BB Literary Club Centennial
Renewing the Pizitz Building
Southern Jewish Life
Volume 27 Issue 4
Southern Jewish Life P.O. Box 130052 Birmingham, AL 35213
2 Southern Jewish Life â€¢ April 2017
shalom y’all shalom y’all y’all shalom Toward the end of my days actively working with interfaith and intercultural dialogue groups, a new exercise became popular — the privilege exercise. Everyone would line up side by side in a large space and close their eyes. A list of conditions would be read, and those for whom the statement applied would take a step forward or backward, depending on whether it was an advantage or disadvantage. For example, if you grew up in a house with more than 40 books, take a step forward. If your parents divorced, take a step backward. If your parents are college-educated, take a step forward. At the end of the exercise, everyone would open their eyes and look around. In general, there would be a couple of people toward the front, a couple of people way back and most scattered in between. Now, what do you do with that information? Sometimes, those in the back would tell everyone else not to feel sorry for them. Ones toward the front might express guilt for their advantages. To that, some would say the point isn’t to feel guilty for advantages, but work toward a society where more people can have those advantages (ah, but how?). And, of course, it’s all a matter of perspective — this was with Americans in the South. Imagine where the ones toward the back would be if there were a bunch of people from Third World countries in the mix. That exercise prompted all manner of interesting dialogue. Unfortunately, the notion of privilege has gone from the individual results in this exercise to abstract assumptions based on groups among some. In the world of intersectionality, the current fashionable idea among many activists and on college campuses, every struggle is the same, merely the different flavors of oppression. Feminism is LGBTQ rights is Black Lives Matter is the Palestinians is environmentalism. continued on page 60
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Southern Jewish Life
A Thank You to Hate (Editor’s note: This piece was written a couple of weeks before the arrest of a suspect in Israel who was accused of making the bmb threats. A reflection written just after the arrest was announced on March 23 follows. The author is an alumnus and current parent at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School in Birmingham). Dear Sir/Madam: I wanted to thank you for your recent service to me and to the Jewish community, both here in Birmingham and throughout the United States in recent weeks. Your efforts on my behalf have been outstanding. In the last six weeks, you have called in more than a hundred bomb threats, some targeting elementary schools and day care centers, and you have implemented a program of online intimidation as well as simple acts of random hate, like the carving of swastikas on car doors and walls, or the toppling of headstones in Jewish cemeteries. I congratulate you on the comprehensiveness of your work. You have forced me to have conversations with my 5- and 7-year-old children about what a bomb threat is, and why someone would want to hurt them even though they have never done anything to that person. Even though they don’t even KNOW that person. My children now know how to evacuate during a hostage situation and how to flee terrorism. They don’t really understand why it is that they need to know this, but I’m sure that you will continue to help them learn throughout their lives.
Giving credit Thank you for the lovely article about Woldenberg Village highlighting the Snoezelen room (“Woldenberg Village only Louisiana location for Snoezelen therapy,” Feb. 2017). The room was made possible by donations from Albert and Rea Hendler. Esther Hendler, trustee Albert and Rea Hendler Charitable Remainder Trust
What do you think? Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to P.O. Box 130052, Birmingham, AL 35213 4 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
You’ve helped me forget my day-to-day concerns about things like my job as I spend time at meetings about public safety and arguing about best practices. Sure, it’s been a little stressful at times, but any valuable relationship will have these moments. Overall, I’d say you’ve been quite busy. In all seriousness, though, I have to thank you most of all for what you’ve done for me as a Jew. Boy, have you helped me with that. You see, for a long time, I’ve been what I’d call an “unaffiliated Jew.” I subscribe to the values and tenets of Judaism, but I pick and choose; I’m not terribly observant or particularly fastidious about details. I’ve always seen my Judaism as a means to achieving my relationship with G-d, not as the goal itself. Because of this, at times I have felt my connections with Judaism loosen, and felt myself drifting away. I think that, in time, there’s a good chance that I would have become so secular as to no longer really think of Judaism as something I primarily identify with at all. That’s where you came in. Like a hammer driving home a nail, you have secured my identity more effectively than I could have imagined. You came to my community and you declared “All of you must be hurt or hated because you are Jews.” You didn’t care if I had lapsed in my faith. You didn’t concern yourself with my attendance at synagogue or my membership at the LJCC or with my choice of schools. You had no interest in my observance of kashrut or my ability to read the Torah. All that mattered to you was that I was a Jew. And thanks to you, more than ever, I am. You’ve taken our community, which was arguably fractured along a number of lines, and you’ve united it in defiance of your threats. You’ve taken members of the Christian and Muslim communities around us, and turned them from unknown neighbors or detractors to supporters and allies. You’ve made me resolute in my decision to continue to be a member at the LJCC, and to keep my children in their Jewish day school. You’ve made me increase my contributions to Jewish organizations across the board. In short, your work in six weeks has made me more confident and committed to my faith than I can remember being. So thank you, hate. Thank you for being so blind and foolish. Thank you for thinking that we scatter when we are afraid, not realizing that we stand together when we are threatened. Thank you for thinking we will abandon thousands of years of heritage to a few threats, when our ancestors stood before pogroms, armies, and worse and said “We will not move.” continued on page 59
PUBLISHER/EDITOR Lawrence M. Brook email@example.com ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER/ADVERTISING Lee J. Green firstname.lastname@example.org CREATIVE DIRECTOR Ginger Brook email@example.com SOCIAL/WEB Eugene Walter Katz firstname.lastname@example.org PHOTOGRAPHER-AT-LARGE Rabbi Barry C. Altmark deepsouthrabbi.com CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Rivka Epstein, Paul Lewis, Tally Werthan, Bebe Hudson, Belle Freitag, Annabelle Fox, Doug Brook brookwrite.com BIRMINGHAM OFFICE P.O. Box 130052, Birmingham, AL 35213 14 Office Park Circle #104 Birmingham, AL 35223 205/870.7889 NEW ORLEANS OFFICE 3747 West Esplanade, 3rd Floor Metairie, LA 70002 504/780.5615 TOLL-FREE 866/446.5894 FAX 866/392.7750 email@example.com ADVERTISING Advertising inquiries to Lee Green, 205/870.7889 or firstname.lastname@example.org Media kit, rates available upon request SUBSCRIPTIONS It has always been our goal to provide a large-community quality publication to all communities of the South. To that end, our commitment includes mailing to every Jewish household in the region (AL, LA, MS, NW FL), without a subscription fee. Outside the area, subscriptions are $25/year, $40/two years. Subscribe via sjlmag.com, call 205/870.7889 or mail payment to the address above. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or part without written permission from the publisher. Views expressed in SJL are those of the respective contributors and are not necessarily shared by the magazine or its staff. SJL makes no claims as to the Kashrut of its advertisers, and retains the right to refuse any advertisement.
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agenda interesting bits & can’t miss events
The Friendship Circle in Birmingham held a Color Run on March 19 at the Levite Jewish Community Center, to benefit the Chabad of Alabama program that provides friendship and inclusion to special needs children in the community.
Holocaust commemorations scheduled in region The State of Alabama Yom HaShoah commemoration will be on April 25 at 11 a.m. at the Alabama State Capitol Old House Chamber. On April 24, Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center will be part of the Holocaust International Initiative Remembrance Reading honoring Elie Wiesel. The reading will be at noon at the Butterfly Garden. The Birmingham community Yom HaShoah commemoration will be on April 23 at 2 p.m. at Temple Beth-El. “Stories Remembered and Retold: The Stories of Deceased Holocaust Survivors as Told by Their Local Descendants” will feature the family stories of Kelly Campbell, Debra Goldstein, Eli Pinhas and Debbie Wiatrak. “Darkness Into Life: Alabama Holocaust Survivors Through Photography and Art Exhibit” will be displayed at the LJCC from April 3 to 24. The educational exhibit features the stories of 20 Alabama Holocaust survivors, teaching the history of the Holocaust and offers a rich understanding of its impact on these individuals and their families. It is coordinated by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center. Huntsville’s Holocaust Remembrance Day will be on April 23 at 2 p.m., at the Huntsville Space Center, educator training facility. The 35th annual Holocaust Remembrance at Jacksonville State University will be on April 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Stone Center Theatre. Second Generation Survivor David Sedlis of Birmingham will be the keynote speaker, relating the story of his father who was in the Vilna Ghetto and later fought with the Partisans. The event is coordinated by Esta Spector and Steve Whitton. The interfaith Holocaust memorial service in Montgomery will be April 23 at 3 p.m. at Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem, featuring Elana Hagler. Temple B’nai Israel in Panama City will show the film “Denial” at noon on Saturday, May 13 with a discussion led by Rabbi Alana Wasserman to
follow. “Denial” is a 2016 British-American historical drama film based on Deborah Lipstadt’s book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.” The event is free and open to the public. The 34th annual Shreveport Holocaust Remembrance Service will be at First Baptist Church on April 23 at 3 p.m. Armin Guggenheim, now of Cleveland, will be guest speaker. In 2015, he participated in a Stumbling Blocks ceremony in his German hometown. The initiative puts brass markers in the sidewalk outside buildings where Jews lived until the Holocaust, as an educational effort. In Rapides Parish, the school board declared a Holocaust education week in January, and students at Peabody High School wrote chalk messages with Holocaust lessons on the sidewalks outside the school.
Birmingham’s Beth-El celebrating 90 years on Highland Avenue Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El is celebrating 90 years on Highland Avenue with a special weekend starting April 21. Founded in 1906 by breakaway members of Knesseth Israel looking for a more modern style of traditional worship, Beth-El started on the Northside. In 1922, the struggling congregation figured there wasn’t room for two Orthodox congregations on the Northside, so they planned a move to the Southside, where Emanu-El had moved in 1915. The building was completed in 1927. Former Beth-El Rabbi Brian Glusman and Birmingham native Michael Levine will lead a Family Ruach Shabbat on April 21 at 5:45 p.m., followed by a catered dinner.
April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 5
agenda On April 22, Glusman and Rabbi Barry Leff will lead Shabbat morning services at 9:30 a.m., including a recognition of Beth-El members age 90 and over. Levine will lead a Kirtan meditation. At 7 p.m. there will be a Celebrating Our Gems gala, emceed by Dave Price. The dinner is $75 per person. On April 23, the Beth-El Sisterhood will have Mimosas and Memories at 10:30 a.m., honoring the Sisterhood “matriarchs.”
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6 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
Shabbat at Tulane with over 1,000 of your closest friends On Feb. 10, the largest Shabbat dinner in Louisiana was held on the Newcomb quad at Tulane University. The seventh Shabbat 1000 by Chabad at Tulane attracted about 1,100 students. Student groups prepared the food, including Sigma Delta Tau, Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Epsilon Phi sororities, Zeta Beta Tau and Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternities. One of the preparation events involved sorority members making over 1,000 mini-challahs. Over 100 table heads were recruited and asked to invite a dozen of their friends so the tent would be filled.
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On March 14, Martha Miller celebrated her 102nd birthday, at Wesley Haven Manor in Pensacola. Jerry Gordon presented her a certificate of emeritus membership from B’nai Israel. She is shown here with daughter Roz Bendit on right with her husband Irwin Bendit of Santa Barbara, Calif., and friends Faye and Joe Rosenbaum of Pensacola on the right.
Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center will host an Israel Independence Day celebration, April 30 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School. The event will include Israeli dancing and music, Israeli street food, a Junior Maccabi event, crafts, a bounce house and more. The event is free, food will be available for purchase.
