HIGHLAND PARK, IL. – Mourners on Friday remembered a woman who worked tirelessly in her synagogue and a gentle man who loved art in the first formal services held for the seven people killed by the gunman who died at a Parade opened fire on July 4th.
Synagogue members at the North Shore Congregation Israel near the Chicago suburb of Highland Park described 63-year-old Jacquelyn Sundheim as a dedicated member of her congregation who coordinated events and taught preschool classes, always smiling and constantly checking on other staff members.
“We are appalled,” said Rabbi Wendi Geffen. “We are angry, disgusted, hurt, heartbroken by the terror that has befallen us and stolen Jacki from us.”
But Geffen and other speakers urged the people who packed the synagogue to focus on Sundheim’s life — her dedication to her husband Bruce and daughter Leah, the joy she found in knitting, and her attention to detail in the Planning bat mitzvahs, bar mitzvahs, weddings or funerals.
Her daughter had one more request: to use the pain, fear, and anger her mother’s death has caused to make the world a better place in small thoughts and actions.
“I want you to laugh,” she said, fighting back tears. “I want you to bring a little more joy and kindness into this world every day. Don’t let this sadness, fear and anger towards our world embitter you. The world is darker without my mother and it’s up to us now to fill it with a little more laughter.”
Mourners also filled the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston in support of the family of 88-year-old Stephen Straus, who was praised as a fun father and grandfather who loved reading and the arts, yet still took the train to the office in New York five days a week downtown Chicago where he worked as a financial advisor.
Son Jonathan described Straus as “really to the core, just a sweet, generous person,” while his other son, Peter, thanked his father for inspiring love with the “crazy guys,” including Mel Brooks.
Jonathan Straus said hearing news of his father’s death from a doctor at a hospital was “the worst moment of my life”.
“When you think about what a good, generous and loving person he was, it makes the cruelty and horror of his death that much harder to bear,” he said. “When I see pictures of him … it really blows my mind what we lost, who I lost, my best friend ever.”
A 2020 study by Brandeis University and the University of Chicago found that Highland Park had one of the highest concentrations of Jewish residents in the Chicago area — a fact reflected in the half-dozen or more synagogues in the suburb or just outside . Many local restaurants offer kosher food.
Neighboring Highwood is home to a large Hispanic population, and Mexican authorities said two men killed in the parade were natives of the country.
One of them was 78-year-old Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza of Waukegan, where family and friends gathered for Friday’s service.
During a private family viewing before public services, a granddaughter left the church in tears. Family members surrounded Yesenia Hernandez and tried to comfort her as she sobbed.
Several participants wore t-shirts with a cross and a picture of Toledo-Zaragoza grinning, wearing a brimmed hat and a suit. The shirts read in Spanish, “In memory of Nicolas Toledo” and included words from Psalm 23:1 – “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Outside the church entrance, which is decorated with white and blue balloons, Toledo-Zaragoza’s sons Alejo and Angel spoke briefly about how they will miss their father’s love.
Church services for 69-year-old Eduardo Uvaldo, also a native of Mexico, are scheduled for Saturday.
The family of 64-year-old Katherine “Katie” Goldstein released a statement Friday saying her husband Craig Goldstein, a hospital doctor, was touched by the number of people who told him she was her best friend. She dedicated herself to motherhood and caring for her family.
“Raising our daughters, going on adventures together – I lived a fairy tale,” said Craig Goldstein.
The statement said she also loved being outside, visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden and involving her family in her passion for bird watching.
“She was the best mom in the world,” daughters Cassie and Alana said in the statement.
Police have repeatedly stated that the victims were shot indiscriminately and that the attacker had no racial or religious motive.
Burial details for the remaining victims have not been released. Authorities have identified them as 35-year-old Irina McCarthy and 37-year-old Kevin McCarthy, who were in the parade with their 2-year-old son.
The accused shooter, Robert E. Crimo III, was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors expect to file further charges over the attack, which injured more than 30 people.
Investigators said the suspect, who lived in neighboring Highwood, legally purchased five guns and planned the attack for weeks before climbing onto the roof of a shop along the parade route and opening fire with a semi-automatic rifle.
Investigators reported that Crimo fled the parade by mingling with the fleeing crowd and then drove to the Madison, Wisconsin area, where he considered a second attack. He returned to the Highland Park area and his car was spotted by police.
The question remains whether Crimo should be able to legally purchase firearms in Illinois. Illinois State Police officers defended his gun license approval in December 2019, months after police received reports that he had made threats of suicide and violence.
Savage is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. She reported from Waukegan. Associated Press writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report.
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