Evanston residents Iris and David Jacobson woke to the news of Hamas militants orchestrating a surprise attack on Israel Saturday morning.
Their minds immediately went to their two adult children who call Israel home.
“It’s shocking to Israel and to the world. And it’s very difficult having two children, a daughter-in-law and a grandchild on the way living there,” Iris Jacobson said. “These are American children who love Israel and it’s their choice to live there.”
Their son is an Israel Defense Forces officer who heads a combat unit on the West Bank. His wife is four and a half months pregnant. Their daughter also lives in Israel in a small town between Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Both are shaken but currently safe, Iris Jacobson said, requesting to withhold their names over concerns for their safety.
“This is also sad, that it’s just a cycle. And the saddest part is Gaza had an opportunity to have a wonderful and beautiful place for their citizens to live,” David Jacobson said. “These poor innocent Gazans are going to die. It’s just tragic that innocent people are dying and are going to die on both sides who don’t want to die. They just want peace.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war following the attack, which marked the deadliest assault on the country in years. At least 200 people were killed and 1,100 wounded in Israel, while 198 were dead in a retaliatory strike on the Gaza Strip that wounded at least 1,610 more, authorities reported.
The U.S. Palestinian Community Network of Chicago said in a statement the attacks were in self-defense of ongoing Israeli occupation and violence in the Gaza Strip.
“Palestinians have an internationally-recognized right to resist illegal military occupation, and today’s attacks from the Palestinian Resistance should be understood as a legitimate response to unending violence from Israel’s extreme right-wing, racist, white supremacist, zionist government and settler movement,” said Hatem Abudayyeh, the national chair of the group, who lives in the Chicago area.
Saturday’s attack came during the two-day Jewish holiday Simchat Torah, nearly 50 years to the day after Israel faced another surprise attack on Yom Kippur, the holiest holiday on the Jewish calendar.
Simchat Torah is meant to be a joyous celebration in the Jewish faith, said Jay Tcath, executive vice president of Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.
“It’s a holiday of festive celebration and dancing. And on top of that it’s layered by the supposed peacefulness and restfulness of Shabbat,” Tcath said. “That adds another disorienting disconnect from events that are happening in Israel. And folks are unsure of how to celebrate what’s supposed to be a celebratory holiday.”
Tcath said he wasn’t aware of any threats to Chicago-area synagogues following news of the attack, but he said he’s confident they have solid security plans.
“Chicago Jews are experiencing this on a macro level — our solidarity, our sense of affinity and shared destiny with the Jewish state of Israel,” Tcah said. “There are also tens of thousands of Jewish Chicagoans with family in Israel. And so there’s an extra layer of concern and tremendous anxiety that Chicago Jews are experiencing.”
Elected leaders across the Chicago area roundly condemned the attack.
“In Illinois and across America, the people of Israel are in our prayers,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement.
“My heart goes out to the people of Israel as they face these horrific, unconscionable and ongoing coordinated Hamas attacks and kidnappings on Simchat Torah,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, said.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said the “horrific cycle of violence and trauma must end. It’s time for a just and lasting peace that recognices the humanity of our Israeli and Palestinian siblings, and the right to prosperity for future generations.”
North Shore Congressman Brad Schneider, D-Illinois, said the “we send our condolences to the families of those killed, our prayers to the hundreds wounded. Hamas started this war, Israel, with the full support of its allies, can and will defend her people, their communities and the country.”
North suburban U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, said “everyone has the right to feel safe, and every country has the right to protect its people.
“Israelis shouldn’t have to fear for their lives simply because of where they live,” she said. “I’m monitoring this situation closely and my heart goes out to all of the victims and their loved ones.”