“Highland Park Strong” is the message filtering through the stories of tragedy, loss and grief. In this heavily Jewish suburb of Chicago, no one has been left untouched by the evil on their doorstep after the Fourth of July shooting that left seven people dead.

What hit home most for local resident Lifsha Weissman was just how close the gunman lived. “His mother’s home is right around the corner from us,” she tells Chabad.org. “On our way to shul, we pass the rabbi’s home on the right and her house on the left. It’s surreal”

Weissman says she knows there will be a long healing process ahead, but she feels that the acts of positivity and kindness springing forth are a stage of healing. “We’re not just numb and shocked; knowing there is positivity going on helps us heal. It’s the way forward.”

Weissman notes that fellow community members she’s spoken with have expressed how grateful they are for tonight’s “Evening of Healing and Unity,” which will be streamed live on Chabad.org at 7 p.m. Central Time. “This groundswell of positivity and light isn’t obvious or natural. People are so grateful,” she says.

The event will be held at the Central Avenue Synagogue, 874 Central Ave.—just blocks from the perch where the 21-year-old gunman unleashed death and destruction.

Chapters of Psalms will be led by Rabbi Yosef Shmuel Moscowitz, executive director of Lubavitch-Chabad of Illinois and Ken Skolnik, while his sister, Dr. Debbie Skolnik—the Skolniks are pillars of the tight-knit community—will light a memorial candle. Rabbi Yosef Schanowitz, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Highland Park–Central Avenue Synagogue will share words of reflection and inspiration. The program will also include stirring Chassidic melodies of faith, hope and unity.

Near the site of the shooting on Central Avenue, volunteers have been staffing a mitzvah booth, where passersby and local business owners have been putting on tefillin or taking home a Shabbat-candle kit. One visitor celebrated a belated bar mitzvah, having wrapped tefillin there for the first time.

A focus now for Chabad of Highland Park will be ensuring that every Jewish home in the area has a properly installed, kosher mezuzah, affording spiritual protection to the entire community. Those who already have a mezuzah will have the opportunity to bring it to a scribe on July 17 to have it checked and touched up if necessary.

The “Kindness in a Can” project will see thousands of pushkas, or charity boxes placed in businesses and homes for each individual to drop a coin or two in each day. The idea is to bring concrete acts of kindness into each and every home, allowing children and adults alike to become daily givers. The gathered funds can be designated to the charity of their choice.

From left: Libby Wolf and Rochel Telsner give out Shabbat candle kits
From left: Libby Wolf and Rochel Telsner give out Shabbat candle kits

Michla Schanowitz, co-director of Chabad of Highland Park, says the wave of goodness is on a roll. On Sunday, July 17, Chabad will host a Mitzvah Fair open to the entire community, where children of all backgrounds can bake challah and cookies for first responders, and decorate Shabbat candlesticks. A contest will have children submit a design for a charity box, and the winning five entries will be duplicated on the thousands of “Kindness in a Can” charity boxes to be sent to homes in Highland Park.

Schanowitz shares three suggestions for the global community to stand together with Highland Park: “Be kinder, be more compassionate and do more good,” she says. “Jewish women should light Shabbat candles this week, bringing more light into the world, and all Jews should make an effort to attend a Shabbat service in synagogue this week, a Shabbat of unity.”

Rabbi Chaim Moshe Telsner helps a passerby put on tefillin.
Rabbi Chaim Moshe Telsner helps a passerby put on tefillin.