Two Chicago clergy members were both in Jerusalem on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel.
Rabbi Shmuel Schuman, the CEO of Hebrew Theological College, was visiting his three children living in Israel. Daniel Welter, a deacon with Holy Name Cathedral, was exploring the region’s holy sites.
The two both awoke in Jerusalem that Saturday morning to air raid sirens.
“I said to my wife, ‘What are we supposed to do? I have no idea what this means.’ But I knew it wasn’t good,” Schuman said. “Then all of a sudden, I heard this booming sound in the sky. And someone said, that’s the sound of the Iron Dome shooting down missiles being shot toward Jerusalem.”
Schuman was staying with his daughter, son-in-law and grandson in Jerusalem. Two of his sons are also currently studying in Israel. Schuman and his wife, Shana Schuman, were there to visit their children and celebrate recent Jewish holidays.
“Our children are there and will stay there. Jerusalem is safer than other places and far from the front,” Schuman said. “I still worry for them, but I did feel it was best for them to stay there, to be careful but to not run away and to help where they can.”
Welter was hesitant at first to call off his trip. It was his first time in Israel in 25 years. He and his wife, Martha Welter, were there to celebrate 50 years of marriage and renew their baptismal vows in the Jordan River.
“I was hoping to see more of the sites and spend more time there. But it’s better to be safe and go home and go back later, God willing, when there is peace,” Welter said.
Welter started his trip in Tel Aviv and then went to Tiberias, an ancient city on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. From there, he went to Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem to visit holy sites like the Mount of Olives and Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
“Being there, you realize the commonality at these sites between the three Abrahamic religions,” he said referring to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. “You see what brings us together and not what divides us.”
Welter arrived in Israel on Oct. 4 and decided to leave the country on the 10th. His tour guide helped get Daniel and Martha Welter on a bus to an airport in Jordan. From there, they flew to Qatar and then home to Chicago by Oct. 11.
Loved ones in Chicago struggled to reach Daniel and Martha Welter in the days following the attack, but they were never in danger, he said.
“I’m just heartsick by what I’m seeing in the news. These are just people, there are children being hurt and killed. It’s a very sad situation,” Welter said.
“So many people are suffering when they don’t need to. We can live in harmony, that’s what all three of our religions tell us.”
Welter lives in Edgewater and has served as a deacon for 30 years. He was the chancellor for the Archdiocese of Chicago for five years and retired from the position last June.
Schuman, who lives in West Rogers Park, also left Jerusalem on Oct. 11.
“The Jewish people, our numbers are small. We all know someone who was harmed or stands in harm’s way,” Schuman said. “What happened was just so shocking, so inhumane.”
His school was recently one of many Hebrew schools from across the country that wrote 10,000 letters to President Joe Biden to thank him for his support for Israel.