Highland Park grapples with loss, shock and coincidence after July 4 shooting

July 6, 2022 Agencies
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In the peaceful suburb of Highland Park, Ill., the wounded and critically wounded are in treatment, and the suspect is in custody. So far, only the names of two of the seven victims—one more person was confirmed dead on Tuesday afternoon—have been released, but the mourning process has already begun.

Nicholas Toledo, 78, a father of eight and a grandfather, and Jacki Sundheim, a preschool teacher, killed in the shooting at a Fourth of July parade  Credit: Chabad.org News.

One of those shot and killed was Nicolas Toledo, 76, who had joined his family for the day to attend the parade and was in his wheelchair when he was killed. The second identified victim was Jacki Sundheim, a teacher at the nearby North Shore Congregation Israel. “Jacki’s work, kindness and warmth touched us all,” the congregation said in a statement, noting that Sundheim was a “lifelong congregant” and a “cherished member” of the community.

“The community is shell-shocked. We were sitting at a Fourth of July parade as we do every year,” said Michla Schanowitz, co-director with her husband Rabbi Yosef Schanowitz of Chabad-Lubavitch of Highland Park, on Tuesday morning after a sleepless night. “We’re reeling. It’s horrifying that this could happen in our beautiful, suburban community that works hard to serve the needs of its residents.”

When images of the now-apprehended suspect began circulating, Schanowitz realized that he had seen the young man before—in Chabad’s Central Avenue Synagogue.

“In the spring of 2022, an individual who matches the description of the shooter briefly visited the synagogue,” said Schanowitz in a statement released on Tuesday. “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.”

In the hours since the attack, the Schanowitzes have been counselling community members around the clock, and the rabbi—also a volunteer hospital chaplain—has been making the rounds through the hospital wards, providing support to people of all backgrounds. Michla Schanowitz said her husband visited a Jewish woman with a gunshot wound to the leg. “People need counselling; there’s fear, sorrow—how do you go on from this trauma? We’re giving assurance, hope and comfort.”

She noted that the path forward is by bringing more goodness and kindness to the streets of Highland Park, “more light, more mitzvot.”

To that end, Chabad aims to visit all stores on the street and gift them with a tzedakah pushka, or charity box, that they can designate for a cause of their choice. The act of placing coins in a charity box each day fosters an environment of kindness and selflessness, says Schanowitz.

In addition, Chabad will embark on a mezuzah campaign, offering the spiritual protection the mezuzah affords to Jewish homes in the area. Those who already have a mezuzah will have the opportunity to get it inspected, ensuring that the letters haven’t cracked or faded, compromising its integrity.

Amid the stories of heartbreak and tragedy, Schanowitz received a call from a relative whose daughter and her family were at the parade, telling her of a vital Jewish ritual that saved lives on Monday morning: “They were walking closer to where the gunman was,” explained the rabbi, “and the rabbinical students volunteering for us asked one of them to put on tefillin. He did, and the group then decided to remain right there, just across the street from the Chabad center.”

“As we pray for all the injured and comfort those who lost loved ones or are otherwise suffering,” he continued in the statement, “let us find solace in channeling our pain into action, transforming darkness into light.”

Report by Mendel Super reprinted with permission from Chabad.org/News.

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