified and irrational.

Danish translation: Tragedien i Toulouse
Published on March 26, 2012

I can't force the horrifying image out of my mind.

The murderer on the motorcycle dismounted, grabbed the beautiful eight-year-old little girl by her hair. He put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. When it failed to fire, he switched to another weapon, shot the girl at point-blank range in the temple, calmly retrieved his moped and rode off.

There were three other victims as well at the Jewish religious school in Toulouse, France. One was a Rabbi, two others were his young sons.

"He was calm and determined. In cold blood he assassinated them as if he was killing animals," Nicola Yardeni, the regional president of CRIF, France's Jewish organization, said after viewing CCTV footage of the shootings from surveillance cameras.

"You see a man park his motorcycle, start to shoot, enter the school grounds and chase children to catch one and shoot a bullet into her head. It's unbearable to watch. He was looking to kill."

The carnage exemplifies the crime of the Jewish people’s arch enemy Amalek, who attacked the weak and the helpless.

It is beyond human imagination to fathom how anyone can single out innocent children for assassination. We struggle to understand, but the level of evil involved surpasses anything we can comprehend.

Yet to learn nothing from this gruesome event is to rob it of any meaning and to render it inconsequential. We need to grasp its contemporary relevance and its message.

The killer hated not only Jews but also other ethnic and religious minorities. Hate usually requires more than one outlet. But history has proven beyond a doubt what every civilized society needs to acknowledge: Jews always serve the role for the world that the canary used to play for the coal miners.

In times past, miners would take canaries with them into the mines because the canaries were extremely sensitive to dangerous gases. They responded to danger before the humans did. So if the miners saw the canaries get sick and pass out, they knew that the air was bad and they would escape as fast as they could.

That's what we Jews do for the world. We are the world's early warning system. Where there is evil, where there is hatred, it affects us first. To be a Jew, whether we like it or not, is to be a magnet for hatred, for envy, for resentment no matter how unjustified, no matter how irrational. If there is hatred anywhere in the world, it will find us. If there is evil somewhere in the world, we will become its target. People overflowing with hatred for whatever reason, including self-hatred, make us the objects of their hatred.

There is a good reason why evildoers hate the Jew. Maurice Samuels put it memorably when he said, "No man loves his alarm clock." We bother the world because we keep trying to wake it up to the Divine call to moral and ethical behavior. Hitler said it more clearly. He attacked the Jews before he attacked Western civilization and he explained why they were his priority for extinction. Conscience," he declared, "is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish like circumcision."

The very existence of the Jews is a threat to those whose goal is to cast off any claims for morality and civilized behavior. Jews are singled out for annihilation because of their mission to be "a light unto the nations" — and those who worship the forces of darkness and evil can't abide their continued presence on Earth.

That is why anti-Semitism doesn't simply put Jews in peril. Jews are merely the first ones to bear the brunt of attacks from the wicked. Once the Jewish invention of conscience is buried and the Jewish message of biblical ethics is laid to rest, anti-Semitism inevitably makes clear its ultimate intention: the victory of iniquity and the end of civilization.

The real challenge of the kind of terrorism we witnessed in Toulouse is implicit in the famous words of Pastor Martin Niemoller in response to the horrors of the Holocaust:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.

When will the world understand this simple truth?

As Jews shed bitter tears over the death of the holy, the innocent and the pure at the Ozar HaTorah school, our cries are not simply for the slain of our faith.

We weep because we are witness to a threat to the civilized world that is still mistakenly identified as a Jewish problem — and then conveniently shunted aside as unworthy of global concern.

We cry because the "wise men of Europe" don't yet grasp that the grief of the world’s canaries, the Jews, portends far more serious consequences for all of mankind if not dealt with immediately with serious purpose and conviction.

We are wracked with pain because we view what happened in France as a challenge to the world's resolve to stand firm against terrorism and we've seen too much of the response of acceptance, accommodation and passivity.

Perhaps our prayers and our tears will help the world awaken to the call of our alarm clock’s urgent reminder to preserve the rule of morality and decency.

And perhaps the very excess of this horrific act will permit one of our greatest contributions to mankind, the invention of conscience, to engage in and successfully win the war over evil.