He may be stuck in limbo right now in terms of his career, but Gabe Carimi is still excited about coming to Chicago and being a part of the Jewish community.
Carimi, the first-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears out of the University of Wisconsin, led a parade at the Westfield Old Orchard Mall on Sunday as the Lubavitch Chabad celebrated the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer, which emphasizes education and Jewish unity.
Bonfires and parades are held in Jewish communities around the world, and Skokie was among observing the holiday.
Mayor George Van Dusen and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) were among the nearly 4,500 people who dodged a brief storm to watch the parade's procession of floats. Many came to catch a glimpse of Carimi, who doesn't know when he will actually see his first professional game due to the ongoing NFL lockout.
Regardless of the uncertain future for the Bears and the NFL, Sunday’s festival was a chance for Carimi to bond with his new hometown in what was touted as his major public appearance in the Chicago area.
“I’ve been in the same community in Madison the whole time,” Carimi said of his interest in leading the parade and his time in the Wisconsin capital where the university is located. “I’ve been looking forward to branching out to the new Jewish community and setting up new friendships here."
During the event, Carimi, who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs about 315 pounds, took to the microphone and told the crowd he was happy to be a part of the community and then took time to sign autographs and pose for pictures. With many children seeing him as a role model, the former Badger offensive lineman, is not concerned about that responsibility.
“Being brought up Jewish, my parents brought me up with the right values and how to handle myself in any situation that might arise. I feel comfortable I would be a good role model just because of the way I was raised,” he said.
Carimi, who is a Reform Jew, would not play on Yom Kippur, but he noted that potential conflict should not pop up anytime during his career as the Day of Atonement did not fall on a game day anytime soon. If that does happen while Bear, that would be another matter.
Yet Carimi added, “It has never been a problem for me to balance my religion and football.”
Besides the attraction of seeing Carimi, the parade had many floats and bands from throughout the area. The U.S. Navy was represented as well.
“We all saw what the Navy Seals did a few weeks ago,” Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, regional director of the Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, said about the successful raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan a few weeks ago. “We are here to salute the armed forces.”
“It was a wonderful crowd," Moscowitz said. "The rain did not dampen anyone’s spirits and there were thousands of people that came throughout the day.”
Marty Faierstain of Riverwoods is a friend of the rabbi, and it was his first time at the annual festival.
"It's nice to be in the majority, not the minority," Faierstain said. "But I also wanted to see the kids excited and happy."
Van Dusen was also happy to see so many people coming and enjoying the festivities as well.
“It is important to Skokie because it helps us celebrate the great diversity of our village,” he said. “It just brings out more celebration for the village. On a pragmatic side it brings people to the village and Old Orchard and exposes more people to what a great community we are.”
Be sure to come back tomorrow as we show some terrific pictures from the event.