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Connecting Israel, Southeast business Conexx gala on May 3 in Atlanta
At its May 3 Gala, Conexx: America Israel Business Connector will honor the people and companies who have made significant contributions to Southeast-Israel economic and business relationships. The 16th annual event will be at The Twelve Hotel, Atlantic Station in Atlanta at 6 p.m. The Conexx Gala is Conexx’s community flagship event and networking opportunity. Formerly known as Eagle Star Awards, the gala changed its name to better reflect Conexx’s work toward connecting the Southeast and Israel in business. This year’s Gala will include the Tom Glaser Leadership Award, Partner of the Year, Israeli Company of the Year, Deal of the Year and U.S. Company of the Year. The honorees had not been announced as of press time. In addition, an Innovative Academic Program will also be recognized. Past awardees include South Carolina Business woman Anita Zucker, Hewlett Packard, the City of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Conexx looks to make connections to Israel with companies, organizations and individuals in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Since its founding 22 years ago, the private non-profit and non-governmental organization has been involved in over $1 billion in completed transactions. The gala helps support Conexx and charitable affiliate the American Israel Educational Institute’s yearlong programming. Over the past 25 years, Conexx and AIEI have earned a reputation as one of the most successful and effective bi-national business organizations in the United States. The groups work with Israeli companies seeking to establish a U.S. operation, gain access to the U.S. market, and create an American presence with low cost and high visibility. They also assist American companies desiring entry into the Israeli market or who wish to gain access to cutting-edge Israeli innovations. Another emphasis is for those looking for a powerful network to promote their products or services to others within the strong Conexx membership base. This year’s Gala will feature a raffle that includes a grand prize of two airline tickets to Israel, a week stay in a Jerusalem apartment, courtesy of Judy and Shai Robkin and a weekend in the 5-star Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv. Gala tickets are $125. A package including one ticket to the raffle, with a grand prize of a trip to Israel, is $165. Raffle tickets are $50 individually.
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April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 7
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B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge will hold its Art & Soul gala on April 27, with jazz and a silent and live auction. Bill Grimes and his quartet will be featured, along with vocalist Judy Davis. The dressy casual event will begin at 6:30 p.m., featuring wine, signature cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Tickets are $50. A pair of diamond and pearl earrings from Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry is being raffled at $25 per ticket. Proceeds from Art & Soul benefit religious education programs. Cantor Samuel Radwine will be the new spiritual leader at Congregation Etz Chaim in Bentonville, Ark. He previously was cantor at Sun City Jewish Services in Palm Desert and Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay, Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif., since 1986. Until he begins, Rabbi Eugene Levy of Little Rock will continue serving the congregation on a monthly basis. The Jewish Federation of Central Alabama is planning a community Mission to Israel for Israel’s 70th birthday. An optional pre-mission trip to Poland for the 30th March of the Living is also available. More information on the Spring 2018 trip will be forthcoming. Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El will have a Mitzvah Day on April 30, doing service projects at numerous locations from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Lunch will be provided for all volunteers. The N.E. Miles Jewish Day School in Birmingham will get the pasta going before Passover, with a spaghetti dinner on April 6 at 6 p.m. Cost is $8 per person or $25 per family, with reservations requested by April 4. Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El will screen “Rock in the Red Zone” on April 6 at 7 p.m. Filmmaker Laura Bialis knew nothing of Sderot in 2007 when a friend sent her an article about rocket attacks coming from Gaza and plaguing the Israeli town. The influential music scene coming from Sderot despite the thousands of rocket attacks over seven years intrigued her, leading to this documentary about the musicians who play on, despite the hardships. Bialis will lead a question and answer session after the screening. The Jewish Federation of Central Alabama will have IsraelFest 69 in celebration of Israel’s birthday, April 30 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Wynlakes Golf and Country Club. Comedian Joel Chasnoff will be featured. B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge will hold its annual Golf Classic, May 7 at The Island Golf Club in Plaquemine. The shotgun start will be at noon, and the $150 registration includes golf, cart, range balls, dinner and prizes. Elenor and Sidney Conn will discuss opportunities to volunteer at Israel Defense Forces bases in several locations in Israel, April 25 at 7 p.m. at the Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham. Montgomery’s Temple Beth Or will have Men’s Club Shabbat on April 28 at 6 p.m. Guest speaker will be Joe Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. A wine and cheese reception will begin at 5:15 p.m. Temple Beth Or in Montgomery will celebrate its 165th anniversary at the 6 p.m. service on April 7, featuring the choir performing some classic works. B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge will have a Nature Shabbat, a stroll through the swamp, on April 8 at 10 a.m., at Bluebonnet Swamp.
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Rabbi Judy Ginsburgh will lead a “Taste of Judaism” class at B’nai Israel in Monroe on April 8 from 1 to 4 p.m. The class will feature basic information about what Jews believe, the history of the Jews, Jewish holidays and customs, Jewish words, Israel and more. There will be an “Ask the Rabbi” question and answer session at the end. The class is free and open to the community at large.
community Despite arrest in JCC bomb hoaxes, leaders say vigilance still warranted Though there was a sigh of relief at the news that an arrest has been made for most of the bomb threats called in to Jewish Community Centers and Jewish schools around the United States since mid-January, mixed with shock about who the suspect is, vigilance is still being recommended. The shock came from where the calls reportedly originated. A 19-yearold resident of Ashkelon, with dual United States and Israeli citizenship, was arrested on suspicion of making the calls. His identity and possible motive were not immediately released after the March 23 arrest. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the arrest “is the culmination of a large-scale investigation spanning multiple continents for hate crimes against Jewish communities across our country. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs,” Sessions said. Israeli investigators first started looking at the unnamed suspect following a threat in New Zealand six months ago. His home had a large antenna and “unusual hardware,” using “complex methods” to keep from being identified. His father has also been detained and is being questioned as to how much he knew of his son’s activities. Ynet reported that his attorney told the court he has been homeschooled since developing a brain tumor at age 14, and that the tumor has affected his behavior ever since. The Israel Defense Forces ruled him unfit for service. In addition to over 100 calls to JCCs and Jewish schools in North America, the suspect is accused of threats in Europe and Australia, and causing an emergency landing by a Delta Airlines flight after a threatening call. Birmingham’s Levite JCC and N.E. Miles Jewish Day School received a total of four bomb threats from mid-January to early March. The Uptown JCC in New Orleans received one threat. The Jewish Community Center Association of North America President Doron Krakow said “we are gratified by the progress in this investigation, and applaud the commitment and leadership of the FBI and other federal agencies, Israeli law enforcement, and local law enforcement across the United States and Canada.” He noted that “We are troubled to learn that the individual suspected… is reportedly Jewish.” Jonathan Greenblatt, chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, said “even though it appears that the main culprit behind the majority of these attacks has allegedly been identified, anti-Semitism in the U.S. remains a very serious concern… JCCs and other institutions should not relax security measures or become less vigilant.” That was echoed locally. Richard Friedman, executive director of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, said “It is important to remember that this person presumably had nothing to do with the rash of swastika paintings we have witnessed (nationally), the desecration of Jewish graves that have recently occurred, the distribution of anti-Semitic literature that has taken place in different parts of the country, and the firing of a bullet through a window at a synagogue in Evansville, Ind. Thus, all Jewish institutions and Jewish communities need to continue to remain vigilant.” In a statement, Friedman and Donald Hess, chair of the Birmingham Federation’s campaign for Jewish community security, said the Federation is in touch with the national Jewish agencies regarding the latest developments, and will “assess what security enhancements are necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of our Birmingham Jewish institutions, and we will communicate this information to our community in a timely and transparent way.”
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April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 9
A Comprehensive Response
Representatives of law enforcement, political leadership attend forum at Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center — and a fourth bomb threat followed the next morning
LJCC Executive Director Betzy Lynch moderates forum with Sergeant Heath Boackle, leader of the Birmingham Police Department K-9 unit; Captain David Thompson of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office; David Hyche of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer; Birmingham Mayor William Bell; Birmingham Police Department Deputy Chief Alan Hatcher; Captain Allen Treadway of the Birmingham Police Department’s East Precinct; Special Agent In Charge Roger Stanton of the FBI Birmingham Division; and Scott Bartle of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
10 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
There was a major show of political and legal force at Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center on March 6, as the community was updated on security issues following three phoned bomb threats that were part of a national wave. Among those on hand were Birmingham Mayor William Bell and Congressman Gary Palmer, along with representatives of the FBI, Alabama Bureau of Investigation, the ATF, Birmingham Police and the Jefferson County Sheriff ’s Department. The next morning, 14 hours after the forum, the campus received its fourth bomb threat, this time at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School. At least 12 JCCs and Jewish schools were threatened on March 7, including in Boston, Chicago, Syracuse, Toronto, Portland, Rochester, Davie, Fla., and Rockville, Md. Anti-Defamation League offices in New York, Boston, Atlanta and Washington were also threatened. Almost half of the JCCs in the U.S. have received threats since the beginning of the year. The LJCC also received threats on Jan. 18 and Feb. 20, with the Day School receiving a threat on Feb. 27. The March 6 forum filled the LJCC auditorium, with many wearing the blue and white ribbons distributed by the Parents of the LJCC group that emerged after the first threats. One of the group’s organizers, Rebekah Weinberger, said “as a Jewish mother, I never thought my kids were going to have to deal with this.” As the forum began, LJCC Executive Director Betzy Lynch thanked those who have been “key and integral in helping us through the difficult times we have faced for the last two months,” including the leaders of the campus partner agencies. She also thanked the parents of the preschool and Day School parents, and said “the amount of support we’ve had in this community is second to none.” Most of the questions came from concerned preschool and Day School parents, filled with praise for local law enforcement, Mayor Bell and Rep. Palmer, but with concerns about the national investigation’s status.
Bell noted that children are “the most precious responsibility you have,” and that is why they were on stage for the forum. Lucas Gambino attended the meeting to offer support from the local Muslim community. ‘Our community is here to help in any way we can,” he said. Lynch responded that “we stand with you against these things as well,” as the local mosque has received threats recently. Sergeant Heath Boackle, who heads the K-9 unit for the Birmingham Police Department, urged members not to be alarmed if they see the K-9 unit in the building. “We are going to be doing some different things… in and around the facility.” After the March 7 threat, he visited with the students to reassure them, and told them that the unit would be there on occasion when there isn’t a threat. Captain David Thompson of the Jefferson County Sheriff ’s Office said a surveillance trailer that is monitored constantly was deployed in the LJCC parking lot. David Hyche of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said “our agency was asked to provide security training to the staff here… the staff was very pro-active.” He added, “We also have our intelligence people working closely” with city, county and state officials. Last week, Bell had a meeting with leaders of the LJCC, Federation and Day School. He said “In Birmingham, we will not tolerate any bigotry” and said he was at the event “to show my support and to represent the other citizens of Birmingham, to let you know we will do all we can.” Birmingham Police Department Deputy Chief Alan Hatcher of the field operation bureau urged members to be vigilant and report anything that ever appears unusual. Palmer echoed that, saying “don’t be afraid to do it, don’t be embarrassed.” Officers are patrolling the LJCC during operating hours and during other times. Captain Allen Treadway of the Birmingham Police Department’s East Precinct said “All the officers you see here work for
community me, and we’ll keep that presence here as long as it is needed.” Special Agent In Charge Roger Stanton of the FBI Birmingham Division spoke of the collaboration among agencies. “We are putting the full force of all our resources toward this threat so we can conduct a thorough and efficient investigation,” he said. Stanton said one of the first calls he got after the threats began was from Palmer’s office, asking if the FBI needed anything. “He wanted to make sure this threat was our highest priority.” As this is a national phenomenon, Stanton said FBI divisions nationwide are working on the case and “it’s got the attention of the director of the FBI… we are putting our full force behind this investigation,” and with their law enforcement partners “we will be successful.” Scott Bartle of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency also participated in the forum, and Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington was in attendance. Lynch announced the Birmingham Jewish Foundation had issued a “significant emergency grant” on March 5 to help pay for short-term and mid-term security needs. Donald Hess is leading a task force to assess security needs in the community, not just on
the LJCC campus but in synagogues and other institutions, and explore the best way to fund those enhancements. The ATF recently had a two-hour training session with LJCC and Day School staff to finetune bomb threat protocol after the first three experiences. Several experts have toured the LJCC campus and made recommendations on physical enhancements and protocol changes, some of which have been implemented and others which will be done soon. Not all of the changes will be publicized. One frequent recommendation was the permanent closing of the fitness center entrance. Effective March 12, that will become an emergency exit only. Last year, the entrance was open just during the summer when the outdoor pool was operating, but that will no longer be the case, and everyone will need to enter through the main lobby. Many other exits, such as the gymnasium doors to the parking lot, will also become emergency exits only. LJCC President Allison Weil said “we realize it’s going to make some people upset, but it’s another layer of security we have to do.” Lynch noted that for 100 years, the LJCC has been a welcoming place for the entire commu-
nity, and “if we take away that warm, haimish feel… we will have lost a part of who we are. That is not what we are trying to do” with the enhanced security procedures. This summer, the LJCC is hosting the JCCA Maccabi Games, bringing about 800 Jewish teens from across the U.S. and around the world to Birmingham for a week of athletic competitions and service projects. Lynch said law enforcement has been working with the LJCC even before the threats began, as strict security is already a large component of hosting the games. Those measures “would have happened regardless of this set of circumstances.” The decision had already been made that competitions will not be held at the LJCC so the facility would be available for members. Several venues around Birmingham have already been announced as competition sites. Lynch said the threats have “heightened the importance” of the Maccabi Games, the first ever to be hosted in Alabama. “This is our way of showing whoever is doing this to us that the continuity of Jewish life and our Jewish future is happening here in Alabama,” and showing solidarity “can be one of the most important things we can do.”
