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May you be comforted, my beloved Highland Park

For 31 years, I had the privilege of serving as senior rabbi of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, Illinois. Those were very good years for me and my family in a wonderful congregation and in a peaceful, friendly and beautiful community. We enjoyed living there taking long Shabbat walks on its tree-lined streets, experiencing the beauty of living on the shores of Lake Michigan, and being close enough to the hustle and bustle of downtown Chicago, but far enough away that we could appreciate the serenity of its northern suburb. I left Highland Park as I retired from my pulpit in June 2019 and made aliyah to the State of Israel. I currently serve as rabbi emeritus of the congregation.

Since we left, even with the interruptions caused by the COVID pandemic, we have returned to Highland Park twice and experienced the love of our congregants and the warmth of our former community.

All that was shattered on July 4, 2022. As the shooter (I will not afford him the acknowledgement of mentioning his name) took aim in order to kill and maim as many people as possible at a wonderful community event filled with joy, patriotism, music, and communal pride, life in Highland Park was changed forever. While I am not personally acquainted with those who are deceased, though I do know those who are, I send condolences to the families. I do know of a few individuals who were slightly injured, and thankfully will be fine. And I know of many individuals who were at the parade and who were forced to hide in stores, cars, and behind barriers in order to save themselves and others who were able to flee from the ensuing chaos. As they have been in touch with us, we learned of their fear, horror, and fright during this tragic episode. It will take a long time for all of them to be healed spiritually and emotionally.

As we saw the pictures live on the internet and TV, we knew exactly where the event took place, right near the kosher restaurant and butcher, across from the supermarket, near the train station. We had walked there hundreds of times. Seeing the strewn chairs, baby carriages, clothes, and shoes as people fled made it real for us, as we sat in our living room in Jerusalem. I can’t even imagine what it was to see the terror of those shot, killed and maimed. People here said to me, “It may have felt too close to home for you.” I responded, “No, it was home.” I felt like my home had been violated.

The innocence, serenity, peace and quiet of Highland Park may be gone forever. I am not surprised to hear of the activities of the first responders, the doctors, clergy, and health care workers who have responded with care and concern for all. That is exactly the type of community Highland Park is. People take care of people. Yes, it is a very Jewish neighborhood and it is easy to live a good Jewish life there, but the friendliness of all in Highland Park, people of all backgrounds, also made it a special place to live.

There will be and there should be discussion about gun violence in America. These type of events must stop. But, at the same time, let there be care, concern and healing for all the residents of the northern suburbs of Chicago whose lives have been changed forever.

On Tuesday, the day after the event, I sent a message to my former congregation. Here are some of my words:

“We were shocked to hear the news last night Israel time of the terrible shooting and loss of life at the Highland Park Fourth of July Parade. We were shaken to our very core as we saw pictures of the streets we walked for 31 years in downtown Highland Park and witnessed the aftermaths of the tragic shooting.

We heard from friends and colleagues eye witness reports of what occurred and how they were able to save themselves and their families and we watched local Chicago news stations as they reported on the event. Here in Israel, the story lead off the hourly news. It was simply hard for us to imagine that this could occur in a peaceful community like Highland Park.

We want to express our condolences to all who lost loved ones and whose families are shattered by this horrible event. We pray for the well-being of those who have been injured in body and in spirit. May all return to good bodily and emotional health.

This morning at my daily minyan I recited a Psalm in memory of those who were killed and a MiSheberach for those who were injured. The community responded with appropriate concern.

I recited Psalm 121 which includes these words:

“The Lord is your guardian, the Lord is your protection at your right hand.

By day the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will guard you from all harm; He will guard your life.

The Lord will guard your going and coming now and forever.”

 

May these words accompany all of you and give you strength.

We offer our warm hugs from Jerusalem and pray for the welfare of all.

May we share only good news with one another in the future.”

 

May much comfort come to my beloved Highland Park community.

About the Author
Rabbi Vernon Kurtz is Rabbi Emeritus of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park Illinois, an 1100 family congregation which he served for 31 years. He is past president of the international Rabbinical Assembly, MERCAZ USA and MERCAZ Olami, and is a member of the committees of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish People Policy Institute. He is also past president of the American Zionist Movement and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute. He is the author of Encountering Torah - Reflections on the Weekly Portion. He and his wife Bryna made Aliyah in June 2019.
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