After Toulouse

Please don’t read the following post if you think this is too presumptuous or too pretentious for me to write about. I’m not sure that it’s not. But I was wondering how to respond on JPP to the murders this week in Toulouse, France of soldiers Imad Ibn Ziaten, Abel Chennouf,  Mohamed Legouad, and then of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, and three small children, Aryeh and Gavriel Sandler, and Miriam Monsonego. (For profiles, see

How do you respect the dead and their loved ones while getting on with your own life, to remember them without histrionics? Laura Levitt in American Jewish Loss after the Holocaust ( touches upon this on a large historical scale, how to sustain the tension between historical catastrophe and quotidian life. The murders in Toulouse take place on a smaller scale. I don’t know if this formally “the same problem.” Let’s just say they are isomorphic.

I won’t apologize for this little piece of Jewish particularism, although I would like to think it through a little. In part what warrants the Jewish particularism has to do with “solidarity.” And in part it’s a feeling of menace out-there-at-me, a little more pointed and a little less ambient in its “affect” than usual because, well, because these were Jewish kids and a rabbi, and this feels too close to “home.” At any rate, I decided not to post a piece of ephemera the afternoon of the shooting. But then what?

You go on with your life, right? But with subtle shifts. The more interesting shifts don’t make themselves immediately obvious in a declarative sort of way. After the declaration, comes another word about another topic, and then another word, and so on. The more interesting shifts occur on a smaller, more ad hoc register.

Prior to my hearing the news that day, I had been planning to post a picture and comment about a Jewish school in Manhattan that I think is architecturally interesting. I was also going to post about another synagogue event I recently attended. But I won’t. It feels unsafe. So as not to call attention. I’m not being paranoid. I don’t think. Nor do I want claim or enact a trauma that I have not suffered directly. I’m just going to act with a little more circumspection than would have been the case last week before Toulouse.

Even if a painful “affect” continues to haunt us at a subconscious level, it is also true that we go about our daily lives mostly untouched by the suffering of others at the level of lived consciousness. So I won’t make too big a deal about “what this means to me.” I can only come at this vicariously. But nor will I post about synagogues for a while. About that I can make a conscious decision. I think the right first response after registering the initial shock is to figure out how not to say, or, in this case, not to post this or that thought or image.

And then, I think I’ll have to think about this some more, because that’s “the obligation of a writer,” how we respond to, set aside, and then come back to these kind of things, to think them through with moral discretion and to make a kind of sense out of them for the understanding or for some semblance thereof.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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1 Response to After Toulouse

  1. Gail says:

    Beautiful post; perfectly pitched.

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