Highland Park Chabad co-director shares her experience after July Fourth parade shooting


Mendel Super and Menachem Posner, Chabad.org

(Chabad.org) — As the Highland Park, Ill., July 4th parade commenced heading down Central Avenue in one of Chicago’s most Jewish suburbs, gunshots rang out at approximately 10:19 a.m. CST from the rooftop of Gearhead Outfitters on Central Avenue. Thousands of panicked revelers who had been enjoying the parade chaotically rushed for safety, with parents frantically shielding their children. It is unclear how many were struck and initial reports indicate that six people have been killed and at least 24 transported to local hospitals.

Police were still searching for the gunman hours after the shooting. He was described by Highland Park police as a white man between 18 and 20 years old with a small build and longer black hair. He is wearing a white or blue T-shirt, according to Highland Park Police Cmmd. Chris O’Neill.

“We’re asking everybody to stay indoors,” said Lake County Sgt. Christopher Covelli. “Stay vigilant right now. This person has not been identified. By all means, at this point, this appears to be completely random.”

The annual Fourth of July Celebration, hosted by the city of Highland Park, features floats (including Chabad’s giant menorah), marching bands, and other special entertainment and draws a crowd of thousands.

Michla Schanowitz, co-director of North Suburban Lubavitch Chabad—Central Avenue Synagogue, was outside her Chabad center at the heart of the parade’s route, just four blocks away from the shooting, when she saw crowds running toward her. Chabad had a table set up outside the center offering passersby a chance to put on tefillin or take a Shabbat candle kit, manned by four young rabbinical students from Chabad’s Yeshivas Ohr Eliyahu Lubavitch Mesivta of Chicago.

“The parade had barely started. All of a sudden, I see everyone running towards us,” Schanowitz tells Chabad.org. She began rushing people to safety inside her Chabad center immediately. “Come inside, it’s a synagogue,” she shouted to the stunned passersby.

Schanowitz reports that her student volunteers are all safe and accounted for.

“The community is in absolute shock,” her husband Rabbi Yosef Schanowitz told Chabad.org from the Emergency Department at the Highland Park Hospital where he was visiting victims of the attack. “People should pray for Highland park and do an extra act of good for us,” he said.

The Schanowitzes have served the Highland Park area Jewish community since 1980 when they established Chabad in the area. Chabad in Highland Park’s base of operations is on Central Avenue, the main thoroughfare for the city where the parade was held today, and a few blocks west of where the attack took place. In addition to The Central Avenue Synagogue, Chabad in Highland Park, with assistance of the Skolnick family, runs a popular Hebrew School program for children, and a plethora of adult and children’s educational programming.

The July 4th parade annually has a strong Jewish presence, with Chabad running a float complete with a giant menorah and providing other Jewish experiences for participants.

“Our kids were at the parade, near the shul, with a lot of others,” says local resident Dovid Weissman. “As soon as they heard there was a shooting, they ran home. Right now, we are all sheltering at home, waiting for the shooter to be found. People have been posting on our community WhatsApp group, sharing word that they are OK.”

As word of the attack in Highland Park spread, parades in neighboring suburbs were canceled as well. In Skokie, the parade was called off just before Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie’s Mitzvah Tank was about to roll down the parade route, festooned with a large American flag and stocked with thousands of magnets encouraging goodness and kindness.

“We understand that prudence dictated that the parade be called off,” says Rabbi Yochanan Posner of Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie. “But we will persist in spreading the message of gratitude to the United States of America for giving us freedom and being conducive to a society which values goodness and kindness. So, while there is tragically no formal parade today, our ‘parade’ of a single-vehicle will be traveling the streets of Skokie and proclaiming that message.”

“This makes me feel that we need to be doing even more,” says Schanowitz. “The Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] wants us to bring more light and more positivity to our surroundings.”