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The parents’ group is making sure the issue does not get swept under the rug. Weinberger said after the forum that she was terrified by the first bomb threat, as she was in the building when it happened. After the second one, “I was frustrated, and that’s when we put together Parents of the LJCC.” When the third threat happened, “we were really ticked off.” She called the office of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley to get him to say something about the situation and was “passed around for 20 minutes” before being told he wasn’t planning to say anything. Once word spread among the parents’ group, they inundated Bentley’s office with calls, and later that day he issued a statement, saying “as the Governor of every person of Alabama, I will not tolerate targeted threats against any segment of the community.” “We want to hold our legislators and our elected officials accountable,” Weinberger said. On March 8, Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall condemned the threats. “I join with all law-abiding Americans in expressing disgust at such cowardly threats and want to make it absolutely clear that my office, if called upon, will commit whatever resources and support our federal partners may require to apprehend and bring to justice those responsible. Laws have already been broken when these callers made terroristic threats and the guilty must be held to account.” The JCC Association sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing frustration with the “progress in resolving this situation.” Praising local law enforcement across the country, the letter asks for Sessions to meet “to discuss specific steps that will be taken to deter further threats, discuss security needs, and seek justice,” and that the Department of Justice “treat this case with the utmost urgency it deserves.” The letter was signed by 141 JCC movement leaders. The LJCC’s Lynch is not listed, as she was out sick when the letter was being circulated. Friedman and Lynch met with the Birmingham Community Affairs Committee on March 6 to brief them, pointing out that with a membership that is two-thirds non-Jewish, attacks on the LJCC are “an attack on the broader Birmingham community.” Another parents meeting was held on March 15 at 5:15 p.m., with a counselor to discuss how to speak to children about the current situation.
Grass-roots support The LJCC had a community-based Employee Appreciation Day on March 7, for those who have had to deal with the threats and the concerns that follow. Chair massages, cookie cakes and other treats were provided to the staff. Hand In Paw brought some therapy dogs to hang out in the auditorium, members of the Alabama Symphony performed and Babe Ruff, the Birmingham Barons’ mascot, stopped by. “We know we need to take care of them, because they are taking care of your kids,” Lynch said. A group of parents did a surprise breakfast for teachers and staff at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School on March 14. Smith’s Variety in Crestline, not far from the LJCC, is donating blue and white mailbox ribbons for anyone who wants to show support to the LJCC, and has a donation bucket in the store with proceeds going to the LJCC. On March 8, South Highlands Presbyterian Church across from Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El invited the Jewish community to its Lenten dinner and service as part of its “Who is my neighbor” seasonal theme. During the dinner, Lynch gave an overview of the situation. And in an only-in-the-South show of support, part of the proceeds from the crawfish boil at Little Savannah Restaurant and Bar on March 11 was given to the LJCC to help with security costs.
community Campaign launched for Birmingham Jewish community security upgrades Christian neighbors taking major role An emergency fundraising campaign has been launched by the Birmingham Jewish Federation to enhance security at the Birmingham area’s Jewish institutions. Chaired by Donald Hess, the campaign has a goal of up to $1 million and will focus in part on the community campus on Montclair Road, which contains the Levite Jewish Community Center, Cohn Early Childhood Learning Center, N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, and the Federation and Birmingham Jewish Foundation offices. Area synagogues and other institutions will also receive funds to enhance their security. The campus has received four bomb threats since mid-January as part of a national wave of phoned and emailed threats. Each time, local law enforcement authorities have swept the campus and found nothing. Of the over 100 incidents nationally, affecting about half of the JCCs in the United States, all have been hoaxes. “Our Jewish community agencies and synagogues always have paid attention to security but this recent outbreak of anti-Jewish incidents has motivated us to enhance security throughout our Jewish community,” Hess said. The campaign was authorized by the Federation board on March 15. The Birmingham Jewish Foundation had already made a large emergency allocation for immediate security needs. With two-thirds of the LJCC membership being not Jewish, the local Christian and Muslim communities have also rallied around the facility, including taking an active role in the security campaign. A group of Christian leaders has been formed to ask their constituents to take part. On March 9, Rick Burgess of the national Rick & Bubba radio show spoke about the situation in Birmingham and urged donations to the LJCC through a web page the National Christian Foundation of Alabama had set up, linking to it from their show’s web page. On the air, he read a letter urging support, written by Pastor Harry Reeder of Briarwood Presbyterian Church. Also taking part in the campaign are Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association, The Center for Executive Leadership, Lifework Leadership, Young Business Leaders, JH Ranch and Alliance Ministries. Numerous churches have made pledges to the campaign. In an email to NCF members, Tom Bradford wrote “In the 1940s when the Nazis came after the Jews, most of the Christians remained silent. We don’t want that to be said of us. For over 50 years, Birmingham has been painted by the national media as a ‘city of hate.’ Perhaps this would send a message that we are a ‘city of brotherly love’.” “We appreciate all those who have stepped forward to help and thank those who will be stepping forward,” Hess said. “We have great Jewish institutions in Birmingham and wonderful friends — and this frustrating saga has demonstrated all of this once again.” Usually, a fundraising campaign includes specifics on how the money will be used, but in this case the appeal has to be vague. Numerous security experts have visited the campus in recent weeks and made recommendations. Some are obvious and visible, such as the presence of off-duty police officers, a county sheriff ’s office surveillance truck and the closure of the Fitness Center entrance. Law enforcement has advised the LJCC not to publicize other aspects of the security enhancements, logistical plans and procedures, or recommendations. “They are necessary and all expenditures will be reviewed carefully,” Hess said. The campaign will cover everything from immediate and short-term needs to long-term plans. Donations to the campaign can be made through the BJF website or by contacting the Federation office.
April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 13
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“Is this real?” David Silverstein asked. On March 16, a 17-year project culminated in a dedication ceremony with Birmingham Mayor William Bell as the Pizitz building, vacant for three decades, had its official renaissance. “After 17 years, it’s amazing,” said Silverstein, principal at Bayer Properties. The seven-story Pizitz building, home to one of the iconic downtown Birmingham department stores and an important landmark in Birmingham’s Jewish history, had been vacant since 1988. In 1998, the McWane Science Center opened in the old Loveman’s department store building across the street from the Pizitz. Silverstein and Jeffrey Bayer were at the opening of the Imax Theater at McWane. “We looked across the street, there was this iconic structure,” and they said “why don’t we figure out what to do with it,” Silverstein recalled. They spoke to the Pizitz family, and Bayer Properties bought the building in 2000 for $1.6 million, “never dreaming it would take 17 years” to put everything together to complete the project. They knew they did not want to tear such an iconic structure down and replace it, and that eventually “our persistence was going to pay off.” Still, the process was long and involved. Five years after Bayer bought the building, Dick Pizitz said he ran into Jeffrey Bayer, who said “I’ve got a building I’d like to sell you.” At the dedication, Dick Pizitz said “Birmingham should be glad we said no, because this is a game changer.” Financing the building “was extremely complex,” Silverstein said, calling it “a lawyer’s dream.” Bayer is co-owner of the building with Wisznia Architecture + Development of New Orleans, and Stonehenge Capital of Baton Rouge. Marcel Wisznia said when they went to the Housing and Urban Development office in Atlanta to work on the 221(d)(4) paperwork, they were told this was “the most complex real estate deal they’ve ever worked on.” The actual $70 million renovation took two years. While the Food Hall has been open a few weeks, residents started moving into the apartments on the upper six floors in December. The Residences at the Pizitz consist of 143 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 13,000 square feet of office space. Sidewalk Film Festival will have its offices in the Pizitz, along with two 100-seat theatres. The Skyline, available to residents, is a rooftop pool, deck, sauna and steam room, also with an equipped workout space and an event room. The Pizitz Food Hall has 13 stalls and two full-service restaurants with cuisines ranging from Ethiopian to Nepalese, Southern to Mexican, Hawaiian to Puerto Rican. The second location of Eli’s Jerusalem Grill, an Israeli restaurant, is also there. One of the stalls will be a restaurant incubator for a few months at a time, for up-and-coming chefs to test and
grow their concepts. In the center of the Food Hall is a large bar, the Louis, named for founder Louis Pizitz. To make it family-friendly, it also serves milkshakes and has a rare vintage Pepsi fountain. There is also a courtyard and an attached parking deck with over 300 spaces. Retail offerings include Yellowhammer Creative and the first Alabama location for Warby Parker eyewear. Tom Walker, vice president of development for Bayer Properties, noted Yellowhammer’s T-shirts, saying “they are actually selling clothes in the Pizitz building again.” “We hope this project will be transformative for downtown Birmingham in the same way other projects before us have been, such as Regions Field and Railroad Park,” Silverstein said. “The revitalization of The Pizitz is just one of many extraordinary projects helping in the resurgence of the downtown area and we are thrilled to be a part of the momentum.” He praised the mayor and city council for their support of the project. The Pizitz renovation “doesn’t happen without the support of the city,” Silverstein said. “This is truly a joyous occasion for the city, and a time to celebrate another of its’ landmarks coming back to life,” Mayor Bell said. “This project has generated a lot of excitement and adds another great destination point for all of us who live here and for visitors to the great city of Birmingham to enjoy.” Michael Pizitz said “We’re just very excited that the building has come back to life,” and Bayer did “an amazing job.” A few nights before, they spent two hours at the food court. “It was organized chaos, it was great,” he said.
David Silverstein addresses members of the Pizitz family Michael Pizitz said the offerings at the Food Hall are “much more diversified, much more exciting” than the Ponce City Market in Atlanta, one of the venues the Food Hall team visited when researching the project. Bell said the building represents “Birmingham in its heyday,” adding that “we’ve got a new heyday coming.” As part of the ceremony, there was the surprise unveiling of an antique Pizitz clock, the frame of which had been found hidden behind plaster and hadn’t been seen since probably the 1950s. No one in the family had been aware the clock still existed. Local historian Tim Hollis, who wrote a book on the history of Pizitz, said even he had no idea the clock existed. The clock was restored with new mechanisms and placed in a central location in the Food Hall, to be a point of reference much as generations
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April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 15
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in Birmingham similarly arranged for decades to “meet under the clock” outside Loveman’s across the street. The project itself contained numerous challenges, not unusual for a 90-year-old building. Jules Lagarde of Wisznia said the floor of the Food Hall, for example, has an 18-inch slope from one corner of the building diagonally to the other side, something which would never be permitted today. The bridge from the parking deck to the corner of the building was permanently attached, something that “is a no-no in engineering,” because “it was actually tearing up the rear corner of the building” because there wasn’t any built-in flexibility to respond to changes in weather. The two western corners of the building had to be rebuilt. All of the old wood-frame windows were replicated with metal-framed windows to current standards. In the 1920s, terra cotta facades were stacked against the building; today it has to be attached and supported at each floor level, so they had to go in and retrofit it. “That’s the nature of old buildings,” Lagarde said.
