Highland Park: Chicago’s Jewish suburb

Highland Park is home to at least three synagogues and about half of the town's residents are Jewish.
Maxwell Street Klezmer Band playing at Highland Park's Fourth of July parade. (Courtesy: Twitter)

It was no surprise that a klezmer band was playing at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade right when gunshots started ringing out from above. A suburb of Chicago, Highland Park, has a long Jewish history.

Highland Park by the numbers

Highland Park, Il. (Courtesy: Google Maps)

Located on the city’s north side, Highland Park is 25 miles north of downtown Chicago and has a population of around 30,000. The town is home to at least three synagogues, and according to a Brandeis University and the University of Chicago survey, Highland Park is 50% Jewish (approximately 3% of the entire U.S. population is Jewish).

Jewish victims

According to reports, as many as four of the seven victims in the attack were Jewish. Despite the large number of Jewish fatalities, Israeli Consul General in Chicago Yinam Cohen told The Times of Israel: “There are currently no indications that this was an antisemitic incident, even though the profile of the attacker might be thought to match such an incident.”

Ready more about the victims here.

Irina Levberg McCarthy, 35, and Kevin McCarthy, 37, were both killed in the shooting, their two-year-old son Aiden survived and is now being raised by his grandparents.

Irina McCarthy’s father, Michael Levberg, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Kevin died protecting his son.

Irina McCarthy’s father, Michael Levberg, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Kevin died protecting his son.

“He had Aiden under his body when he was shot,” Levberg told the newspaper, adding that when he picked Aiden up at the police station, the little boy told him: “Mommy and Daddy are coming soon.”

“They were crazy about their child,” Levberg said, his voice breaking, the newspaper reported. “They were planning two.”

A GoFundMe has been set up to help the family.

Jacki Sundheim, Events and B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator at North Shore Congregation Israel (Courtesy: NSCI)

Jacki Sundheim, the events and b’nei mitzvah coordinator at North Shore Congregation Israel, was identified as one of the victims.

“Jacki was a lifelong congregant of NSCI and a cherished member of NSCI’s staff team for decades, there are no words sufficient to express the depth of our grief for Jacki’s death and sympathy for her family and loved ones,” the congregation wrote in an email to members.

In a statement also posted to its website, the synagogue’s rabbi said that they were “in close contact with law enforcement as well as our own crisis team.”

Stephen Straus, 88, was killed in the Highland Park Fourth of July parade. (Courtesy: Facebook)

Stephen Straus, 88, is described as the patriarch of his family.

“Only those who have left this world know what awaits, and for me I can only say that if there are bells at Heaven’s Gate they are chiming and cheering for you, for a life well lived, and a soul well served,” his niece Cynthia Straus wrote on Facebook. “But, let’s be clear NO ONE should die this way.”

A Chicagoland native, according to The Forward while growing up his family sponsored dozens of Holocaust refugees who made their way to the Windy City following World War Two.

Details are still coming out about the other victims, but they have been identified as:

  • Katherine Goldstein, 64
  • Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78

The seventh victim has not been identified.

Shooter allegeldy visited synagogue

Rabbi Yosef Schanowitz, a Chabad rabbi in Highland Park, said he recognized 22-year-old Robert E. Crimo III, the alleged shooter, saying that he had encountered him a few months earlier during Passover services.

“During the last Passover holiday, that person entered the Chabad synagogue. We have an armed security guard sitting in front… I approached him and sternly asked him to leave as I noticed he was not a member of our community,” Schanowitz told Israel National News.

Highland Park’s Jewish history

The Wildwood was a Jewish resort opened by German immigrants in Highland Park. (Courtesy: Highland Park Historical Society)

Highland Park was one of the few areas in Chicago that openly embraced Jewish immigration. At the turn of the 20th century several German-Jewish families moved to the town and opened up a popular Jewish resort called Wildwood. At that time Jewish families were mostly excluded from Chicago-area country clubs. By the 1920s the town had two Jewish country clubs and more and more Jewish families were spending their summers in the area.

Following World War Two Highland Park saw a boom in Jewish immigration and the town’s year round Jewish population significantly increased.

Antisemitism

Several antisemitic fliers were found in Highland Park on Yom HaShoah, the Day of Holocaust Remembrance, this year.

“This activity is a continuation of an ongoing effort to stoke hatred and mistrust throughout Illinois and the nation,” Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering wrote in a Facebook post condemning the hate.