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At least 7 killed at July 4 parade in Highland Park, Illinois, heavily Jewish suburb of Chicago

The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band was playing when the shooting began

(JTA) — A klezmer band was playing when a shooting interrupted a Fourth of July parade in a suburb of Chicago Monday, killing at least seven people and sending dozens more to local hospitals.

Jacki Sundheim, the events and b’nei mitzvah coordinator at North Shore Congregation Israel, was among those killed. She is survived by her husband, Bruce, and daughter, Leah. “There are no words sufficient to express the depth of our grief for Jacki’s death and sympathy for her family and loved ones,” the synagogue, where she previously taught preschool, said in a statement. “We know you join us in the deepest prayer that Jacki’s soul will be bound up in the shelter of God’s wings and her family will somehow find comfort and consolation amidst this boundless grief.”

The mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, one of the most heavily Jewish suburbs in the Chicago area, is at least the 300th in the United States this year. Eight hours after the shooting, law enforcement authorities said they had arrested a person of interest, a 21-year-old Highland Park native named Robert E. Crimo III, who they believed had fired from the roof of a building overlooking the parade route.

At least a third of the 30,000 residents in the suburb along Lake Michigan about 25 miles north of Chicago are Jewish, according to some estimates, and they include many Israelis.

Jacki Sundheim, a synagogue staffer and former preschool teacher, was among the victims.
Jacki Sundheim, a synagogue staffer and former preschool teacher, was among the victims. Courtesy of North Shore Congregation Israel

“There is information about Jewish casualties,” Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told its staff, adding that its Chicago-based consul general, Yinam Cohen, was in touch with both authorities and local Jewish communities.

A Chicago area law enforcement source confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Jews were among the casualties, although how many or their condition is not known. The source said law enforcement was not yet speculating about motive.

Michla Schanowitz, co-director of North Suburban Lubavitch Chabad-Central Avenue Synagogue, was standing outside the Chabad center watching the parade when she saw crowds running toward her. “Come inside, it’s a synagogue,” she said, as she ushered people to safety.

Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times, posted a video showing the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, Chicago’s preeminent Jewish music group, playing in the parade as bystanders scatter and scream. Sweet subsequently posted a picture showing bloodied bodies lying on the sidewalk.

Neesa Sweet, Lynn’s sister and a business consultant, lives two blocks from the parade route and was walking toward the reviewing stand when she heard gunfire. “Just at the moment the shots rang out, I had so many issues going through my mind,” she said. “I feel I’m not free any more, as a woman and as a Jew, given the Supreme Court decisions. This was going through my mind and I was trying to figure out how I felt about that just as the shots rang out.”

Reports from Jewish attendees began emerging shortly after the shooting.

“You could tell it was gunshots, not fireworks. It went boom-boom-boom-boom,” said Karen Abrams, 67. “It took me probably 30 seconds to get my bearings to figure out what happened. But in that 30 seconds people were already stampeding. I dropped my purse, my chair, everything and started running with the crowd.” Amidst tears, she added: “It was god-awful.”

Jeff Leon, a Jewish lawyer whose twin 14-year-old sons were marching in the parade with the high school team, described scrambling behind cars to shield himself from bullets and said he had passed someone who was bleeding from the head. He speculated that the attack was antisemitic in nature.

“Probably half the people who live in Highland Park are Jewish,” Leon said. “And that just can’t be a coincidence.”

Leaders of the Reform movement issued a statement which read, in part, we “pray for all those injured, beloved members of our Reform Jewish community among them.”

An Indiana-based Chabad rabbi said on Twitter that his teenaged son had been less than a block from the shooting helping Jewish attendees don tefillin, prayer phylacteries, when the shooting began. “He just called to say that he’s safe, BH,” Eleazar Zalmanov posted, using an abbreviation that means “thank God.”

Highland Park’s annual Independence Day parade attracts many families to the suburb’s compact downtown. It was preceded by a bike parade and would have been followed by a festival featuring carnival games, live music and fireworks, according to the town’s website.

Tomer Mizrahi had anticipated a hectic day at Mizrahi Grill, the kosher restaurant that he and his brother, Eli, opened in Highland Park a decade ago. Instead, he spent most of the workday with his staff behind closed doors, gleaning details off of news outlets and WhatsApp groups on the deadly shooting that happened about 2 miles from the restaurant.

“The streets are empty; everybody’s staying inside. I guess it’s because the shooter’s still at large,” said Mizrahi, who has been living in the United States since 2000 and in Highland Park since 2012. At around 2 p.m. his time, Mizrahi and the staff were packing up and getting ready to leave.

As a citizen of Israel who has lived in that country during terrorist attacks, the atmosphere on the street in Highland Park right now “is not particularly scary. But it’s very unpleasant. We used to think this was a safe place. And that feeling of safety is now gone,” Mizrahi said.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s new prime minister, tweeted: “Devastated to hear the news from Highland Park, where a day of celebration became a day of tragedy. My thoughts are with the families of the victims and all the American people. Today as always, Israel stands with our American friends.”

“What happens in one neighborhood affects our entire community,” the Jewish United Fund of Chicago, the city’s federation, posted on Instagram, adding that it “stands ready” to deliver support to those in need in the wake of the shooting.

“There are no words for the kind of monster who lies in wait and fires into a crowd of families with children celebrating a holiday with their community,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois said in a statement. “There are no words for the kind of evil that robs our neighbors of their hopes, their dreams, their futures.”

The shooting comes less than two months after a pair of deadly mass shootings that stood out even among the constant toll of shooting deaths in the United States. On May 14, a shooter who said he was motivated by antisemitic and racist ideologies killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket. Ten days later, an 18-year-old man murdered 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

This article originally appeared on JTA.org. Ron Kampeas, Jacob Kornbluh, Cnaan Liphshiz and Robin Washington contributed reporting.

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