The Pizitz Legacy Louis Pizitz was born in Poland and came to the United States in 1889. He became a peddler, winding up in Georgia. In 1892 he started a small store in Swainsboro, Ga. In 1898 he moved to Birmingham, unsure about the prospects for success — but he was pleasantly surprised at the success at his first location and his business grew. In 1899, he opened a new store in the current location. In 1906, Louis Pizitz was one of the founders of Temple Beth-El, with the first meeting held in his home. He would be the congregation’s president twice, just after it moved to Highland Avenue in 1927. He also was a “founding father” of the reorganized Young Men’s Hebrew Association, serving as president in the 1910s. The Louis Pizitz Dry Goods Company building as it stands today was built in two phases, in 1923 and 1925, at a total cost of over $1.5 million, and was the state’s largest department store. In 1924, Isadore Pizitz, Louis’ son, was appointed president. As the Depression hit, the firm struggled, but after a couple of years the firm was profitable again and was able to pay down debts. Though the Pizitz store was struggling, others had it much worse, and Louis Pizitz did what he could for the community. Every Thanksgiving, he held a meal for the needy at the store. When Alabama could not pay schoolteachers and issued scrip, he bucked the view of others and accepted the scrip as payment, gambling that the state would eventually be able to pay them off. He also bought textbooks for the county and city when the school systems could not afford them. The Depression aid was nothing new for him. In 1908 he sent truckloads of food and clothing to striking coal miners. When mines were closing in 1909, he rescued the miners’ jobs by buying some mines and selling the coal at cost. He would do that again during the Depression. When cotton was 11 cents a pound in 1914 and farmers were struggling, he bought the cotton at 15 cents a pound, storing the cotton and promising the farmers that anything he eventually got for it above 15 cents a pound, he would give to them. The price of cotton soon soared, during World War I. Louis Pizitz was active in numerous African-American causes, including the establishment of an African-American hospital in Ensley, a YMCA and swimming pool. He also laid the cornerstone for the
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Hillel building at the University of Alabama in 1950. Part of his estate in Vestavia was eventually donated to the city, and a section became the Louis Pizitz Middle School. After World War II, Pizitz store flourished, with many inventive promotions. The actor who played Hopalong Cassidy visited in 1951, with the crowd-counting machine breaking down at 15,000. A three-story building next door was purchased in 1950 and converted into the Pizitz Store for Men. A Bessemer store opened in 1956, and in 1959, a $1 million renovation of the downtown store was announced. Louis Pizitz died on June 22, 1959, and a few months later, a third store — the first as part of a mall — was announced for Roebuck. During the civil rights tensions of 1963, Pizitz had several bomb threats, and was part of a group of downtown merchants to simultaneously remove segregation signs from water fountains and open their restaurants to everyone. A Huntsville store opened that year. In 1964, the Enchanted Forest made its debut. Still fondly recalled throughout the city, the forest was a walk-through display during the holiday season, with a Talking Christmas Tree as the centerpiece. It was an anticipated attraction until it ended in 1981. A seven-story parking garage was completed in 1965, with a bridge taking customers across the alley to the third floor. Pizitz continued to expand, with most stores having the Pizitz Bake Shop. Isidore Pizitz died in 1985. In December 1986, Jackson-based McRae’s took over Pizitz, and in 1988 the downtown store was closed. For many, the building conjures up a wide array of memories. Bell related going there as a child and seeing “Isidore Pizitz at the escalator, greeting people.” Silverstein said after they bought the building, they hosted an event for long-time employees and customers. “It was extraordinary to hear the stories.” City Councilor Valerie Abbott, who said she has been waiting for 16 years for this moment, said she has “the most wonderful memories of this building” with her parents and grandparents, at a time when one still dressed up to go shopping downtown. Councilor Jay Roberson, as a younger member of the council, does not have similar memories of Pizitz, but said “I’m a foodie” and looks forward to the international flavors at the Food Hall. “It is places like this that bring people from all walks of life together.”
April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 17
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community Nola’s Wisznia played major role in completing the Pizitz project For New Orleans’ Marcel Wisznia, there are three goals when considering a new development project: To be transformative, be in an iconic building and have the renovation be “catalytic” for the area, beyond just the property lines. The Pizitz Building in Birmingham fit that description for his first venture into the Birmingham market. Birmingham is “catching up quickly” in downtown living, he said, and has a built-in benefit in that process. Some cities that cleared out vast swaths of their downtowns for new construction “lost more than they gained,” Wisznia said. While most of the old buildings in New Orleans have been spoken for, in Birmingham there is “a wealth of old buildings that are unused or underused, and we see that as an opportunity” for the community. The goal for developments like the Pizitz, he said, is to have a place where people can live and walk or bicycle to work, and have a place like the food hall “to come and relax and socialize after work.” Though there was a complicated funding structure to get the project completed, he said it still could not have been possible without the historic property tax credits authorized by the Alabama Legislature — which were allowed to expire last year without being extended by the Legislature, and are being debated in this year’s session. He said the Alabama credits were “anemic” with very low caps. Louisiana never put caps on their credits, he said. “Alabama needs to figure it out and reimplement it,” he said, “hopefully” without the restrictions. “With that will come billions of dollars of new construction and downtown improvements.” Wisznia is a second-generation architect. His father, Walter, grew up in Vienna, fleeing with his family to France when Austria was no longer safe before World War II. He was sent to England for school and was accepted into the Columbia University School of Architecture. “The whole family immigrated to the U.S. because of that,” he said. His father’s sister would marry Houston native Rabbi Yonah Geller, who was the first rabbi of B’nai Israel in Corpus Christi. While on a visit to his sister, Walter Wisznia decided to stick around and practiced as an architect in Corpus Christi for 58 years. Wisznia went to Tulane to study architecture and did not want to go back to Corpus Christi to be “the boss’ son” so he opened his own firm in New Orleans right after graduating. About 10 years later he did start collaborating with his father on projects in New Mexico. Around the year 2000, Wisznia realized he enjoyed the process of being a developer, so his architecture firm is now in an unusual position. “We don’t have any outside work. We have no clients but ourselves,” on historic projects the development side has. In New Orleans, the firm has recently done the Union Lofts in the old Western Union Telegraph building, the Maritime building, and the Saratoga, built in 1956. The Maritime, built in 1893, was regarded as New Orleans’ first skyscraper, and was known for a time as the Latter & Blum building. The project, which converted the building into 105 luxury apartments, won the inaugural Tony Goldman Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2013. Wisznia cautions, though, that “we’re not preservationists. We’re modern architects working in historic buildings,” respecting the past while looking toward the future with modern amenities. About four years ago, a colleague in Birmingham introduced them to Bayer Properties, resulting in the Pizitz collaboration.
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Last summer, a chapter of Southern Jewish history closed in Arkansas with the deconsecrating of Anshe Emeth in Pine Bluff. Eight months later, a new chapter started a bit further south, as a Torah scroll from Anshe Emeth was dedicated at Adat Israel, a new Reform congregation in Guatemala City. After 150 years, Anshe Emeth held its final service on June 11 in the chapel of First Presbyterian Church in Pine Bluff, where the congregation had met since selling its final building in 2003. Rabbi Eugene Levy of Little Rock, who officiated at Anshe Emeth in its final years, accompanied the Torah to Guatemala for the Feb. 25 ceremony, along with Karen Kahn Weinberg, a third-generation Anshe Emeth member now living in Atlanta. They met up with Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of Toronto, who visits and mentors the Guatemalan congregation. In 2008, Adrienne Rosen, Goldstein’s best friend, started the Guatemalan Children’s Fund and asked her to be on the board — but Goldstein had to visit Guatemala first as part of a delegation. While there, she wanted to find a Jewish community for Shabbat services, and found three — Chabad, an Orthodox congregation and a small group meeting in homes. Figuring the small group was likely closest to the delegation’s orientation, they visited, not knowing what to expect. Jeannette Orantes, president of Adat Israel, said the group of a couple dozen was formed in 2005 and is made up mostly of people who have converted to Judaism, many claiming hidden Jewish ancestry dating back to the exile from the Spanish Inquisition, though only one could definitively trace it. Goldstein said she “fell in love” with the group and became their volunteer rabbi, helping guide them in their Jewish journey. She visits once a year and does Skype sessions during other times. She also arranges for other rabbis to visit. In 2013, she helped officiate a formal conversion ceremony for 19
community members, followed by three Jewish wedding ceremonies that night. Orantes said “One of the main purposes of Adat Israel is to receive other Jews, any color, any orientation, by choice, etc. to celebrate together our very special Jewish moments.” The congregation had a borrowed Torah that they were eager to return to its owner after a misunderstanding over whether it had been donated or loaned to them. Goldstein helped them apply to the World Union for Progressive Judaism and become a recognized Reform congregation. The World Union also facilitates Torah transfers, and when the Pine Bluff Torah became available, the match was made. At the dedication weekend, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit represented the World Union in the transfer of the Torah. After the Pine Bluff ceremony, Levy arranged to have a crate built for shipping the Torah, which was insured through Lloyd’s of London as an antiquity. When asked by the agent how old the Torah is, he remarked that it was given to Moses at Mount Sinai. Two days before the flight, he went to the airport in Little Rock to check the logistics with the airline. “They were very accommodating” and did not charge for transporting it. In Guatemala, Orantes led a delegation that met them at the airport and took the Torah to the Temple. Before the Shabbat evening service on Feb. 24, they had an informal ceremony to open the crate. “It was like the arrival of a new child, a Bar Mitzvah or a wedding. They were so excited to get the Torah,” Levy said. They took the Pine Bluff cover off the scroll and put on the one they had been using on the previous Torah, which they immediately prepared for shipping back. The actual dedication took place at the morning service on Feb. 25. During the service, Goldstein spoke of living the Torah, not just having it in the ark. When there are guests, congregants who are fluent in English translate Spanish messages, and English messages, such as Goldstein’s remarks, are translated into Spanish. Weinberg was struck by the passion among the congregants. Growing up in Pine Bluff, “it was pretty good,” but there was the occasional “stinging moment” of anti-Semitism. She said it was fascinating “to see people choosing to be Jewish in a Protestant evangelical country” like Guatemala. “These people just embrace Judaism like nothing I have ever seen,” she said. Referring to their weekend guests, Orantes commented that “For us was an honor to have all of them to share this very, transcendental moment. Saying thanks is too short. But there is no other words to express: We just can say Toda Raba.”
