Yet on Monday afternoon, my colleague Rabbi Ari Hart and I found ourselves on an hour-long drive from Skokie, a deeply Jewish enclave north of Chicago, to a mosque in Bridgeview, Illinois, also known as “Little Palestine.”
We came to offer comfort to the father of Wadea al-Fayoume, a Muslim, Palestinian-American boy murdered on Sunday. Police say he was targeted by his family’s landlord because of his faith and identity, in response to the conflict in Israel. His mother, Hanaan Shahin, was also repeatedly stabbed and is hospitalized.
Rabbi Hart and I direct Solu, a bridge-building initiative that connects Orthodox Jews with diverse communities across the Chicago region. We wanted to find a way to show our support for this aching family. So we joined a handful of rabbis at Wadea’s funeral, all of us aghast at the loss of this little boy.
Our hearts were already raw. Our community has been reeling: On Oct. 7, as we prayed in our synagogue on a Jewish holiday, we learned that Hamas terrorists had launched a 9/11-style terrorist attack against Israeli civilians—killing whole families, kidnapping children, livestreaming murders. Tears and shock cascaded across the modern Orthodox congregation where we serve as rabbis.
For our community, this attack is personal. Our siblings, parents, or close friends live in Israel. We know some of the 1,300 Israelis killed thus far. Family members of a young man kidnapped from an Israeli music festival are members of our synagogue; they don’t know if he is alive or dead.
The attack was also personal because we’re Jews. Hamas, whose founding charter is rife with anti-Jewish hate, sought to kill as many Jews as they could—men, women, children, and babies.
We believe Israel is now engaged in a just war to destroy Hamas, an autocratic terrorist organization that has ruled Gaza with an iron fist. And we have room in our hearts for the terrible pain this war is causing innocent Gazans, even as we believe in its necessity.
In the midst of our pain, we read of the al-Fayoume family’s pain. We understood that the local Muslim and Palestinian communities were reeling. And we made room in our hearts for their pain, too.