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Israeli at Highland Park parade recalls moment he realized fireworks were gunshots

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

The aftermath of a shooting at a parade in Highland Park, Illinois, on July 4, 2022. (screen capture: NBC5 Chicago)
The aftermath of a shooting at a parade in Highland Park, Illinois, on July 4, 2022. (screen capture: NBC5 Chicago)

Chicago — An Israeli at yesterday’s Highland Park 4th of July parade recalls the first moments of the shooting in an interview with The Times of Israel, noting that responses to the incident from locals have seemed far more “drastic” than what they would have been had such an event taken place in Israel.

Chaim Vachman moved with his family to the nearby suburb of Deerfield from the central Israeli town of Mazkeret Batya in 2019 and was at the Highland Park parade with his wife and seven-year-old daughter, less than 200 feet from where the bullets sprayed.

Vachman, 45, says he did not register the initial gunshots, assuming they were fireworks, but realized that he was in the midst of a mass-shooting attack when he heard the gunman, Robert Crimo, lock in his second bullet magazine. He glanced at his wife who quickly ran with their daughter away from the shooting while Vachman stayed behind and took cover.

Explaining his decision not to flee with the rest of the crowd, Vachman says, “I didn’t feel like the bullets were coming in my direction. If I ran away, I would be with my back to the incident, and I wouldn’t have been unable to properly respond.”

The Israeli Navy veteran was armed at the time but did not draw his weapon, noting that there were already dozens of police officers there and that his doing so would have sparked more chaos.

Israeli expats Elisheva and Chaim Vachman, who were at witnesses to the mass shooting at the Highland Park 4th of July parade on July 4, 2022. (Courtesy)

Vachman admits that gun carriers are relatively rare in the north shore suburbs. “Guns are seen as something impure, and people living here prefer to view it as a sterile bubble, regardless of the fact that seven other people were gunned down in Chicago on the same weekend.”

The Israeli expat also notes how locals have had a much more difficult time processing the incident, given that such mass shootings are far less commonplace in Highland Park than in Israel.

“People here are very emotional and easily have taken this kind of incident to all sorts of drastic directions,” Vachman says, pointing to announcements by nearby towns to cancel their respective 4th of July parades after news of the shooting broke and the decisions by locals to continue sheltering in place even after it was clear that the threat had subsided.

“These reactions are human and happen everywhere, but in Israel, people are more used to this sort of thing and the circle of panic isn’t as wide,” he says.

Still, Vachman says the experience has not changed his perception of the area or his family’s plans to stay in the Chicago area for the foreseeable future.

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