The LION’S ROAR Vol. 3 No. 1 Fall 2014 Rep. John Lewis: A Reluctant Hero
By Oren Panovka ATLANTA - John Lewis does not want to be thought of as a hero. Rather, the congressman from the fifth district of Georgia wants people to think of him as just one of many brave people who tried to do good. “I want people to think that this young guy just tried to do his best, to help out, to make a contribution,” said Rep. Lewis. “I don’t think I’m a hero. I just think I’m one person who was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Rosa Parks and many others who set me on a path to try to change things to make the country and the world a better place.” Rep. Lewis might not think he is a hero, but clearly he has done many brave and heroic things. He joined the Civil Rights Movement as a university student and started to play a prominent role as he got slightly older. He started sitting in at lunch counters and participating in marches. “I was very honored and blessed to participate, to meet leaders and to learn about the philosophy of love, peace and nonviolence,” he said. He eventually became one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. The esteemed group included Dr. King, James Farmer, Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young. He did not consciously become a leader. “Members of the press would ask if I was one of the leaders, and I would say I’m just a participant.” Rep. Lewis has gone through some real hardships in his life. It was not easy being African-American in the 1960s. He has been spit on and beaten, and people have put cigarettes out in his hair. He once was hit in the head with a wooden crate. He was bloody and unconscious. “I thought I was going to die,” he said. Throughout everything, he was never afraid. Rep. Lewis, like Gandhi and Dr. King, followed a path of nonviolence and never retaliated against attacks while demonstrating. The Lewis family didn’t want any trouble. When young John asked questions about segregation, his parents, grandparents, and great grandparents responded, “That’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way, don’t get into trouble.” But he disagreed and got into what he called “A good trouble, a necessary trouble.” Once he started getting involved in the Civil Rights Movement, his parents were very supportive. After African-Americans were given the right to vote, his mother “became a crusader to get everyone to vote.” Congressman Lewis has always followed politics. In 1960, he campaigned for President John F. Kennedy. He met Robert Kennedy, and they became friends. He was with Robert Kennedy when Dr. King was assassinated. Two months later, he was with Robert Kennedy in California and saw him shot and killed. He felt as if someone must carry on their work. “I lost two close friends and heroes,” Rep Lewis said. “I thought someone needs to pick up where Bobby K. left off. People kept telling me I should run for office.” The first time he ran, he lost. So he took a job with President Jimmy Carter in the White House. Once the congressional seat opened again, he ran. This time, he won. Rep. Lewis never thought of running for president. He said “I love serving in Congress, serving people I love and continuing to support African-Americans, whites, and latinos.” Rep. Lewis also has helped the Jewish community very much. When he had a meeting in the 1980s in Soviet Russia with the Supreme Soviet and other members of Congress, he demanded they let the Refuseniks go. Eventually he received a letter with the names of those who were being allowed to migrate. Likewise, the Jewish community in Atlanta has been very helpful in getting Rep. Lewis to Congress. Representative Lewis clearly demonstrates all the values of the Davis Academy. He supports his community, shares his great wisdom, maintains a strong spirit, respects all people, and above all, fights for righteousness.
The Davis Academy is Atlanta’s Reform Jewish Day School and a proud affiliate of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. http://www.crewof42.com/news/john-lewis-it-wasdangerous-then-and-it-is-now/ (photographer unknown)
Man Survives Holocaust and Tells His Story
By Matthew Aronin ATLANTA - Henry Birnbrey is an extraordinary man who has done a great deal to support his community and his family. Mr. Birnbrey is currently working in Atlanta, Georgia. He is always giving to charity and performing community work. Mr. Birnbrey has had a rough life but is now very successful. Mr. Birnbrey is an only child raised in Pre-World War II Dortmund, Germany. His father had a small textile business. Mr. Birnbrey was only fourteen years old when the Holocaust began. The situation was not looking good for him. When the Holocaust was in its fifth year, Mr. Birnbrey was one of the few lucky children who were able to leave Germany and come to the United States to begin a prosperous new life. Unfortunately, he had to leave his parents behind in Germany. This helped him realize his courage. Shortly after he left, his father was put in prison during the Nazi raid on Jewish businesses and died soon after from a beating while in jail. Hearing this news made Mr. Birnbrey determined to help make the world a better place for everyone. Once Mr. Birnbrey arrived in America, he spent nine months in Birmingham, Alabama and then spent his remaining teenage years with a foster family in Atlanta, Georgia. He remembers getting his first paycheck while working at a men’s department store on commission for a mere two dollars and thirty cents. Mr. Birnbrey attended high school at Commercial High School. While in high school, he managed a shoe store to earn some money to live. Some of his favorite subjects in school were mathematics and geometry. In 1943, Mr. Birnbrey was given special permission from President Roosevelt to join the United States Army to support his new country and to fight against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in Europe. He was part of the Allied Forces’ invasion of Normandy on June 6th, 1944, better known as D-Day. This was a turning point in the war and was the beginning of the end of the German dominance in Europe. In his office, he proudly displays a large map of Normandy that he was given to help plan the attack. After the war, he returned to Atlanta, Georgia. The influence of his most extraordinary teacher who taught accounting in high school, led him to be an accountant. After a few years of law school, he also became an attorney. Unable to find work elsewhere, he started his own small accounting firm using the skills he previously acquired. It is still operating today and has grown into Birnbrey, Minsk, Minsk & Perling, one of the oldest and most successful accounting firms in Atlanta. Mr. Birnbrey said, “This office has always made time for community affairs…We’ve always been available to have meetings here, to participate in the community, and to give charity as a firm.” Mr. Birnbrey frequently gives a great amount of his time to Jewish organizations. He can be found assisting the Jewish Federation, The Greenfield Hebrew Academy, and many other Jewish organizations. He also speaks about being a Holocaust survivor and fighting in World War II to groups of numerous ages and backgrounds varying from students to soldiers at the William Bremen Jewish Heritage Museum. In May 2014, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. Mr. Birnbrey has been married twice, both wives have predeceased him. He has four children, all married, fifteen grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren. Mr. Birnbrey also has four step children from his second marriage along with ten step grandchildren and two step great grandchildren. He has recently celebrated his ninety-first birthday. Mr. Birnbrey exemplifies the Davis Academy values of wisdom and courage while persevering throughout his life. Mr. Birnbrey believes that community and Tefillah are extremely important. He said, “Tefillah is a very personal thing. I observe it, but I don’t criticize people who don’t.” At an age where most people are content while sitting and resting, Mr. Birnbrey looks forward to going to his office every day to meet with clients and continues to give his time to others. He has come from difficult times and has worked hard his entire life, yet he still gives back to his community. Mr. Birnbrey has learned that determination will help you succeed.