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On Tisha B’Av, Chicago mourns three young lives lost

The Jewish day of mourning, Tisha B’av, will be especially solemn— and relevant— this year in Chicago.

On the traditional fast day, which takes place July 17 this year, University of Chicago’s Hillel will not just mark the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, but the loss of two young lives over the last month.

“This year as we are mourning the destruction of the Temples and the tragedies of our people, we will come together carrying new loss. This day of mourning is an opportunity for us to honor Ilan and Max,” said Rabbi Anna Levin Rosen, executive director at University of Chicago’s Hillel, a department of Jewish United Fund.

Chicago’s Jewish community has been devastated by a trio of tragedies cutting short the lives of three young people. All were enterprising students and emerging leaders in their respective fields.

Ilan Naibryf and Deborah Berezdivin (Chabad of UChicago/Instagram)

Ilan Naibryf and Deborah Berezdivin (Chabad of UChicago/Instagram)

• Ilan Naibryf, 21, was born in Argentina, grew up in Florida and was educated in Hawaii. He was a rising senior studying physics and molecular engineering and president of the Chabad Student Board. Naibryf traveled to Surfside, Florida to attend a funeral with his girlfriend, Deborah Berezdivin. Also 21, she was a student at George Washington University, Berezdivin’s family owned units in the Champlain Tower South which collapsed June 24. Search teams found Naibryf’s and Berezdivin’s bodies on July 7.

Max Lewis sitting in a field

Max Lewis dies at age 20 after being struck by a stray bullet in Chicago. Courtesy of Caleb Smith-Salzberg

Max Lewis 20, was a student leader and president of AEPi, the Jewish fraternity on campus. The rising junior was a double major in economics and computer science. On July 1, Lewis was struck by a stray bullet while he was riding the Green Line train home from work at his summer internship. Still cognizant when he emerged from sedation, he opted to take himself off life support, and died on July 4.

Headshot of Anat Kimchi, who was 31.

Courtesy of University of Maryland

Anat Kimchi, 31, an Israeli-born graduate student at the University of Maryland, was in Chicago visiting friends when she was stabbed in the back in Chicago’s Loop in broad daylight on June 19. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. Kimchi was a doctoral student studying criminology. She was described by her professional peers as a brilliant writer and scholar poised to make important contributions in her field.

Chicago Jewish leaders and activists are just now coming to grips with these tragic, sudden losses, and organizing responses. In addition to the Hillel-organized Tisha B’Av memorial, Rabbi Rosen said that Hillel plans to grow their partnership with Pastor Chris Harris and Bright Star Church.

“Their center uses methods developed in Israel to work with families and communities suffering due to gun violence.” Rabbi Rosen said. “Healing together will be transformative.”

Rabbi Rosen is also working with the University of Chicago to plan a memorial service later in the fall when the students return to campus. She writes: “In the penultimate line of the Book of Lamentations God speaks, ‘comfort, comfort, my people.’ I keep repeating these words, with a resolve that God wants us to fully express our mourning, and then be comforted together.”

So far this year, 2,021 people have been shot in Chicago; 365 of them fatally.

The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, which has worked with various communities around Chicago for decades, will continue “to address the root causes of violence, including the lack of access to housing and mental health care,” wrote the group’s executive director, Judy Levey, via email.

“Gun violence in Chicago has reached epic proportions, and it was only a matter of time until the bullets tore through the lives of a greater swath of the city,” said Rabbi Michael S. Siegel of Anshe Emet Synagogue. “Our community mourns with all those who have lost loved ones, but our people feel the pain of loss most acutely after the deaths of Anat, Max and Ilan.”

His synagogue has no formal memorial planned, but Siegel said Tisha B’Av is an ideal time for the Jewish community to reflect on what the tragic losses mean.

“As we stand with their grieving families,” the rabbi wrote via email, “we must also expand our vision to see beyond the pain of the moment and give consideration to the root causes of the upsurge in violence. The Jewish community has an obligation to not look away but to continue the work and build a more equitable society so that Anat, Max and Ilan’s deaths will not have been in vain.”

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