Rabbi Messod Touboul, the beloved principal of Chabad-Lubavitch’s Beis Chana School in Paris, passed away on March 20, soon after being infected with the coronavirus. He was 64 years old.

Born in Marseille, Touboul was raised in a secular Jewish family to parents who were school administrators. As a teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Touboul connected with Rabbi Moshe Lachyani, a Lubavitcher Chassid living in the seaside city, and began drawing closer to his Jewish roots. The relationship led him to learn about the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—and from Marseille he headed to Paris, where he met Rabbi Shmuel Azimov, the head Chabad-Lubavitch representative to the City of Lights.

The two became extremely close, and under Azimov’s guidance, Toubul settled in Paris in the late 1970s and established a Jewish school for girls in the city, which was named “École Beth Chanah” for the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson.

The school was Toubul’s life, and with sheer grit and determination, under his guidance it repeatedly expanded over the years. Eventually, it grew into a network of 15 locations across the city, when the need for a central location became apparent. For 10 years, the rabbi oversaw the construction of a suitable campus; finally, in 2000, the dream was realized with the dedication of the Beth Haya Mouchka campus—named after the Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka—in the 19th district of Paris.

Today, the school enrolls nearly 2,000 students of every affiliation.

Toubul was known as a warm, caring and personable leader. “I can attest that he knew the first name of every one of the thousands of students in the school,” said Rabbi Yossi Bensousan, who worked alongside him for more than 20 years as the massive school’s administrator.

Rabbi Chmouel Loubecki, a close family friend, echoed those same sentiments. “Every few months, he would rotate through the tests of every single student in the school and write something personal on their results. I remember him reaching out to me and personally reporting to me how much nachas [gratification] I should have from my daughter’s progress in school.”

“I cannot even imagine the school without Rabbi Toubul,” said Malka Zaks, Loubecki’s sister. “I recall when I was taking my government regents to graduate primary school and was particularly nervous about passing the French grammar section. Rabbi Toubul took a personal interest, assuring me that I had nothing to be concerned about. The day of the test, he went down to the testing office and spoke with the officials to take care of me.

Touboul at a farbrengen with the Rebbe in the 1970s.
Touboul at a farbrengen with the Rebbe in the 1970s.

“It is because of him—because of his belief in me—that I eventually went to a women’s seminary for teaching. I didn’t necessarily think I was cut out for it, but he pushed it, always encouraging me to believe in myself. He was such a living example of a true Chassid, and he will be sorely missed. Every time I think back to my upbringing, he’s such an integral part of it. I, along with many other girls from the school, simply cannot fathom life without him,” added Zaks.

In addition to his role as dean of the school, Toubul served as the rabbi of the Chabad synagogue in the 9th District of Paris, home of the central offices of Chabad of France, known as “Rue Lamartine.” He was known for his warm and thoughtful style, regularly sitting down for a Chassidic farbrengen with his congregation both in the synagogue he led as well as the historic one at 17 Rue des Rosiers in the 4th District, the synagogue in which the Rebbe often prayed while living in France from the early 1930s to the Nazi invasion of the city in 1940.

Though Toubul lived more than a half-hour’s walk from the synagogue, he would make the trek every week, always the leader to his flock.

His family reported that he had been infected with COVID-19, the disease associated with the virus, only a few days before his passing and was healthy before then. As recently as the middle of last week, Touboul recorded the weekly Torah portion video published by Chabad for viewers in France, delivering the weekly message with usual passion and vigor.

He passed away on Shabbat eve, 25 Adar on the Hebrew calendar—the birthday of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, after whom the sprawling campus the school Touboul dedicated his life to is named.

He is survived by his wife, Simha, and their children: Menachem Mendel, Levi Yitzchok, Yisroel, Shmuel, Chani Chezki, Devorah Leah Nissenbaum, Rochel Marciano, Chaya Bittan and Perla Gabai.