BEHIND THE HEADLINES Chicago’s Jewish community shaken after shooting rampage

CHICAGO, July 6 (JTA) — A weekend shooting spree that left two men dead and six Jews wounded is sending shock waves through the Jewish community here. The shootings, which police said were carried out by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a 21-year-old man who belonged to a white supremacist group, ended late Sunday night with the alleged gunman’s suicide. The initial attacks took place last Friday evening within an eight-block radius in West Rogers Park, home to the Chicago area’s largest population of Orthodox Jews. Many Jewish residents were walking the streets at the time, on their way to and from their synagogues. The injured Jews were Hillel Goldstein, 34; Eric Yates, 31; Dean Bell, 31; Gidon Sapir, 34, an Israeli; Ian Hupert, 31; and Ephraim Wolfe, 15. That none of the six was killed is “nothing short of miraculous,” said Rabbi Zev Cohen, of Congregation Adas Yeshurun, where several of the wounded were members. The shooting spree began at approximately 8:20 p.m. last Friday, when the gunman shot Goldstein in the stomach. Two minutes later he shot Yates in the upper leg, landed four bullets in Bell and hit Sapir in the lower back, all within one block of each other. He then drove a few blocks south and west, where he shot at two people but missed both. Then, moving the wrong way down a one-way street, he hit his next victim, Hupert, and finally ended his attack in the area with Wolfe, whom he shot in the leg. “It’s a bit ironic,” Sapir was quoted as saying in the Chicago Sun-Times. “I’m a captain in the Israeli infantry and after spending time in Lebanon and the West Bank, I get shot in Chicago.” He described to the Chicago Jewish News how he was walking back from shul with his two children, aged 4 and 5, when the shooting started. “When I realized this was shooting, I pushed my son to the ground. My daughter was a little behind me, out of the line of fire and jumped on top of him. While doing that I got shot in the back.” Sapir says the experience has reinforced for him one “obvious” belief: “The only place Jews should live is Eretz Yisrael.” Wolfe, the youngest victim, has another message: “I want to tell people, don’t be scared. I want to encourage people to go out, go to shul, go to the park, walk down the streets. I don’t want people to hide.” He described how he was shot in the leg as he walked home from services. “There were two shots; he missed the first time,” Wolfe said. “I thought it was firecrackers. Then my leg felt heavy. I lifted up my pants and saw a hole the size of a dime and blood oozing out. Then I realized I was shot.” Smith, the alleged gunman, had been a member of the World Church of the Creator, a white supremacist group based in Peoria, Ill. He had been arrested several times, most recently in north suburban Chicago in April, for distributing anti-Semitic and anti-minority literature produced by that organization. The Anti-Defamation League has long been tracking the group’s hate materials. “The entire community is thankful that this streak of violence has come to an end,” said Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. “At the same time, the horrifying events of this July 4th weekend will continue to reverberate in the Jewish community and in the community at large.” While Orthodox Jews don’t listen to the radio or watch TV on Shabbat, word had spread throughout the community by Saturday morning. A buzz could be heard at West Rogers Park synagogues, as congregants who hadn’t seen the story in the morning papers shared developments with each other. Cohen said he told his congregants that anyone who could give police information should do so, even on Shabbat. The local media had implied that the investigation had been slowed because Orthodox Jews would not talk to police on Shabbat. But Cohen and Chicago Police Commander David Boggs said the police had received “the best cooperation” from the Jewish community. Cohen said the Orthodox community is being supported by the entire Chicago-area Jewish community, along with all the citizens of Chicago and Illinois. “We’re all together. We’re all grieving, we’re all mourning, we’re all shaken, and no matter how we differ in the incidentals of our daily lives, if we come together when tragedy strikes, we’re a family,” Cohen said Sunday at a news conference. Following the Rogers Park attack, the gunman headed to Skokie, a suburb just north of Chicago, where he shot and killed an African-American man who was taking a stroll with two of his three children. The victim, Ricky Byrdsong, 43, was a former Northwestern University basketball coach and well-known in the area. According to police, the shooter then drove north to Northbrook, about 10 miles north of Skokie, where he shot at an Asian-American couple in their car. They were not wounded. Two more shootings took place Saturday night in downstate Illinois, in Springfield and Urbana, injuring one. A third shooting Sunday morning in Bloomington, Ind., killed a male Korean American who was leaving Sunday church services. On Sunday night, the FBI announced that the suspect shot and killed himself after police pursued him in rural southern Illinois. Bloomington police said two guns found with the body were consistent with those used in shootings in Bloomington and Chicago. Police also found a light blue Ford Taurus, which matched the description of the car at many of the shootings. The FBI said the body had the words “Sabbath breaker” tattooed on the chest. While individuals attempted to grasp what transpired over Shabbat, the organized Jewish community mobilized to provide several types of assistance. The Jewish Federation worked to aid police in getting the word out to Rogers Park residents, and assembled several of its agencies and other community organizations to put together a plan for social services to the neighborhood. By Sunday morning, the Jewish Children’s Bureau and Jewish Family and Community Service had coordinated a plan to provide counseling for individuals and families in need. Also by Sunday, agency staff provided counseling to the wounded in the hospital and to those who had witnessed the violence. Meetings with directors of the “backyard camps,” small summer day camps found in the neighborhood, were planned for later in the week, said Robert Bloom, executive director of the children’s bureau. “We want to encourage people to get back to life as normal as soon as possible,” Bloom said. For Michael Messing, who was walking with shooting victim Goldstein in West Rogers Park, the message is a call to active involvement in pushing gun control legislation. “My thoughts go back to the Columbine shooting,” Messing said. “My thoughts were then, ‘Can it happen anyplace else?’ Now it’s on my front doorstep. There is no place that is truly safe anymore. I’m not going to sit back and let it happen. I’m going to get involved.” (Pauline Dubkin Yearwood of the Chicago Jewish News contributed to this report.)

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