'We Are Shell-shocked': Highland Park Jewish Community Reels From July 4th Shooting Attack

Several Chicago-area synagogues have held vigils and are offering support for those affected by the sudden attack in the suburb Highland Park

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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A memorial for those killed in Monday's Fourth of July mass shooting in Highland Park, Wednesday.
A memorial for those killed in Monday's Fourth of July mass shooting in Highland Park, Wednesday.Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/אי־פי
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Two days after the mass shooting at a July Fourth parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, the town’s sizable Jewish community remains in shock from the attack, which left seven dead, including members of local synagogues.

“My youngest daughter is a camp counselor. Her campers are 6 years old. Several of them were at the parade yesterday in Highland Park,” Dan Elbaum, the Jewish Agency’s North American head and a resident of neighboring Deerfield, tweeted following the attack.

“One of them hid behind a port-a-potty during the shooting. Another one ducked behind bushes. Several ran into Starbucks. They are 6 years old.”

Speaking with Haaretz, Elbaum said that his daughter, who works at a gelato store around a block from the shooting, wasn’t present for the shooting but that “she’s dreading” going back to work.

“It doesn’t feel real. It’s still a constant topic of conversation in our house and the television hasn’t been off the last few days. The victims, both the deceased and the wounded reflect the community. This is a Jewish community that proudly matches its Judaism with patriotism so it wasn’t a question for me that there would be Jewish victims.”

“I think shell shock is the right phrase,” he said, noting that several local synagogues have held vigils and are offering support for those affected by the sudden attack. “There is no indication of antisemitism but any attack in Highland Park is felt very strongly by the Jewish community.

On Monday, seven people were killed and more than 36 others were wounded in a shooting at a July Fourth parade in the Chicago suburb.

Around one third of the population of Highland Park’s 30,000 residents are Jewish and the town features synagogues from multiple denominations, with substantial Jewish populations in many of the neighboring suburbs.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the parade in Highland Park began around 10 A.M. and the shooting began only 10 minutes later, when the suspect, 21-year-old Robert E. Crimo III, allegedly opened fire at parade-goers from a near-by rooftop, killing six and wounding 36.

Video from the scene showed people running for their lives as a Klezmer band played a jaunty tune from the back of a red, white and blue-decked pickup truck. The suspect’s motivation is currently unknown and the shooting has not been classified as an antisemitic incident.

According to news reports, Crimo had a history of consuming and sharing ultra-violent content online but there is so far nothing to indicate that he was motivated by racial or antisemitic bias.

Despite this presumption, there is some indication that Crimo had expressed interest in the local Jewish community. Following the shooting, Yosef Schanowitz, the rabbi of the local Chabad synagogue, posted a statement on his website saying that “in the spring of 2022, an individual who matches the description of the shooter briefly visited the synagogue.”

“He entered wearing a yarmulke yet seemed out of place. Upon arriving, he was greeted by our security team, which includes off-duty police officers, and licensed and trained congregants, who observed him throughout. A short while later he departed without incident. We are, of course, working with law enforcement to help advance their investigation,” he wrote.

Few members of the community were left unaffected by the shooting.

Howard Prager, a tuba player in the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, said he thought he saw the shooter flee the scene. “We saw a lot of people running,” he said. “We saw the panic and terror in their eyes.”

A parade observer, local Jewish entrepreneur Candice Crane, laughed and took pictures with her husband and two of her young children.

“We were joking, ‘Only in Highland Park does the Klezmer band come,’” Crane said.

Then the shooting started.

Crane hid with her 6-year-old daughter in an abandoned storefront, separated from her husband and 1-year-old child who were taken inside an apartment building by a good Samaritan.

“We live literally five minutes from that intersection [where the shooting took place],” Crane said. “That’s our neighborhood. That’s basically our backyard.”

Six of the seven people who were killed at the parade shooting were officially identified on Tuesday: Katherine Goldstein (age 64), Irena McCarthy (35), Kevin McCarthy (37), Stephen Straus (88), Jacki Sundheim (63) and Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza (78).

