Chicago’s Jewish community shows strength and compassion in face of terror

What life post October 7 looks like for the community

Community Coping  image
From left: Alison Hammer, Renee Rosen, and Lisa Barr founded Artists Against Antisemitism. Lauren Margolin (far right), a book blogger and influencer, donated to the group’s initial auction, raising money to address antisemitism on college campuses. (Photo courtesy of Alison Hammer)

When Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, all of Chicago's Jewish community felt attacked. While people are experiencing a range of emotions, the passion for Israel and compassion for one another prevails. 

An injured soldier, proud parents 

At 3 a.m. on November 8th, Jacob and Ellyn Margulies received a phone call that no parent wants.   

Their youngest son, Isaac, 23, an IDF reservist, endured an attack in Gaza. A rocket propelled grenade exploded inside his armored personnel carrier, leaving him with his left arm broken and riddled with shrapnel, and second-degree facial burns. 

Within hours, the Israeli Consulate reached out, and Jacob and Ellyn prepared to bring their son home to Aurora, Illinois.  

But the outpouring of support in Israel changed their plans. "They take care of everybody there," said Jacob.   

Another of their three sons-Simon, 25, also an IDF reservist-received immediate permission to leave his post to tend to his brother. Eventually, Jacob, Ellyn, and their oldest son-Asher, 27-joined him in Israel for Isaac's recovery. 

When Simon and Isaac initially decided to make aliyah after high school, Ellyn had discouraged them.  But the boys persisted. 

"If every kid listened to their parents and didn't go, there'd be no State of Israel," said Jacob. "We are proud of them because they were running towards something… to Israel and the Jewish people." 

Difficult Decisions 

Dan Fagin , President and CEO at CJE SeniorLife, has faced dilemmas following October 7th. 

For one, the attack raised questions about holding CJE's annual gala on October 18th.  

"How do we celebrate when people are being held hostage?" Fagin asked. 

Ultimately, he and his team chose to host the event. 

"People appreciated the opportunity to come together and to understand that despite what's happening in Israel, supporting older Jews in Chicago is no less important than it was on Oct. 6th," Fagin said. 

A few weeks later, with rising antisemitism causing security concerns among his staff and clients, Fagin made the "heart-wrenching decision" to remove the word Shalom from its buses that have served the community emblazoned with that word for almost 50 years. 

"I have to put the safety of my staff and clients [first]," he stated. 

Doing everything she can 

Just three days after learning of a late-October solidarity mission, longtime JUF Board member Debbie Berman boarded a plane to join 20 others for a 36-hour visit organized by the Jewish Federation of North America. 

The group met with volunteers in Jerusalem; family members of hostages in Tel Aviv; and survivors from Kfar Aza Kibbutz, one of the communities hit hardest during the assault. 

"Every single person in Israel is experiencing trauma," Berman said. 

Just three days after learning of a late-October solidarity mission, longtime JUF Board member Debbie Berman boarded a plane to join 20 others for a 36-hour visit organized by the Jewish Federation of North America. 

The group met with volunteers in Jerusalem; family members of hostages in Tel Aviv; and survivors from Kfar Aza Kibbutz, one of the communities hit hardest during the assault. 

"Every single person in Israel is experiencing trauma," said Berman, a longtime JUF Board member, "But at the same time, the hope there is overwhelming." 

Until recently, this daughter of an Israeli did not wear anything indicating her Jewish identity, but these days, she bears a necklace with the message "Bring Them Home Now" and a blue ribbon as a reminder about the hostages. 

"I'm going to do everything I possibly can," she said. 

A persistent heavy feeling 

Shira Raviv Schwartz woke up on October 7th to a stream of notifications from the app Red Alert, which tracks when rockets fired into Israel. 

She also received a message from a cousin that Hersh Goldberg-the son of her friends, Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg-had attended an outdoor concert and was safe. Only 30 minutes later, the news changed. 

"Ever since then, I have had a persistent heavy feeling," said this Highland Park resident.  "There isn't an hour that goes by when I'm not thinking as a parent, as a mom, what Rachel is feeling." 

The daughter of an Israeli, Schwartz lived in Israel for five years and still holds dual citizenship.   

In November, she traveled to Washington, D.C. in November for the March for Israel which eased the emotional weight of the moment. She also finds relief by heading to the gym before dawn.   

"If I can be physically strong, I can be emotionally strong, and that is my way of coping," she explained. 

Each one, an ambassador 

Heading into a business dinner she knew no other Orthodox Jews would attend, Skokie interior designerJennie Rothner proudly displayed a necklace with a map of Israel last November. 

"I wanted it to strike up a conversation," said this Skokie interior designer and JUF Board member.  "It's our job to be ambassadors, to be the voice of reason."  Her necklace did prompt conversation, and "people were definitely willing to listen." 

At home, Rothner works to share her passion for Israel with her four children. Twice, vandals tore down the family's yard signs expressing support for the country, but Rothner showed no fear. 

"Someone coming onto our property and stealing our [signs] means instead of one, this time we put three," she told her kids. "When they took down three, we put five," she said.  "I feel more empowered and more proud to be a Zionist." 

Artists Against Antisemitism  

As antisemitism skyrocketed after October 7th, Alison Hammer joined a group chat with fellow Jewish authors to support one another. 

"We felt helpless," she said from her home in Chicago. 

But within days, their eight became 30, and this fiction writer found herself leading Artists Against Antisemitism. 

The organization launched in mid-December with an auction to raise funds to address antisemitism on college campuses. 

"Art is so powerful as a tool of expression and education. We are excited to see where this goes," Hammer said. 

A friend in deed 

"My world personally, professionally, and pastorally turned upside down [on October 7th] because what affects the Jewish people affects me," said Pastor Chris Harris of Bright Star Church Chicago in Bronzeville and St. James Church Chicago in West Pullman. 

Known for his long-standing ties to the Jewish community, Harris has been busy in recent months "consoling those who are Jewish and informing and educating those who are not."  

While his message to the Jewish community is you are not alone, he ensures that members of the Black community understand the facts.  And he wants everyone to build bridges. 

"It has to be more than words," he said, "We've got to do more than come together during MLK's birthday," he said.   

Hundreds of pastors are answering his call to action, expressing interest in traveling to Israel, like he has on seven occasions.  Now, he's working to raise funds to make it happen. 

 

Julie Mangurten Weinberg is a Northbrook-based freelance journalist with more than 20 years of experience in broadcast, print, and digital media. 

 


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