When I first met Sarah, there was a strange familiarity about her, like we’d somehow known each other for a long time. I’d seen her around our Jerusalem neighbourhood of Baka’a on occasion but it was only once our daughters started going to the same nursery school that we became friends.
Sarah and I would often meet for coffee at our beloved Grand Café down the road from my house on Bethlehem Road. We would sometimes arrange afternoon playdates, where she’d bring her kids to our place or vice versa. I recall one time when I desperately needed to get some urgent household item late one afternoon and happily left my kids playing with hers at her apartment while I dashed out to the local convenience store.
My children loved her children, who were delightful, inquisitive and respectful girls. In my experience, they were quite obviously adored by their mother and, together with her husband, they made a charming family.
Amongst our acquaintances at the nursery gates where we met six days a week, the other mothers often mistook us for one another, a compliment greatly in my favour. But I suppose if you didn’t know either of us very well, you might not be able to make the distinction between two blue-eyed, blonde-haired, round-faced non-Israelis of similar height and similar build with daughters of the same age. We both found it hilarious that the day after I’d done a morning of face painting for all the children in the class for Purim, the parents were thanking her for doing it.
People in our neighbourhood would often come up to me and start speaking to me in French. I studied French at university and had lived in Paris many years earlier, so I’d simply reply in the same language. A few sentences in, I’d usually fess up with a smile and a “Je ne suis pas Sarah.” The same would happen to her, with friends of mine reporting they were sure they’d seen me in a certain place at a certain time, only for me to discover a couple of weeks later from Sarah herself that it had been her instead of me.
It had been her instead of me. As I write these words again, I still get a chill of disbelief. All these similarities. And I too had known what despair tastes like. But I’d never actually swallowed it.
When the headlines started blaring that Sarah “murdered” her four children, I found the use of that word deeply troubling. Implicit in the word “murder” is the intent to kill. Here was a woman I knew — with whom I shared this strange connection, whom I liked and trusted, who was a good mother —who had committed unspeakable acts of almost unprecedented madness and violence. I was certain she could not have had this intent under normal circumstances. But it would seem that here, there must have been circumstances that were way beyond normal.
Not long after we moved to Israel in March 2008, I had an idea for a children’s TV programme and created a bunch of characters with detailed descriptions, writing a few short scripts as sample episodes. At the time, my husband wanted to help me try to sell them to a French-speaking market, so we commissioned Sarah to translate it for us. We spent many hours poring over the translations together, and she was very thorough. As a creative and musical person herself, she really had a feel for the material — a story about a clever little girl who uses music to make friends and solve problems — and even gave me some ideas of her own. She remains one of the very few people to have seen any of my writing projects, an intimacy I rarely indulge.
We moved back to London in July 2015, after seven and a half wonderful years living in Jerusalem. I hadn’t seen Sarah in all that time, nor had I been in touch with her. But, as with all real friendships, ours was not based on frequency of get-togethers. True friends just pick up where they left off and we always did just that.
Sarah’s gruesome demise has haunted me profoundly. The hardest thing for me is that there are too many things we do not know to accurately surmise how and why this happened. My conjecture faculties have gone into overdrive. Out of respect for the family, I will not detail my endless theories here. Some things, mercifully, can still remain private.
My aim in writing this piece is to show you Sarah’s humanity, her beauty, her goodness. She was especially well-groomed and put-together, like so many Parisian women. You could never have guessed the kind of emotional and mental turmoil she must have been experiencing. We all hide things, from others and even from ourselves. I just wish we could have known and helped. If someone doesn’t want to ask for help, there is precious little to do, which in this case is so deeply and unbearably regrettable. I pray that Sarah’s surviving family can find peace in their hearts and are able to sleep at night. And may my dear friend Sarah and her beautiful children z”l be at peace together wherever they are now.