The news trucks are gone, the police tape has disappeared, and the quaint shops have reopened in Highland Park, Illinois, as the community finds its new normal even as the intense agony of the Fourth of July parade mass shooting that left seven dead and dozens injured remains fresh in many hearts and minds.
For Rabbi Evan Moffic, a native Milwaukeean who is a spiritual leader for Makom Solel Lakeside synagogue in Highland Park, the tragedy has shone a spotlight on a therapeutic and restorative sense of community, one of the enduring aspects of Judaism.
“People are in pain and hurting. People are emotionally fragile and feel violated,” he said. “But, at the same time, people are connected. People are supporting each other. There’s a real sense of community. There’s a sense of trauma, but also a feeling of resilience.”
That sense of community was felt days after the shooting when the synagogue held a healing service. Some 600 people attended, many who are not members of the synagogue. Since then, Moffic and other rabbis at the synagogue have been spending much of their time counseling and connecting with members.
“As Jews, we kind of know the reality of trauma. We know the reality of hate and pain and that doesn’t make it easier to digest or to process,” Moffic said. “In some ways, it’s shocking. But in other ways we know that evil is real, and these types of awful things can happen.”
Moffic is a renowned speaker on faith and author of several books, including “What Every Christian Needs to Know About Judaism” and “Reading the Old Testament Through Jewish Eyes.”
The Nicolet High School graduate was not at the parade this year, but he and his wife have taken their children in years past. The couple have also eaten at the Walker Bros. Original Pancake House, steps from the shooting dozens of times, leading to his own personal, deep sense of vulnerability and fear.
“Whenever we’re out in public, whenever we’re driving in a car, there is a sense of vulnerability. In some ways, it reminded me of why we have our faith and community to give place of healing and to make life meaningful,” said Moffic, whose parents are members of Congregation Shalom, Fox Point. “I’ve done enough funerals to know that life can be taken from us at any time. And the importance of taking the moments we have with loved ones, it can’t be overestimated.”
A few members of the synagogue were injured in the shooting, but none were killed. The synagogue has 600 members and draws from Highland Park along with several other nearby communities.
The local faith community has galvanized around Moffic and his congregation, he said, noting that several ministers attended the healing service and a couple of imams have reached out to him since the tragedy. He has also gotten text messages and calls from various people from different points of his life, such as friends from high school and college and even couples he married a decade ago. Those calls are extraordinarily meaningful, he said.
“This shooting brought a kind of human solidarity. It’s sad that it takes this to bring us together, but it was still wonderful to hear from people,” he said.
Moffic noted that there are few communities like Highland Park, a city of 30,000 on the shore of Lake Michigan. It is a civic minded, safe and compassionate place, he said, aspects that have paid huge dividends since the tragedy.
“The amount of money raised for families hurt in Highland Park has been astronomical. We didn’t even need to ask people in our congregation to support families in need. People just started giving, like there was no tomorrow. That generosity is incredibly inspiring,” he said. “Highland Park is a very strong Jewish community with a real appreciation of tzedakah, of giving. Horror can strike anywhere. There’s no better model of how to be resilient than we have been in Highland Park.”
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About this story:
Seven people were killed when a gunman fired a hail of bullets from a roof at Highland Park’s Independence Day parade. Highland Park has a large Jewish population. There has not been a connection established, in the national media, between the attack and antisemitism. But the accused shooter did reportedly visit a synagogue there last Passover, wearing all black clothes, catching the attention of a security director.
Here is our collection of photos shot in Highland Park in late July, 2022: