The Toulouse Tragedy: Adequate Response?
March 19, 2012-the Toulouse tragedy prematurely stole the lives of a rabbi and three young children. The attack, carried out by terrorist Mohamed Mereh occurred outside of the Jewish school in Toulouse, France, Ozar Hatorah. A father taken away from his children and a mother left childless, the Jewish world was struck with sorrow and shock.
In New York City, high terror alerts caused the NYPD to take extra measures to ensure the safety of Yeshiva University's student body , especially during this vulnerable time.A statement from NYPD Director of Intelligence stated, "Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has directed that...coverage of Jewish neighborhoods and institutions...continue out of concern over the attack in Toulouse and concern over a copycat....Precautions are being taken because of New York's large Jewish community and because New York City remains on the top of the terrorist target list."
The question is, regarding both safety precautions and the grief factor, has Stern's response to this tragedy been adequate?
From a perspective of community support, efforts were unfortunately lacking. There may have been upset chatter through the hallways, yet no official memorial was held for the lives lost. Even though this wasn't our school, or even our country, the student body was nevertheless affected. International student Rebecca Assaraf, SCW '12, suffered a great family loss that day; Eva Sandler, who lost her husband and two children, is Assaraf's first cousin.
Reliving that horrifying morning, Assaraf said, "I first heard about the shooting on the internet at 7:00 a.m. It was on a French newspaper website. Then I checked Facebook to see if everyone I know in France was okay. When the phone rang at my house, it was my uncle telling us that the victims were my cousin's husband and their two children. My family is shocked and in a lot of pain."
Concerning Stern's response to the tragedy, Assaraf said, "I was a little bit disappointed that Stern has done nothing. Not even a tehillim gathering to remember the victims. Just because it happened thousands of miles away doesn't mean we do not have to get involved We are related to Yonathan, Aryeh, Gavriel, and Miriam. Doesn't Am Yisroel make one? When one of us cries, all of us cry."
President of TAC, Leora Niderberg explained, "We clearly feel that the victims' memories should be commemorated and that the Jewish community, both within YU and Stern as well as within the greater Jewish community, is recognizing this loss. It just so happens we were caught at a time one week before Pesach break, a week when TAC itself was busy running a spotlight week on domestic violence and abuse within the Jewish community. It was just too crazy of a time to really demand people to either come out to a different event, or be involved in asiyum." Niderberg went on to say, "To be something worthwhile, students must invest energy to make it into a truly honorable event. Without enough time, there simply wasn't enough space to put in a commemoration."
On the day of the shooting, an sstud was sent out informing the student body of the incident as well as what was being done to further ensure our safety. Sent from the Department of Safety and Security it stated, "Security concerns have increased as a result of the tragic shooting in Toulouse, France this morning. While there may have not been any specific threats to us or to any areas adjacent to our campuses, the Yeshiva University Security Department in coordination with the New York City Police Department has heightened its state of readiness with certain modifications to its staffing and procedures in order to provide our community with a safe environment." NYPD is in contact with Yeshiva on a daily basis, giving updates about the strengthening of security around Stern premises, or just to inform the security general of their daily precautions.
However, whether a perfunctory online notification was a sufficient response to such a great tragedy remains in question. What was a student to think after hearing about the attack and then seeing NYPD in front of Stern school buildings and Brookdale without further explanation?
Sara Yitzhaky, SCW '13, admitted, "Although necessary, the amount of security is actually what made me nervous. It made it so much more real."
Acknowledging the increased Stern security, Dean Karen Bacon added "I have confidence in our security team that they are very knowledgeable and very connected, and they are always on the alert." However, student's responsibility to keep themselves safe is in no way mitigated. Continued Bacon, "We always have to be on alert, not only for ourselves but for the people around us. We are all responsible for one another, and we have to look out for each other."
Regardless, living in fear is neither desirable nor helpful. Bacon explained, "I think we always have to be on the alert. But we can't become paranoid, because, in the end, that is what will paralyze us." With that in mind, Bacon wants the Stern body to feel confident in the continued and dedicated vigilance of the security. Highlighting the exceptional security here at Stern College, Bacon noted, "After 9/11, many organizations had to step up their security. Here at Stern, however, we didn't have to do much differently because we were always a place that is very alert when it comes to security."
Notwithstanding Stern's response to the tragedy, both in terms of heightened security and the unfortunate lack of a memorial service, Assaraf takes a lesson from the tragedy. She explains, "This didn't happen without a reason. Perhaps we are being sent a wake-up call. As Jews, we are taught that there are no coincidences, and so we have to reflect upon what has happened. We should try to better ourselves, and I believe that commemorating the victims here at Stern in some way to show the unity of the Jewish people is a good start."
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