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22 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
community Weinberg did the first reading from the Torah in Guatemala, and members of the congregation did the other readings, after which the Adat Israel officers were called up to officially accept the scroll. A celebratory lunch followed. Adding to the weekend, Adat Israel had its first baby naming with the Torah, Zahava bat Tikva. Weinberg, who generally does a Torah reading every few weeks in Atlanta, always prefers to do the first reading in tribute to her family’s heritage as Kohanim. Even though her father wasn’t that ritually observant, “he knew he was a Kohen.” Doing that aliyah meant she Unpacking the Torah was the first one to read from the Torah in Guatemala, but she was more focused on the fulfillment of a long-time dream to chant Torah in a Spanish-speaking country. At last summer’s deconsecration, she saw in the program that the Torah would be going to Guatemala, so she told Levy she was going to the dedication. Levy told her “if you’re going, I’m going.” When she was a teen, her sister applied for the American Institute for Foreign Study. Her first choice of Austria was full, so she went to her second choice, Spain. When their father pointed out that there was a discount for a sibling to attend, Weinberg decided to go, though “I had taken only one year of Spanish.” During the program, she discovered “this profound connection to Spain” and ended up majoring in Spanish at Newcomb College at Tulane, as well as doing a year abroad in Madrid. “A certified Daughter of the Confederacy,” she married a kosher-keeping guy from Brooklyn. Her mother-in-law was surprised at her love for Spain, given the history of Jews in Spain. “All I knew is I loved it and felt a strong connection.” A few years ago, she had her genetic profile done, and her mother’s side showed connections to the Iberian peninsula. Weinberg started chanting Torah after being paralyzed in a car wreck 18 years ago, crediting her years of competitive tennis, including on the women’s team at Tulane, for building up her muscles to be able to come back from it. She had a “burning desire” to chant Torah in a Spanish-speaking country to show that “Iberia belonged to us too. It was part of our story.” Ten years ago she was supposed to fulfill that dream on a congregational trip to Honduras with Or Hadash of Atlanta, but she had to cancel when her mother was ill. Being able to chant in Guatemala was “like closing a circle for me,” especially doing it from a Torah that had been at the congregation for three generations of her family. At the Shabbat evening service, it also suddenly occurred to her that on the secular calendar it was the one-year anniversary of her father’s passing. Her mother had died four months after that, three days before the ceremony in Pine Bluff. “That was extremely powerful,” she said. It was also an emotional time for Levy, for a different reason. A couple of days before the trip, his four-year-old grandson in California was diagnosed with lymphoma. After Shabbat, he cut short the visit so he could be with family. His grandson left the hospital after about three weeks. Reflecting on Anshe Emeth’s legacy, Levy said “Even though the congregation is closed, the Torah lives on in Guatemala.”
Closing the doors at last Jewish store in Lexington A chapter of Mississippi’s Jewish history is closing with the retirement sale now underway at Cohen’s in downtown Lexington, the last Jewish merchant in a town that was once filled with them. Phil Cohen, owner of the 109-year-old retail business, said it is “one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” but “I’ll be 80 years old later this year.” Aside from it being time to retire, Phil said they are feeling the same effects as major retailers. On-line shopping is one factor, as is deep discounting by struggling major retailers “because there are too many of them.” Some suppliers are catering more to the bigbox stores, he said, but some are getting into direct online sales themselves, getting a bigger return on direct sales than those through retail outlets. In cases like that, “my biggest competitor is my supplier,” Phil said. “Small towns all over the country are suffering with declining populations as more people move to the suburbs of big cities,” he said. The overall population of Holmes County today is just half of what it was in the 1940s.
Phil Cohen is the third generation to run the 109-year-old store At one point there were 89 members at Lexington’s Temple Beth-El, now it is just the Cohens. There were 13 Jewish businesses on the town square, theirs is the last one. The Lexington Jewish community dates to the late 1830s, starting with Jacob Sontheimer. Established at the turn of the century, the Lewis-Herrman Company became a grocery hub, leading to the establishment of Lewis Grocer Company, which became the Sunflower Food Stores still in existence across the state. The Herrman sons, Gus and Cecil, took inspiration from a 1940s visit to Lexington by student rabbi James Wax, who later led Temple Israel in Memphis for many years. Wax suggested that if the boys grew up to be successful, they consider donating to Hebrew
Union College. They did, leaving $10 million to HUC after their deaths in 1994 and 2002, then the largest bequests in HUC history. In 2009, the four remaining Jews then in Lexington closed the doors on Beth-El. The building was given to the Lexington Foundation to maintain, with the understanding that members would have access to it for lifecycle events. There is also some discussion on the feasibility of moving the Beth-El building to Oxford to serve the Jewish community around the University of Mississippi. Phil’s grandfather, Samuel, came to the U.S. from Lithuania in 1881 at age 19. After some time in Pennsylvania, he moved to Memphis in the late 1880s, opening R. Cohen, a store in the Pinch, the historic Jewish area.
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There was already a store named S. Cohen in the area, so he named it for his wife, Rosa. Samuel suffered from ulcers, and Phil said “they didn’t have Maalox or any of that good stuff in 1900.” Spring water was seen as a natural remedy, so he set off for the natural springs of Holmes County. A legendary story is that Samuel met some Jews on the train, thrilled to find someone else who spoke Yiddish and played pinochle, and they convinced him to move to Tchula. Phil says that’s partly right, but he did not meet them on the train. The train had to stop in Tchula overnight for refueling. When Samuel asked around for a place to stay, he was asked by someone who noticed his accent if he were Jewish, then that person said there were several Jewish merchants in town, and took him to meet them. After a few days, he hadn’t reboarded the train to get to his destination, as the merchants said they would help Samuel establish a business in Tchula — and the water was helping his condition. He returned to Memphis to pack up his family and move their store to Mississippi. They were convinced to move a few miles away, to Lexington, in 1908. Tchula had a small school with one room and one teacher for up to eighth grade. The older Cohen children were sent to Memphis to live with relatives and go to high school. In 1908, Henry Rosenthal of Lexington sold the Cohens on the new modern school that was just finished, as well as the presence of Temple Beth-El, which was built in 1905. Rosenthal also had a building on Lexington’s square that he needed to rent out, and that is where Cohen’s has been for 109 years. Rabbi Abram Brill of Hebrew Union Congregation in Greenville had served the Lexington community monthly, and convinced them to establish Beth-El. The congregation also served families in Yazoo City, Pickens, Kosciusko. In 1921, Rosenthal died, and his only son, by then living in Virginia, sold the other three store spaces in the building to Samuel. The next-to-youngest of Samuel’s seven children, Ephraim, was offered a track scholarship to Ole Miss but decided to open a store with a cousin in Tchula. When Samuel became ill, he moved back to Lexington to take over the store and opened The Economy Store. He later combined them as E. Cohen’s Dry Goods and the Economy Store, later selling The Economy Store to a nephew. Ephraim, Phil’s father, would later change the store’s name to Cohen’s. Phil went to college at Tulane, returned to Lexington for a while and “then Uncle Sam needed my services” in the early 1960s. Unsure what he wanted to do after his service, he moved to New York and became a stock broker, then moved to San Antonio and was a stock broker there for 10 years. With both parents in and out of the hospital, Phil came back to Lexington in 1975 to take over the store for what he figured would be a brief time, but he met his wife, Sally Stein of Greenville, “we started having kids and we’re still here.” He has been president of the Lexington Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce, the Holmes County Country Club and Chamber of Commerce, and chairman of the Mississippi Retail Association. Their children are now in New Orleans, Charlotte and Tel Aviv. All three had the first Bar and Bat Mitzvahs at Beth-El, as Confirmation used to be the rite of passage for Lexington teens. The three all attended the Henry S. Jacobs Camp, and in 2005, daughter Sarah organized about 200 students from Indiana University to spend Winter Break rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The retirement sale began on March 2 and will last 6 to 8 weeks, he said. “At the end of that time, if I’m really lucky, I’ll find someone who wants to buy a building.” He said it is difficult to sell a business in a small town, though there have been a couple such sales on the square in recent months — after those businesses were on the market for years.
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community NOLA’s Jeremy Bleich pitched for Israel’s miracle team in World Baseball Classic New Orleans native Jeremy Bleich made what many would have figured to be an unexpected trip to Tokyo, as part of Team Israel that stunned everyone at the World Baseball Classic. Israel swept Pool A, a four-team round-robin in Korea, in early March, advancing to the second round in Japan. Ranked 41st in the world and as the final team to qualify for the 16-team tournament, Israel wasn’t expected to do much with a group mostly of Jewish Americans, mostly with minor-league experience. Every other team in the tournament was in the top 20 in world rankings. Players are eligible to compete for a country if they are eligible for citizenship; with Israel’s Law of Return, that makes any Jewish player in the world eligible. Former Louisiana State University star Alex Bregman, now with the Houston Astros, was heavily wooed by Team Israel but decided to play for Team USA, which won the Classic for the first time, defeating Puerto Rico in the final. Even before the tournament began, the novelty of Israel’s first appearance in the Classic l
was fodder for a wide range of stories. ESPN called Israel the “Jamaican Bobsled Team” of the tournament, and the 3-0 start was seen as the stuff of miracles. An alumnus of the Isidore Newman School, Bleich attended Stanford and was drafted in the first round by the New York Yankees in 2008. He has played with the Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations, including the last three seasons at the Triple-A level. Last season, he was a reliever for the Somerset, N.J., Patriots. In February, he signed a minor league contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks’ new AA affiliate is the Jackson Generals. Bleich is the son of Caron and the late Stan Bleich. In interviews, Bleich has spoken of the opportunity to play for Team Israel in the context of honoring his grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors. In January, 10 of the team members visited
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community at a Boston JNF Tu B’Shevat event that also marked the dedication of a field in Ra’anana in memory of Ezra Schwartz of Massachusetts, who was killed in a terror attack near the Gush Etzion junction in November 2015. On March 6, Israel opened the tournament by stunning their hosts, South Korea, 2-1 in 10 innings. The 5th inning began with Zack Thornton allowing a walk and then hitting a batter, prompting Bleich to be called from the bullpen. After a called strikeout, Bleich gave up a single to Geonchang Seo, allowing Kyoung-min Hur to score the only run for South Korea. The next two batters fouled out to end the inning. Bleich started the 6th inning by giving up a single to Ah-seop Son, after which Gabe Creamer came in. Bleich did not play in Game 2 later that day. Israel jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the 1st inning and never looked back, taking a 15-7 win over Chinese Taipei. South Korea and Taipei, neither of which advanced, were both ranked in the top 5. In Game 3 against the ninth-ranked Netherlands on March 8, Israel again stormed to the lead, 3-0, in the 1st inning, and made it last, winning 4-2. Up 4-1 going into the 8th, Bleich came in and got the first out, then Sharlon Schoop reached on a throwing error. After walking Xander Bogaerts, Bleich was replaced by Josh Zeid, who gave up a walk to load the bases. After a forceout and a throwing error, Schoop scored the unearned run, making it 4-2. In a widely-praised move, as team members removed their baseball caps before each game for Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” they sported blue yarmulkes. Pool E began with Israel facing Cuba on March 12, and after a pregame Purim megillah reading in the dugout, the magic continued. This time, Israel came from behind to win, 4-1. That was as far as the miracle went, as the Netherlands got revenge on March 13, coasting to an 8-0 lead before winning 12-2. This was the only time Bleich pitched in Group E, lasting one inning and giving up three hits, two runs and striking out one. After Corey Baker gave up two runs in the 2nd inning, he started off the third giving up a single and a walk. Bleich then came in from the bullpen. After a sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position, Wladimir Balentien hit a single, scoring both runners. Balentien would score as the next batter, Didi Gregorius, hit a double. After Bleich struck out the next batter, Shawn Zarraga doubled, scoring Gregorius. A groundout ended the inning, with the Netherlands scoring four runs. On March 15, Japan bounced Israel out of the tournament, 8-3.
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On March 19, over 230 students attended the highly anticipated second annual Nice Jewish Boy Pageant at Tulane’s Goldie and Morris Mintz Center for Jewish Life. Fifteen young men battled it out to win the golden yarmulke and be crowned Tulane’s Nicest Jewish Boy. The contestants competed in three rounds: business wear, talent and a question and answer session. As each participant strolled down the runway showing off his business attire, the crowd listened to the narration of a letter written by the contestant’s mother, explaining why her son should be recognized as Tulane’s Nicest Jewish Boy. Highlights of the night included a choreo-
Vanderbilt University Hillel Program Director Lauren Silverman passed out funfetti hamantaschen on campus from the back of a golf cart
28 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
graphed dance by all 15 contestants to “It’s Raining Men,” a lip-sync to “I’m Jewish and I know it,” a cooking lesson demonstrating how to make challah bread pudding, and an original song written about Tulane Hillel. The pageant was judged by two New Orleans community leaders, Casey Kaplan and Michael Finkelstein, as well as last year’s winner, Micah Bernhard. While the judges deliberated, there was a special performance by Tulane’s a capella group, The NJBeats. Danny Beckerman, Grayson Levien and Spencer Olesky were crowned with the bronze, silver and golden yarmulkes, respectively.
