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Now it’s happened in my hometown: A Jewish perspective on this epidemic of gun violence

A cantor mourns the loss of innocence she felt as a child who grew up in one of the safest cities in the country

My father always arose at the crack of dawn on July 4th, dragged our folding chairs to his preferred spot on the parade route, and waited for us to join him at a more reasonable hour. 

Every year, we would sit on that same street in downtown Highland Park’s Port Clinton Square, where seven innocent victims were murdered and dozens more injured.

We moved to Highland Park when I was 6. My mother, sister and her family still live there. Every time I visit, shopping in Port Clinton Square is always at the top of my list. I’ve eaten many a pancake at Walker Brothers, shopped in the cute boutiques and stores that line Central Avenue, and spent some lovely evenings with my family eating at Dairy Queen and listening to outdoor concerts on the square. But yesterday, I watched police scout out the area from the roof of the Mesirow Building — the company where my father worked for his entire adult life — and I saw masses of people run for their lives down streets I’ve walked countless times.

I mourn the fact that Highland Park has now joined the ever-growing list of mass shooting sites, most recently in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. I mourn for all the families who lost loved ones or are praying for the recovery of those still hospitalized from their injuries. I mourn for those who will never walk down those streets again without remembering what happened on what was supposed to be a day of celebration. And I mourn for the loss of innocence I felt as a child growing up in what I thought was one of the safest cities in the country.

I acknowledge that I say this from a place of privilege, knowing that there are countless neighborhoods where gun violence and death have become routine.

The Talmud teaches us: Save one life, it’s as if you’ve saved the world. Destroy one life, and it’s as if you’ve destroyed the world. There have been worlds of destruction every year in our country alone.

How long will those in positions of power continue to blame this carnage on everything except easy access to guns — especially assault rifles that have no place anywhere but on a battlefield? 

All the thoughts and prayers in the world aren’t going to end this cycle of destruction. Nations like Australia have implemented substantive measures to ban assault rifles and witnessed a sharp decline in gun violence. We are the only country in the world that has a problem of this magnitude. Even as I applaud the new gun law that was recently passed, there is still so much more to be done. 

I will be visiting Highland Park this week to see my family — a trip that was planned weeks ago. While I’m there, I hope to participate in a vigil at my sister’s synagogue.

I’m certain that heartfelt and uplifting prayers will be said. I only hope that they are followed by action.

To contact the author, email editorial@forward.com.

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