Sundheim was the events and b’nei mitzvah coordinator at North Shore Congregation Israel, a local Reform synagogue.

“Jacki was a lifelong congregant of NSCI and a cherished member of NSCI’s staff team for decades, there are no words sufficient to express the depth of our grief for Jacki’s death and sympathy for her family and loved ones,” North Shore Congregation Israel, a local Reform synagogue, wrote in an email to its congregants informing them of Sundheim’s killing.

“My mom’s childhood friend Jacki Lovi Sundheim was killed today in the Highland Park shooting. May her memory be a blessing,” one Twitter user posted, describing himself as “filled with rage.”

Multiple GoFundMe pages began circulating online immediately for families of victims and survivors, including one for the 2-year-old son of the McCarthys, who will now be raised by his grandparents, Nina and Misha Levberg. That fundraiser drew nearly $2 million in its first 12 hours. Meanwhile, a local rabbi who put out a call for pediatric spine surgeon referrals for an 8-year-old child from her congregation who was critically injured said she was overwhelmed by responses.

Aiden McCarthy’s photo was shared across Chicago-area social media groups in the hours after the July 4 parade shooting in Highland Park, accompanied by pleas to help identify the 2-year-old who had been found at the scene bloodied and alone and to reunite him with his family. The Chicago Sun Times reported that Kevin McCarthy had died shielding his son from the gunfire.

Straus, a Chicago financial adviser, was one of the first observers at the parade and attended it every year, his grandchildren said.

Brothers Maxwell and Tobias Straus described their grandfather as a kind and active man who loved walking, biking and attending community events.

“The way he lived life, you’d think he was still middle-aged,” Maxwell Straus said in an interview.

His parents had helped bring dozens of Holocaust survivors to the United States. Stephen Straus was a longtime member of the KAM Isaiah Israel Reform synagogue in the Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park, the Forward reported.

Katherine Goldstein’s husband described her as an easygoing travel companion who was always game to visit far-flung locales.

“She didn’t complain,” Craig Goldstein told The New York Times. “She was always along for the ride.”

Goldstein was a mother of two daughters in their early 20s, Cassie and Alana. She attended the parade with her older daughter so that Cassie could reunite with friends from high school, Craig Goldstein, a hospital physician, told the newspaper.

Dr. Goldstein said his wife had recently lost her mother and had given thought to what kind of arrangements she might want when she dies.

He recalled that Katherine, an avid bird watcher, said she wanted to be cremated and to have her remains scattered in the Montrose Beach area of Chicago, where there is a bird sanctuary.

Three members of Am Shalom, a Reform congregation in nearby Glencoe, were injured by the gunman and two went to the hospital with their injuries, according to Rabbi Steven Lowenstein, who said the injured did not want to release their names.

Following the attack the leaders of the main bodies of American Reform Judaism, including the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union for Reform Judaism, released a withering statement, situating the attack within the context of the surge in gun violence experienced in recent years. They asserted that “it is clear that Americans’ ability to live independent of the fear of gun violence is ever more elusive. With each massacre, the freedom to gather, pray, shop, learn, and simply be free from fear of gun violence, is taken away.”

Recent years have seen shooting attacks at a Kansas City Jewish Center, synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway and a New Jersey kosher supermarket; as well as a stabbing attack at a Hannukah party in Monsey, New York.

But even if the attack were a symptom of the epidemic of gun violence sweeping the nation without also representing recent increases in antisemitic violence, this did little to lessen the trauma.

“There’s no indication of antisemitism but any attack in Highland Park is felt very strongly by the Jewish community,” said Elbaum.

“Do I feel that this was a targeted attack on the Jewish community?” asked local resident Steve Altschul, who was several hundred meters away from the shooting and fled with his family. “Based on what’s currently known I personally do not feel that way. However, the city of Highland Park is well known as a predominantly Jewish city with a strong Jewish identity, and I think there’s a lot of questions that people have,” he told Haaretz. “There’s a complex set of emotions. Many people feeling fear and a pervasive sense of shock.”

The Associated Press and JTA contributed to this report.

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