A 1917 photo of the ballroom at the BB Club in Vicksburg. Part of the evening was replicating this photo in a 2017 version, as seen on the cover. The new photo will be placed in the foyer next to the 1917 photo.
B’nai B’rith Literary Club building in Vicksburg turns 100
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A Vicksburg Jewish landmark that has hosted many stylish events over the decades hosted a centennial celebration in grand style. A black tie optional gala attracted about 120 guests on March 25 at the B’nai B’rith Literary Club, commemorating the 100th anniversary of its March 1917 dedication and featuring the 24-piece Capitol City Stage Band. Proceeds from the event benefit the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation. Stan Kline, president of Vicksburg’s Temple, Anshe Chesed, said the evening “wouldn’t be much of a gala with our 10 people” remaining in the Vicksburg Jewish community. At the beginning of the dance, he gave a brief history of the Vicksburg Jewish community. “How does one condense 175 years” into two minutes, he asked. Dan Fordice, who owns the building, spoke of the building’s history and read from the club’s bylaws, saying it was formed “for the improvement of the intellectual, moral, social and physical condition of its members.” Fordice said the anniversary was an opportunity “to rededicate this structure to the entire community of Vicksburg, as a monument to the Jewish community of Vicksburg and what they have contributed to the city.” The facility hosts a wide range of events, including a large number of weddings each year. The B’nai B’rith Literary Club was established in 1871 as the Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Association “for the intellectual and social advancement of its members.” It met in private homes before establishing its first location at Cherry and Crawford Streets in 1887, shortly after changing the name to the B’nai B’rith Literary Stock Company. The original building, built Stan Kline speaks about Vicksburg’s in 1905, burned around 1915. Jewish history as Dan Fordice watches
The current building at 721 Clay Street, with marble stairs and a carved limestone exterior, was dedicated in 1917, and Kline said at the time there were 650 members. “This time it wasn’t going to be one mae primarily of a flammable material,” like the previous wooden structure, Fordice said. A large ballroom is on the top floor, and in the basement was the first indoor swimming pool in Vicksburg. The pool had separate hours for men and women because the men did not wear swimsuits. Being able to view the pool was a major attraction, as it is generally closed off. After the building was renovated and started hosting events, the sheriff came to Fordice and told him he needed to build a wall downstairs. Before, Fordice explained, when one got off the elevator, the pool was right there. After numerous instances of drunken party guests being found skinny-dipping, the sheriff “basically demanded” the wall to close off the pool. Access is also restricted for liability reasons. Meta Klaus said the pool did not have a filtration system at first — when the water went bad, the pool was drained and refilled. It has a filtration system now, and after the event Fordice planned to drain the pool so they could find some small leaks. During its years as the club, the building’s amenities included a poker room and a restaurant. As the Jewish community dwindled and Anshe Chesed moved to a smaller facility away from downtown, the B.B. Club was sold to the
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April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 31
community city in 1967, which used it as a police station, covering up the ballroom and carving typical offices out of the space. The city installed paneling over the mahogany walls. The ballroom had an eight-foot drop ceiling and fluorescent lights installed, but Kline said they miraculously did not damage the ornate qualities of the building in covering everything up. The pool was boarded over, and the evidence room was next to where the pool was. The city moved out in 1996 when a new police headquarters was completed, and in 1999 the building was purchased and returned to its former grandeur by Laurence Leyens, with then brother-in-law Fordice. The renovation process cost about $1.3 million. Leyens’ family had been in Vicksburg since around 1860, establishing a candy store that was later sold to the Biedenharn family, later becoming the first place where Coca-Cola was bottled. His father sold the Valley Dry Goods Store shortly before Leyens graduated from Millsaps, so he moved to California and sold insurance. Upon hearing that the city planned to tear down the BB Club for “another parking lot” he and Fordice stepped in and bought the building. “We weren’t thinking straight,” Fordice quipped. He said after the city’s adaptations were removed, police officers who had worked in the building for years were stunned to see what had been hidden. Leyens then successfully ran for mayor in 2001, serving two terms. Kline worked on a historical display in the library on the first floor, with much of the information coming from two boxes of memorabilia on loan from the Institute of Southern Jewish Life’s archives, including handwritten club ledgers from the early days. Additional material came from a display Anshe Chesed did 15 years ago for the congregation’s 160th anniversary. Storycook Favorites has its catering business in the building and is the in-house caterer for events there. Story Stamm Ebersole, daughter of the Vicksburg Post’s longtime former food editor, quit her accounting business and went into business doing ready-made meals and famous cheese straws out of Hotel Vicksburg. In 2005, she moved down the block to the BB Club, becoming the exclusive caterer when Fordice purchased Leyens’ share of the building. When guests entered for the gala, a photo normally hanging in the foyer was displayed, showing the ballroom filled with dancers at the March 8, 1917 dedication. The main thing Fordice wanted to accomplish was replicating that photo at the beginning of the dance, so the 2017 picture could join the 1917 photo on the wall.
Being able to view the basement swimming pool was a major draw 32 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
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The National Conference for Community and Justice honored four Birminghamians with the Brotherhood and Sisterhood Award on March 9. The honorees for the 45th dinner were Joyce Spielberger, General Charles Krulak and Keith Cromwell. Odessa Woolfolk was presented the James A. Head Lifetime Achievement Award. The dinner supports Anytown Alabama, a summer camp experience that brings dozens of teens from the area together for a week, shutting off the outside world so the diverse group can build community and trust to have serious dialogue about the sensitive matters of race, religion, status and gender. While an NCCJ program, Anytown is now professionally managed by the Birmingham YWCA. In 2009, what had been an annual dinner since 1969 shifted to every other year. Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Jonathan Miller, who is retiring this summer, gave the invocation, as he has done many times at the dinner. Dinner chair Jim Gorrie said the event’s mission is “to promote respect and understanding among all religions, races and cultures, and it can not be more relevant than it is today.” A video tribute preceded each honoree receiving the award medal. Spielberger was described as a “convener,” bringing different groups together for dialogue, often at her home. “I love to bring people to my table, people who I know will love meeting each other, learning from each other,” she said. Joel Rotenstreich, an honoree in 1991, said Spielberger “is truly fulfilling the Jewish concept of tikkun olam,” repairing the world. She is former executive director of Magic Moments, which fulfills the wishes of children in the state who have chronic life-threatening conditions. Before that, she was director of community relations and overseas programs at the Birmingham Jewish Federation. While there, she helped start Sisters/Chaverim, bringing together Jewish and African-American professional women for dialogue, community work and social events. The group has since been replicated by other communities. In 2011 she helped lead a women’s interfaith mission to Israel, with a delegation of 24. Spielberger is president of the Women’s Network, secretary of the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center and vice president of programs for Collat Jewish Family Services. “We need to crash each other’s parties,” she said. “It’s so important for people to be open to new experiences.” Krulak retired from the U.S. Marine Corps after 35 years of service, rising to Commandant and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After retirement, he became chairman of MBNA America Bank and chief executive officer of MBNA Europe, retiring in 2005. Seeking a new challenge, in 2011 he became president of Birmingham-Southern College at a time when the institution was facing a fiscal crisis. He immediately bonded with the students, delivering late-night snacks in the library during exam weeks. He has also been involved with the Jewish community in Birmingham and speaks often of his ties to and admiration of Israeli military figures. Currently, he is an honorary co-chair of the 2017 Maccabi Games in Birmingham. Krulak mentioned his work with the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, and said in battle, one finds that blood is red, no matter whose it is. “We’re all human, We all deserve and must be afforded respect and dignity.” A relative newcomer to the city, Krulak said Birmingham “is the home of human rights. We need to embrace that.” Cromwell, head of the Red Mountain Theatre Company, has a 25-year career in the arts, “building bridges through theater” and
community exploring sensitive subjects, and implementing educational curricula in Birmingham schools. Woolfolk is considered one of those rare people who is known by one name — if one says “Odessa” in Birmingham, she immediately comes to mind. A lifelong educator, Woolfolk directed the Center for Urban Affairs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was staff associate in the UAB Center for International Programs and was community relations assistant to the UAB president. The Presidential Community Service Award at UAB, established in 1998, bears her name. The “driving force” behind the establishment of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the changing exhibition gallery is named for her. She was the Institute’s opening administrator and is now president emeritus. She co-founded the huge Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast in Birmingham, was state chair for NCCJ, the first African-American Joyce Spielberger receives the Brotherhood/ president of Operation New Birmingham and a Sisterhood Award from Jim Gorrie at the founding member of Leadership Birmingham. Harbert Center in Birmingham on March 9
Shreveport Jewish Film Festival this month The annual Shreveport Jewish Film Festival by the North Louisiana Jewish Federation will be held April 30 to May 4 at the Robinson Film Center. While the schedule had not been announced by late March, these films are tentatively scheduled for the festival: “Small Town Rage: Fighting Back in the Deep South,” about the activities of ACT UP in Shreveport during the AIDS epidemic; “Surviving Skokie,” about the effect of a 1970s neo-Nazi march through Skokie on the
many Holocaust survivors living in the town; “Cloudy Sunday,” about a Jewish girl and Christian boy from Greece falling in love during the German occupation; “The Last Mensch,” about an aging German Holocaust survivor who had completely cast off his Jewishness, but goes back to Germany to try and rediscover his past when he refused plans to be buried in a Jewish cemetery; and “Lives Restarted,” a documentary about Holocaust survivors who made a new life for themselves in Memphis.
