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Together in Grief, Together in Hope

Rabbi Ari Taback,Johannesburg

The horrific shootings inToulousetook four lives and ripped apart two families. They also changed Eva Sandler — wife and mother to three of the victims — from a relatively unknown teacher to a public persona recognized and quoted the world over. It hasn’t been an easy transition, but Eva is determined to share her personal reservoirs of hope and faith with a nation hungry for consolation. Shortly before her most recent address, she explained what motivates her to step onstage and into people’s hearts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Toulouse victimsIt was a day that will be seared into our memories for many years to come. A day that reminded us of the painful reality of life in galus, of the hatred for our nation, and of the unimaginable brutality of those who bear that hatred. The attack on the Otzar Hatorah school inToulouse in March of this year, which took the lives of Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, his two young sons Aryeh and Gavriel, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego, left us all reeling in shock and horror.

Out of the pain and grief, a heroine emerged. Eva Sandler, Rabbi Sandler’s young, unassuming wife, became a symbol of dignity, faith, and courage, of the emunah pshutah that characterizes the response of generations of Yidden who have suffered such atrocities.

Last Friday, on a coldJohannesburgmorning, my wife and I paid a visit to Eva Sandler. She had arrived fromParisless than 24 hours earlier, and the quiet house where she was staying seemed to emphasize the sadness of the story we came to hear. Her surviving daughter Liora, who is today 18 months old, slept peacefully in the adjoining room.

We had been told that she was strong. I was afraid we would find her too strong, too brave in the face of what she has endured. Instead we find a real human being, a woman clearly in much pain, in touch with her grief but not crippled by it.

What was it like to fly from the familiar French landscape to the South African June winter? How did she find her surroundings? “I never imagined this at all,” she replies. “I never imagined in my life that I would come toSouth Africa. Certainly not under these circumstances … it never entered my mind.”

So what brought her toJohannesburg? Less than three months after the tragedy that shattered her life and her family, why was this young woman sitting opposite us in a quiet living room at the southern tip ofAfrica?

The answer to this question is called “The Sinai Indaba.”

 

“Maybe Now’s the Time”

The word “indaba” comes from the Zulu language, where it means “business” or “matter.” Historically, it referred to an important conference held by the izinDuna (principal men) of the Zulu and Xhosa tribes. In more recent times, it has become a catchphrase for any convention or conference in South Africa. The Sinai Indaba is the brainchild of Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, an ambitious project with the slogan “Unite Inspire Discover.” It aims to expose the broadest possible swath of the South African community to the richness and beauty of their Torah heritage. The program is quite new — this is its second year — but it emphasized the uniqueness of this community and their capacity to come together and connect with their Yiddishkeit.

Thinkers and presenters from almost every walk of Torah Jewry delivered addresses. Eva Sandler, part of the line-up, used a different tone to touch the same chords. Her message united them with the wider Jewish world. Her towering faith inspired them. And her dedication spurred them to discover the greatness of a Torah way of life.

On that quiet Friday morning before the massive event, Eva seemed composed and contemplative. She considered our questions with care and graciously acknowledged the proviso that she only answer questions within her comfort zone.

Just a few months ago, Eva Sandler was relatively unknown beyond the small, friendly community ofToulouse. The staggering losses she endured, and the high publicity they brought, have wrenched away any hopes of anonymity. How do people relate to her when they make the connection between her face, name, and losses?

“I always feel that there are two types of people,” she observes. “There are those who come to me to cry, and there are those who come to support and to console. Both kinds of encounters are hard, but it’s harder to respond to those who come to cry and mourn. I don’t think their crying comes from self-centeredness; it’s more that they just don’t know how to respond. I know that they feel compassion for me. To be honest,” she admits, “I don’t know how I’d respond if I had to console someone in a similar situation.”

The result, though, is that the bereaved wife and mother feels a need to be strong for everyone else. “And for me, and for my daughter,” she adds.

 

 

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