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The woman who planned her synagogue’s funerals was killed in the Highland Park massacre. Now a friend embarks on an unimaginable task

By Holly Yan, CNN

Anytime there was a major life event at her synagogue, Jacki Sundheim was on top of it.

The 63-year-old meticulously planned virtually every bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah, wedding and funeral at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois.

“I learned a lot from her,” said fellow congregant Jamie Greenebaum. “She was very, very smart. She was very, very — as they say, genuine. I would say honest.”

Then suddenly this week, the woman beloved for her candor and compassion was gone: gunned down, along with six others, at a Fourth of July parade in nearby Highland Park.

At first, her grief-stricken congregation didn’t know who would take the reins and plan Sundheim’s synagogue funeral with the same tenacity and care she always bestowed on others.

Then Greenebaum, a funeral director in a nearby city, reached out to the rabbi.

“I’m here if you need me,” she told the faith leader, who connected her with Sundheim’s family.

While Greenebaum has experience working with bereaved families, “it’s a lot harder when you know the person,” she said.

“I just never thought I would have to do it for her.”

Sundheim’s funeral Friday was open to the public except the news media. Greenebaum prepared for countless mourners — perhaps close to a thousand.

Beyond that, she’s been making plans for shiva, a weeklong mourning period in Judaism.

The enormous task has been so challenging that Greenebaum almost tried to call Sundheim for help.

“My immediate thought was, ‘It’s a shiva at the synagogue. I have to call Jacki,'” Greenebaum said.

“And then I took a second and realized that I couldn’t.”

‘Seven entire worlds were completely destroyed’

Sundheim’s impact on her community was evident by the hundreds of mourners who gathered at the synagogue Tuesday night for “A Service of Comfort and Consolation.”

They grieved not just the loss of a cherished leader but also the deaths of the other victims senselessly killed.

“Seven entire worlds were completely destroyed,” said Wendi Geffen, senior rabbi at North Shore Congregation Israel.

“We are here this evening united in profound horror, immense sadness and anger.”

Rabbis Lisa Greene and Ryan Daniels openly asked some of the most difficult questions surrounding the sort of tragedy too many American communities have faced — and gave comfort to the bereaved.

“Another mass shooting — too many dead, and too many wounded. And we are left to mourn the dead, to heal the wounded, to wonder why — in the world which you, God, created?” Greene asked.

“Is this part of your plan? That death and destruction emerges from the free will you entrusted to us? That automatic gunfire rains down unceasingly? That people kill people, using weapons we designed and created with the minds you accorded us?”

“Give us strength to move forward,” Daniels said. “Not by forgetting this horror. Not by explaining it away. Not by blaming the easy target. But first by having the courage to mourn the dead, heal the victims, bless the first responders, lead with love.”

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