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Don Berry, Sister Anne Brady and Jerry Darring
Dedicated friends Mobile Jewish community honors Christians who promote Holocaust education, interfaith understanding Three individuals who Rabbi Steve Silberman of Ahavas Chesed in Mobile called “good and righteous Christian friends” were honored by the Mobile Jewish community at a Shalom Awards ceremony on March 13 at Springhill Avenue Temple. Don Berry, Sister Anne Brady and Jerry Darring were recognized for their efforts in Holocaust education and interfaith understanding. Berry is co-directors of the Gulf Coast Center for Holocaust and Human Rights. While all three are retired educators, Berry said “none of us is completely retired.” Barry Silverman, who served as emcee, said the evening was “a huge thank you.” Dan Puckett spoke in his capacity as chairman of the Alabama Holocaust Commission, saying “it is heartening to see how much is being done on the Gulf Coast.” The recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish institutions and vandalism across the country “is why we need Holocaust education,” Puckett said.” Silberman did the tribute to Brady, recounting how she said goodbye to her family in Ireland in 1964 and set off to teach in Mobile. She taught English and literature, working the Holocaust into the lesson plan. “Leave it to Sister Anne to inculcate respect, caring, kindness and compassion” while teaching lessons about the Holocaust,” Silberman said. Brady retired nine years ago but “is still a powerful and gentle force on the St. Dominic campus, throughout Mobile and beyond.” Brady said Paul and Mary Filben, who started the Christian-Jewish Dialogue in the early 1970s, brought many speakers on Holocaust education to Mobile. “They introduced me” to the subject and how to teach it, she said. In 2001 she was given a scholarship to a program at Yad Vashem. The Second Intifada had just started and the person originally selected had
36 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
bowed out, “so I got to go instead.” On the way, she stopped to visit family in Belfast, where she was peppered with questions of if she felt it would be safe in Israel. “At the end of the course, some of the people said, are you safe going to Belfast?” That trip was her first opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors, and the whole experience “was life-changing,” and she was “more determined to teach it as long as I could, to the best of my ability.” At the 25th anniversary of the Dialogue, a Holocaust curriculum trunk was dedicated in honor of the Filbens. Brady used it every year. A seventh grader once asked her why she cares so much. ”I hope and pray they will learn to care so much.” Larry Voit said Berry attended the international seminar at Yad Vashem, and recently was invited to return to give a presentation there. The Gulf Coast Center “would probably not exist without Don’s leadership,” Voit said. It has raised funds to send over 40 middle and high school teachers to national and international seminars. “By preserving, sharing and commemorating the events of the Holocaust and the lives of those who perished,” Voit said, Berry “exemplifies the moral and ethical response to prejudice, hatred and indifference.” Berry, who started at the University of Mobile in 1987, spoke of the center as an outgrowth of the state commission, “working against anti-Semitism in general.” While teacher training is “still the mainstay of our work,” the center coordinates speakers, the curriculum trunk, exhibitions and the annual commemoration, to be held this year at Ahavas Chesed on April 23 at 7 p.m. They partner with the Mobile Jewish Film Festival to screen a Holocaust-related film for schools. Berry said his father taught him to never consider others as less than himself, or blame ills on other people. He spoke of numerous others who contribute to Holocaust education in the region, such as the late Agnes Tennenbaum, a Holocaust survivor for whom the Holocaust library at the University of South Alabama is named, and which is curated by Darring. Berry said Tennenbaum “had so much taken from her. She gave back so much, and had so much to give.” Rickie Voit said Darring, author of 16 books, was among the first in the Catholic laity to “grasp the impact of Nostra Aetate, that Judaism is to be respected by the church.” She said Darring “has never wavered in his commitment to interfaith dialogue and education.” A teacher at Mcgill Toolen Catholic High School and Spring Hill College, Darring was the first educator sent to Yad Vashem from Mobile. Darring said that right behind his baptism as his most important spiritual event was “my spiritual circumcision into the Jewish people.” Believing in the power of dialogue, Darring said he wanted “to benefit from what the Dialogue has to offer and I feel the need to atone for the sins of my spiritual ancestors.” He also attends the Monday Torah study at Ahavas Chesed, because he said the church encourages him to listen to what Jews say about scripture, and “I find nourishment in all things Jewish.” In addition to curating the Tennenbaum library, the Filbens entrusted him with the records from the early years of the Dialogue, which are now housed at South Alabama. He frequently leads discussions of Holocaust-related films during the film festival. At the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, he said “If Auschwitz does not tear at my Christian heart, I need to question which Christ I follow, or if I follow Christ at all.” Silberman noted, “For many years they have selflessly worked to educate children, teachers, parents and school administrators in the enormity of the Holocaust and the urgent need to transmit the moral lesson of ‘Never again.’ Without exaggeration, they have influenced thousands of people.”
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community Day School students collaborate on Holocaust film project
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“Better Together Names, Not Numbers,” a project at Birmingham’s N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, will have its debut screening on May 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Homewood Public Library. The Better Together Names Not Numbers project is an interactive multi-media Holocaust project created by educator Tova Fish-Rosenberg of Yeshiva University. The Day School was selected to participate in the year-long program about Holocaust history and the stories of local families affected by the Holocaust. The project culminates with two student-produced films. “Names Not Numbers” consists of hour-long interviews of local survivors Max Herzel and Robert May, and of two second generation survivors, Sheryl Perlstein, the daughter of the late Aisic Hirsch, and Jessica Roskin, daughter of Ingrid Roskin. The interviews are preserved and archived at The National Library of Israel in Jerusalem; Yad Vashem; Yeshiva University’s Mendel Gottesman Library and at Holocaust Museums in the U.S. The interviews are distilled into 15-minute segments for the screening. The second film, “Names Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making” documents the work in progress. The 6th to 8th grade students studied with Birmingham Holocaust Education Center education coordinator Ann Mollengarden, and Michelle Forman, documentary filmmaker and director of UAB Media Studies Program, spent several sessions teaching the students about oral history and documentary films, and interviewing techniques. New York filmmaker Saul Sudin brought the skills of filmmaking to life, as he instructed the students in using the camera and digital editing equipment. As part of the students’ research, time was also spent reflecting on the Civil Rights history in Birmingham with visits to the Anne Frank Tree in Kelly Ingram Park, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and with meetings with individuals who were and are involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Noah Hagedorn, a sixth-grade student, said “my generation should realize from this that what happened in the past affects what happens now, and what will happen in the future… it is a thing to be remembered so that it shall never, ever happen again.” Seventh-grader Sofia Sigman reflected that “people don’t live forever but their stories can.” Nationally, the Better Together Names Not Numbers program is generously supported by a prominent national foundation. Locally, support came from the Abroms Center for Lifetime Learning, BHEC, the Birmingham Jewish Foundation, the State of Alabama Holocaust Commission and the Homewood Public Library. Day School students with interviewee Cantor Jessica Roskin
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April 2017 â€¢ Southern Jewish Life 39
40 Southern Jewish Life â€¢ April 2017
A dozen decades of service
New Orleans NCJW celebrates history, looks to the future A traditional Jewish expression of good wishes is “until 120,” that one may merit a life of as many years as Moses lived. This month, the Greater New Orleans Section of the National Council of Jewish Women is turning 120, with an eye toward serving the community for at least another 120 years. The Section will celebrate 120 years of service, social justice and advocacy at “A Dozen Decade of Dedicated Service,” an anniversary dinner and dance on April 22 at the Metairie Country Club, starting at 7 p.m. Angela Hill, who became the first female news anchor at WWL-TV in 1975, will emcee the seated dinner, with music by the Yat Pack and a silent auction. A patron’s party will start at 6 p.m. and feature Rhodes Spedale and Live Jazz Group. The evening will honor the Section’s achievements through the decades, and the women who have led the organization. The New Orleans Section has been important on the national stage, originating an evening group and providing three national presidents — Ida Friend from 1926 to 1932, Gladys Cahn from 1955 to 1959 and Joan Bronk from 1990 to 1993. Nationally, NCJW was formed during the Chicago World’s Fair. Hannah Solomon of Chicago was asked to organize the participation of Jewish women at the Parliament of World Religions, an attempt at global interfaith dialogue, in conjunction with the World’s Fair. Solomon and her volunteers soon discovered that the women’s “participation” would be serving coffee and other hostess duties, so they walked out. Building on her history of volunteer work and social action, by the end of the fair the women had established NCJW “to do work on behalf of women, children and families, said Dana Shepard, who was president of the New Orleans Section in the 1990s. Solomon “approached women around the country to form Sections in their communities, and in 1897 we were one of the very early Sections to develop,” she said. A group of 17 women established the New Orleans Section, with Hattie Wolff as the first president. Their first initiatives were giving housekeeping lessons to immigrants through the Kitchen Garden. In 1903, the garden evolved into the Industrial School for Girls, becoming the Young Women’s Hebrew Association in 1915. A Sabbath School was established for those unaffiliated with a synagogue, and teachers were provided to help immigrants learn English. In 1903, the Section awarded its first scholarships to promising Jewish students, establishing a program that continues to this day as the Irma Isaacson Scholarship Fund. Shepard said those scholarships were things like $5 toward attending typing school or sewing classes. “Those were the things that were important at the time.” Today, the funds help local students attend college, and there is also a book fund. Funds continue to be established, recently one was named the Sara Stone Fund, in honor of Stone’s 100th birthday. Stone was Section president in 1951 and 1952. During World War II, the Section established Teen Town, to help with rising juvenile delinquency during the war. The need was recognized, and the initiative led to the formation of New Orleans Recreation Development. After World War II, NCJW volunteers were at the Port of New Orleans to greet immigrants from Europe, feeding them and transporting them to their new destinations. Many years later, Stone was at a national NCJW conference when she was approached by a young woman who said she was two months old when her family arrived, and that her mother had repeatedly told the
April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 41
story of how they were helped by NCJW in New Orleans. Opportunities for seniors and children have always been a priority. Magic Land was a cultural enrichment program for disadvantaged preschoolers and was a forerunner to Head Start, which began in 1966. The Section has also been involved with the New Orleans Museum of Art, Crisis Care Center and the Zoomobile. Loel Samuel, who was president from 2000 to 2002, said the Section is especially proud of its advocacy work. In 1914, the women were urged to write the Louisiana Legislature, promoting the establishment of a “home for incurables.” Samuel said “we are not writing letters as much as we are doing emails, but we are still doing advocacy.” Schornstein said the group has been “front and center” on equal rights legislation. “We were in Baton Rouge, we were in Washington, in New York, in New Orleans,” wherever they needed to go, and “we were very effective.” The group’s mission is to “strive for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children and families, and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.” Greenberg said as a non-profit, the group “is not allowed to support candidates, but we can
42 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
NCJW advocacy: The New Orleans delegation visits Capitol Hill during the March 2016 Washington Institute take a stand and advocate.” Flo Schornstein became president in 1968, when civil rights was the primary avenue of involvement. “Our Section was very involved in the leadership of the civil rights movement,” and it was there that many of them met and worked with members of the African-American community for the first time, developing relationships that endure. They worked on the integration of schools that had been whites-only. “That was a major undertaking, and it was a courageous undertaking,” Schornstein said. She recalls a
meeting in a home where all the lights were off and their presence had to be a secret “for our own safety.” But Schornstein said it was important for them to show their children “that their parents were on the right side of things.” Her experience leading NCJW led to her involvement in the community after her term, because she had been exposed to so many opportunities in the community. “All the successes I’ve had since derive from that,” she said. Last year, Sisters Chaverot, a group founded
simchas community in 2010 to bring together professional African American women and professional Jewish women, became part of NCJW. The Section also partners with the New Orleans Jewish Community Center on Alzheimer’s Care and Enrichment. One of the most visible programs is Fox 8 Defenders on WVUE-TV. Established by Babs Isaacson in 1995, it started at WDSUTV (Channel 6) as “6 On Your Side Problem Solvers.” About a dozen volunteers from NCJW take phone calls on Mondays through Wednesdays from individuals who run into consumer problems they can’t solve themselves. Through contacts with groups like the Better Business Bureau, City Hall and Entergy, they endeavor to solve the problems, some of which “go away” when the television news gets involved. After Katrina, the Problem Solvers had plenty to do. A recent push for the Defenders has been preventing contractor fraud following the tornado in New Orleans East. In 2010, the program was discontinued by WDSU and Isaacson brought it to Fox 8, where anchor Lee Zurik had just moved from WWLTV (Channel 4). In 2011, Fox 8 Defenders received its first Emmy nomination for a story that evolved from a call to the hotline. In six years, Fox 8 Defenders fielded over 10,000 calls and saved consumers $2.5 million, and serves as a consumer education resource. NCJW also partners with other organizations to coordinate televised candidate forums, such as mayoral debates. The Section also furnished the children’s area at the New Orleans Family Justice Center. In 1987, New Orleans NCJW brought the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters to the city. Developed in 1969 at the NCJW Research Institute for Innovation in Education at Hebrew University, HIPPY is a home-based intervention program that was created for parents who aren’t confident in their own educational abilities to give their preschool kids the necessary tools to succeed in school and later in life. After NCJW introduced the program in New Orleans, the New Orleans School Board supported the program with funds and volunteer efforts. In 1988, HIPPY USA was established in Little Rock with major support from Hillary Clinton. Samuel said the program is recognized by the state but is “in a transitional stage in Orleans Parish,” with hopes to reinvigorate it. Television and education intersected early for NCJW, with “Magic Tree.” Storytelling Committee Chair Helene Baginsky started a storytelling program at the New Orleans Public Library in 1946. In 1951, she and the committee
April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 43
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approached WDSU with the idea of turning it into a children’s television show, and “Magic Tree” began. In 1958, it became “Let’s Tell a Story” and was one of the first color shows on the station. “Let’s Tell A Story” ran until 1975. Joan Berenson, who received the Section’s Hannah Solomon Award in 2011, said her first volunteer job was through NCJW, at the Well Baby Clinic at Touro Infirmary, where her mother worked once a week. Later she folded bandages at the Red Cross headquarters and knit squares that would be sewn together as blankets for soldiers. She said NCJW has a reputation “of getting things done, and done well.” Schornstein echoed that, saying her presidency gave her a “remarkable understanding on how to run an organization.” Though the initiatives are run by volunteers, they are done professionally and with forethought and research. “Our standards remain high, our work remains professional.” Over the years, the nature of volunteering has changed. In 1973, the Section started Moonlighters. “The world was changing” with a large proportion of women in the work force “and the pool was shrinking on who was available to do daytime volunteer work,” said Barbara Greenberg. A group of women with careers started meeting in the evening, and Greenberg became the first president of the new Moonlighters group. “It gave us a social outlet and we met a lot of people.” They would have a wide range of speakers, from Mildred Covert teaching how to make kugel, to a visit from Mayor Moon Landrieu. She recalls working on Tay Sachs testing and helping with the resettlement of Jews from the Soviet Union. “I remember going to Lake Avenue where they were setting up apartments” for the newcomers. “We were able to do things even though we worked,” Greenberg said, and within a year the Moonlighters had over 100 members. Much of the recent Section leadership has been from Moonlighter veterans. The New Orleans group was the first Moonlighters in the country, so Greenberg went to Pensacola, communities in Georgia and elsewhere to tell them how to start similar groups. Eventually, she said, “the whole Section was turning into Moonlighters” so it ceased functioning as a separate entity in 1999. In 2013, the Section introduced a new program to develop future leadership, NCJW Way: Learning to Lead. A group of women who are new to NCJW are selected for the program, which is an intensive yearlong leadership training seminar culminating in a trip to the national NCJW convention. Participants commit to a two-year board term on completion of the program. NCJW Way is sponsored by the Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust. This year’s participants are Victoria Coy, Alysse Fuchs, Emily Good, Heather Kahn, Alanna Rosenberg and Hannah Udell. Though the nature of volunteering has changed, the Section remains active, with about 900 members. Whatever form the volunteerism takes, there is still much to be done, they said. Shepard said “the needs are still there to advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves.” “The problems are still the problems, the solutions still require a great deal of work,” Schornstein said. “We must look to the future with a fresh and wondrous eye, meeting those community needs that fall within our mission; making it possible for women of today to participate while at the same time, maintaining the standards of excellence which have been NCJW’s hallmark.” Greenberg added, “I’m proud that after 120 years we are still vibrant, giving to the community, fighting for rights.” Samuel said “to be a past president with this group of women is something words can’t express.” Tickets to the gala are $120, with patron levels starting at $250.
