As Chicago’s Palestinian community mourned the loss of a 6-year-old boy who was stabbed 26 times by his landlord in a suspected hate crime fueled by the Israel-Hamas war, a group of rabbis attended the funeral to express their hope for peace.
Rabbi Ari Hart was one of several local Jewish leaders who came out to show their support for the family of Wadea Al-Fayoume, the Palestinian-American who was allegedly attacked with a 12-inch military-style knife by landlord Joseph Czuba, 71, as he shouted, “You Muslims must die!”
Hart said it was his duty to attend the funeral and help comfort the mourners as a means to condemn the bloody murder and advocate for peace.
“We met with the Imam [muslim religious leader], heard from the father, and stood with the boy’s community as they mourned this horrific loss,” Hart wrote in a Facebook post. “We witnessed the pain.
“We expressed our shock and condemnation of the attack. We wept,” he added.
Hart admitted that it was not easy for the group of rabbis to attend the funeral given the on-going conflict between Israel and Hamas, with Gaza resembling a war zone following unprecedented violence between Palestinians and Jews.
“But the murder of a six year old because of his faith and his identity is not complicated. It is a heinous crime. And that’s why we went today,” Hart explained.
Despite the current divisions between their communities, Hart said he hoped the rabbis’ attendance could serve as a reminder that peace is not out of reach for Jews and Palestinians.
“I can’t give up on trying, yearning, dreaming, even right now, of finding the way to shalom,” he wrote. “The way to salaam. The way to peace.”
The rabbis’ visit served as hope amid heartbreak for those in attendance of the boy’s funeral, with father Oday El-Fayoume still in shock over the fate that befell his son and ex-wife, Hanaan Shahin, was stabbed more than a dozen times and remains in the hospital.
“My ex-wife and son knew him, and they had a good relationship. It is hard to picture this man holding a knife about to stab my son,” El-Fayoume told the Daily Beast.
“I keep thinking that my son was probably running towards him before getting stabbed, trying to give him a hug.”
The Will County Sheriff’s Office said Czuba attacked the mother and son “due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.”
The murder sent shockwaves across the nation, with President Biden also condemning the attack as a “horrific act of hate.”
Czuba was taken into custody at the scene and transported to a hospital to treat a cut on his forehead. He has since been charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crimes and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.