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Jews are ‘not the only targets,’ Jewish leaders say in condemning murder of Palestinian child near Chicago

Prosecutors say suspect who attacked boy and his mother was worried about reports of ‘Day of Jihad’

Jewish leaders across the country condemned the murder of a Palestinian child outside Chicago, saying the horrific attack on the boy and his mother was a “direct result” of the “dehumanization” of Palestinians in response to the violence in Israel and Gaza.

Jews “are not the only ones being targeted in this moment,” read an online statement organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and signed by more than 100 Jewish organizations. They included Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist denominations, Hadassah, the American Jewish Committee, J Street and the National Council of Jewish Women.

“Our Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian American neighbors are facing bigotry, threats, and violence,” the statement said, adding that “our communities’ safety and futures are inextricably linked” and calling on Jewish groups to “recommit ourselves to fighting hate in all its forms.”

The Chicago-based Jewish Council on Urban Affairs called for a stand against “Islamophobia, de-humanization, and all forms of hate, especially at this time of conflict in Israel and Palestine.”

The Anti-Defamation League and two Orthodox entities, Agudath Israel and the Orthodox Union, also separately condemned the crime. 

Suspect was set off by reports of ‘Day of Jihad’

Prosecutors said the man charged in the attack, Joseph Czuba, was worried about warnings from conservative talk radio that anti-Israeli factions were planning a “Day of Jihad” for Oct. 13.  Those vague threats from a former Hamas leader had led some schools and institutions to step up security or shut their doors last Friday, but no major incidents were reported beyond anti-Israel protests.

Nevertheless, Czuba’s wife Mary said he was worried about their safety and had withdrawn $1,000 from the bank in case the “grid went down,” according to court documents and statements by Assistant State Attorney Michael Fitzgerald.

The Czubas rented rooms to the boy and his mother, Hanaan Shahin, on the first floor of their home in Plainfield Township, Illinois, about 40 miles from Chicago. The child’s father, Oday El-Fayoume, told The Daily Beast that the landlord had been kind to the child in the past, building him a treehouse and setting up an indoor play area for him.

But on Saturday, Czuba confronted Shahin and is charged with stabbing her after she said, “Let’s pray for peace.” Shahin then hid in a bathroom and called 911. Her son was stabbed to death in another room in the apartment.

Czuba was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of a hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Shahin was hospitalized.

Expressing solidarity 

“This is absolutely tragic, and a tragic example of what happens when people generalize from one bad actor, in this case Hamas, to the entirety of a religion or of people,” said Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann, founder of the progressive Jewish community Mishkan Chicago

“It’s one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve heard all week,” said Eli Newell, coordinator for the Chicago chapter of IfNotNow, a progressive Jewish group opposed to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the country’s war on Gaza, which is being waged in response to the Oct. 7 massacres carried out by Hamas in Israel.

Newell said the assault on the child and his mother was “a direct result of the dehumanization of Palestinians.” Newell spoke by cellphone from Washington, D.C., where he and other activists were demonstrating outside the White House Monday, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

Rabbi Brant Rosen of Tzedek Chicago, which describes itself as a progressive anti-Zionist congregation, said he had “reached out to my Muslim friends and colleagues as soon as I heard about it. It’s the first order of business when there are acts of hate, particularly as heinous as this. You let people know you stand with them.” 

“Hate has no room in our society,” KAM Isaiah Israel, a Reform congregation in Chicago, posted on social media, adding “deepest condolences for the tragic loss of Wadea Al-Fayoume” and prayers for his mother’s recovery. “Our hearts are heavy, and we stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters during this incredibly challenging time.”

Fundraiser for family

The Chicago Sun-Times said thousands of people attended the boy’s funeral Monday. His family moved to the U.S. from the West Bank 12 years ago and he was born here. He has two siblings who were elsewhere with their father when the attack unfolded, CBS reported.

An online fundraising appeal to support the family, pay for his mother’s medical care and help with housing had raised more than $400,000 toward its $500,000 goal. A handful of anonymous contributions among the thousands of donations were made in multiples of $18, a number traditionally used by Jews in providing financial support for various causes because the Hebrew word for the number, chai, means life.. 

A number of blatantly antisemitic tweets claimed that the suspect in the stabbings is Jewish but no information was released regarding his religious or ethnic identity. 

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