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15 Jan 2015 12:24 Age: 3 yrs
Category: News Update

The ORT family mourns victims of Paris attacks

Concerted, effective steps are needed to counter the instigators, supporters and perpetrators of Islamist terrorism, World ORT called today in a letter to Dr Roger Cukierman, the President of CRiF, the umbrella organisation of French Jewish organisations.   Signed by 47 of World ORT’s senior lay leaders and professionals, the letter places World ORT shoulder to shoulder with the French Jewish community in the wake of what ORT France President Dr Lucien Kalfon has described as “an unprecedented wave of Islamist terrorism” which has claimed 17 lives, five of them Jews, including an ORT graduate.


Wreaths laid on the grave of ORT graduate Yohan Cohen.

Wreaths laid on the grave of ORT graduate Yohan Cohen.

“The terrorist atrocities in Paris have been like an earthquake whose tremors have shaken us to the core; we can only imagine how it must feel for our friends and colleagues, our brothers and sisters, living at the epicentre. To you all we offer our solidarity and pray for your security,” it reads.

The signatories commit themselves to redoubling their efforts to “instill in our students the values of tolerance and humanism and of our Jewish tradition”.

The letter concludes: “We add our voices to those of millions in France and around the world calling for concerted, effective steps to be taken to counter those who incite, justify and perpetrate the kind of barbarism we have witnessed in recent days. We stand ready to support you, your community and the decent people of France in your efforts against extremism and hate in the firm belief that, ultimately, good will prevail.”

Last week’s attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket – the latter just 800 metres from the ORT Daniel Mayer High School in Montreuil – have highlighted what is seen as the increasing threat of Islamist extremism in Europe. Armed police and even soldiers now guard ORT France’s seven schools which, like other Jewish institutions, have been prioritised by the authorities for protection.

The four victims of the attack on the supermarket, Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen and Francois-Michel Saada, were buried in Jerusalem this week. Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, described Yohan, a graduate of ORT Villiers-le-Bel, as a hero.

“Yohan, you could have got away, escaped, you could have run – but you did not surrender. You fought with the murderer to save the life of a three-year-old boy. You succeeded in that but paid with your life. Just 20 years old and already a hero,” he said before thousands of mourners at Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul cemetery.

The principal of ORT Villiers-le-Bel, Moise Tibi, said Yohan’s murder had been the worst experience of his 35-year-long career.

“You don’t expect something like this to happen. Two years ago we lost a student in a car crash in Israel during the summer and that was terrible. But this is on another level: for someone to be killed in cold blood because he is Jewish… the whole school in in mourning,” he said. “Yohan was a very good boy; he was loved by all, by his fellow students and by his teachers. He actively took part in school life and was religiously observant.”

Yohan’s younger sister is a student at the school where she joined fellow students and some 200 alumni for a special service to recite tehillim (psalms) in her brother’s merit before flying to Israel for the funeral. Mr Tibi has sent an email to all parents at the school inviting them to donate to Yohan’s bereaved mother and sister. ORT France has waived tuition fees for Yohan’s sister.

“There’s a strong family atmosphere at the school,” Mr Tibi said. “Everyone’s from the Sarcelles or St Brice neighbourhoods so we all know each other. All the students are planning to show Yohan’s sister a lot of emotional support. My teachers are preparing a special programme to help her catch up with the lessons she will have missed while she sits shiva. It is all very, very difficult. Like everyone else I feel very, very sad – and frightened that it could happen again.”

His fears were echoed by Esther Douieb, Principal of the ORT Leon Bramson Lycee in Marseille, whose 850,000 residents include about 80,000 Jews and some 250,000 Muslims.

“I am very upset,” she said before leading hundreds of the school’s students in a minute’s silence for the 17 dead. “Two years ago they killed children at a Jewish school in Toulouse as well as soldiers. Now it’s starting again. I am proud to be French but it feels like we’re returning to the age of barbarism.”