April 2017 â€¢ Southern Jewish Life 45
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46 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
community Two dozen communities on Passover Pilgrimage With almost two dozen communities on the schedule, the Jackson-based Institute of Southern Jewish Life is sending out three rabbis for the 2017 Passover Pilgrimage. Rabbi Jeremy Simons, ISJL director of rabbinic services; Rabbi Matthew Dreffin, associate director of education; and rabbinic intern Student Rabbi Rob Friedman will take to the road for the seventh year of the pilgrimage, hitting eight states in just over a week. Rabbis Simons, Dreffin, and Friedman will each conduct services, lead celebratory Passover Seder meals, offer educational programs, do home visits, facilitate dialogue and more. Last year, the ISJL created a freedom-themed reading, written specifically for the Passover Pilgrimage but appropriate for all Seder celebrations. Another new reading has been created for this year, and will soon be available on the ISJL’s website and social media platforms. Sharing in these words will be one more way that all of the communities participating in the Passover Pilgrimage will have a connected, shared experience. This year, Passover begins at sunset on April 10, but the pilgrimage starts on April 6 as Simons visits Ahavath Rayim in Greenwood. He will be at B’nai Israel in Natchez on April 7, ANshe Chesed in Vicksburg on April 10, B’nai Israel Traditional Synagogue in Alexandria on April 11 and Temple Emanu-El in Longview, Tex., on April 12. On April 13 he will start at B’nai Israel in Tupelo and then head to B’nai Israel in Jackson, Tenn. On April 14 and 15 he will be at United Hebrew Congregation in Fort Smith, Ark., followed by Temple Shalom of Northwest Arkansas in Fayetteville on April 15 and 16. Friedman will set out on April 8 for an event at B’nai Israel in Natchez, followed by a program at St. Philips Episcopal Church in Jackson. On April 10 he will be at B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg, followed by the Upper Cumberland Jewish Community in Crossville, Tenn., on April 12, the Blacksburg Jewish Community Center in Virginia on April 13 and Congregation Emanuel in Statesville, N.C. on April 14. Dreffin will start at Mishkan Israel in Selma on April 10, followed by Shomrei Torah in Tallahassee on April 11, Beth Shalom in Auburn on April 12 and B’nai Israel in Panama City on April 13. On April 14, he will be at B’nai Israel in Fayetteville, Ga., then Rodeph Sholom in Rome, Ga., on April 15, and Shalom B’Harim in Dahlonega and Camp Coleman on April 16. On April 16 at 4 p.m., Dreffin will speak at the Skeptics and Believers Show, at Experience Community in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
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April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 47
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community Passover Popup a new twist on Seder Popups are a current trend, and one in New Orleans is a new twist on a tradition over three millennia old. My House Social is organizing a Passover popup dinner on April 11 at 7 p.m., at Pret A Fete. Barrie Schwartz, founder of My House Social, said she worked with Laura Sugerman of Sugerman’s Bagels on a Passover popup at Good Eggs three years ago. “It was amazing, it sold out immediately,” Schwartz said. In New Orleans, Schwartz said, most people have Seder at home. Alon Shaya does a Passover menu, “but there aren’t many things open to the public,” she said. This year, they are joined by Shaya’s wife, Emily, owner of Pret a Fete event rentals, who will be hosting the dinner at her warehouse. The Seder is traditionally-inspired, though there isn’t a traditional Seder plate. On the menu, “everything represents the Seder plate,” she said. The family-style meal will feature housemade olive oil matzah. Dishes that are reminiscent of the Seder plate include horseradish deviled eggs, bitter herbs salad and Charoset truffles. Also on the menu are matzah ball soup, wine braised brisket with tart cherries and coconut macaroon sandwiches with lime curd. When they announced the event in March, they had space for 35. Tickets are $40. Schwartz moved to New Orleans in 2011 from Ann Arbor, working as a waitress at Coquette. She started hosting dinner parties with friends in her house, Eventually they started charging to cover costs, then a bit more, and the demand continued to grow, leading her to form
community My House NOLA, which recently was renamed My House Social. She noticed the proliferation of food trucks and festivals, and soon realized that “there is an event planning corporate world” and the world of up-and-coming chefs, and they were existing in separate worlds. Rather than have conventions rely on the same two caterers, she set out to match events with chefs, creating “customized creative food” and “something different” while making everyone’s lives easier. “We work with chefs and vendors and customize proposals for weddings, corporate events, conventions,” she said. For three years, she has teamed with Danielle Lee, a San Francisco native who attended Tulane. They met on an airplane over a copy of “Bon Appetit.” They organized food trucks for New Orleans Entrepreneur Week in March, and coordinated the chefs for the Grand Tasting at the New Orleans Bourbon Festival. On April 4 and May 2 they are organizing food trucks for Eatmoor in Broadmoor at the Rosa Keller Library. The Seder, Schwartz said, will be “a special night at Pret a Fete’s super-cool space in Central City.”
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In February, Hadassah Southern held its winter board meeting in Birmingham. Chapter of the Year awards were presented, along with Women of the Year of each chapter. Accepting awards for their chapters (above) are: Back row, Gwen Cooper-Simon, Auburn; Laura Floyd, Knoxville; Bonnie Boring, Knoxville; Bettye Berlin, Memphis; Ruth Katzen, Baton Rouge; Kortney Kropp, Dothan; Catherine Braunstein, Oak Ridge. Front row, Nili Freedman, Nashville; Charisse Sands, New Orleans; Mindy Cohen, Birmingham; Judith Sachsman, Chattanooga. Women of the Year (below) were Ami Abel Epstein, Birmingham; Cathryn Cohen, Chattanooga; Andrea Cone, Knoxville; Robbie Lasky, Nashville; and Joy Feldman, New Orleans. Also pictured are Bettye Berlin, presenter; and Bonnie Boring, Southern region president. Hadassah New Orleans was named Star of the Region.
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April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 51
WWII Their Promised Land by Ian Buruma is the account of a German-Jewish
émigré family, deeply invested in assimilating in England during the darkest years, cognizant of the complicated relationship between religion and nationality. Dancing on a Powder Keg are the letters and poems of widely-celebrated Czech author of songs and books for children, Ilse Weber. She had been sent to work in the children’s infirmary at Terezin where she lovingly entertained her patients, then made the heartbreaking decision not to leave them when they were transported to Auschwitz, where she and a son were ultimately murdered. Imprisoned: Drawings from Nazi Concentration Camps by Arturo Benvenuti is the work in pencil, ink, and charcoal of almost 100 Survivors, starkly accompanied here with only name, nationality, subject, and where imprisoned. Why? Explaining the Holocaust by Peter Hayes answers in straightforward fashion eight impossible questions laypeople and scholars alike have the most trouble understanding.
A Personal History of the Zapruder Film by Alexadra Zapruder
The Brother Haggadah: A Medieval Sephardi Masterpiece in Facsimile Commissioned by wealthy patrons and created by Sephardi artists and scribes in Catalonia in the 14th century, this generously sized version presented in its own heavy sleeve makes for an elegant, thoughtful gift for the Pesach host.
Redemption, Then and Now Yeshiva University Professor Rabbi Benjamin Blech makes two books in one here. The English side opens to a series of 23 accessible essays about symbolism and meanings in Passover, and explorations of the Jewish past and future, while the Hebrew side contains a complete Hagaddah.
PASSOVER BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
• Sammy Spider’s Passover Shapes by Sylvia A. Rouss: Sammy’s spinning his webs in the likenesses of afikomen and seder plates in this board book. • Passover Scavenger Hunt by Shanna Silva: This year, Rachel takes (or does she?) Uncle Harry’s job of hiding the afikomen and leads the other kids with a series of fun hints on how to find it. • A Different Kind of Passover by Linda LeopoldStrauss: Grandpa’s just gotten home from the hospital and isn’t as strong as usual, but even under the circumstances, helps make this holiday just as special.
It’s one thing to have a famous last name. It’s quite another to have a name that is linked to a traumatic event in U.S. history and is bandied about by conspiracy theorists. Zapruder has made a name for herself as an educator with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, writing about teen experiences during the Holocaust and speaking at numerous venues in our region. In 1963, her grandfather, Abraham, who had escaped Czarist Russia as a teen, decided to film the motorcade of President John Kennedy as it passed by his office in Dallas. He managed to capture the assassination of Kennedy, in an age before “citizen journalism” where everyone has a cell phone camera, let alone a cell phone, so it became a key piece of evidence and coverage. While a reporter interviewed him immediately after the event and urged him to make the film available to the press, he insisted on turning it over to the government. Finally, three prints were made, with two going to the Secret Service and the original to Life magazine, which he figured would be least likely to exploit the film. The film footage has been hotly debated, especially by conspiracy theorists who, upon having claims debunked by more recent technological advances now claim the film itself is a forgery, but it wasn’t discussed within the family while she was growing up. In this book, Zapruder recounts how being linked to the footage affected her family as “a legacy we never asked for,” explores questions of copyright and ownership, especially the moral aspect as the courts ruled the family was entitled to $16 million from the government’s “forced acquisition” of the film in the 1990s.
REVOLUTIONARY YIDDISHLAND: A History of Jewish Radicalism by Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg
From the trials and tribulations of literary characters like Tevye to the masses committed to communist parties by name and other proletariat causes, Revolutionary Yiddishland — Yiddishland here being that area from the Baltic Sea to the western edge of Russia, encompassing hundreds of Jewish communities — examines the breaking out of those molded by tradition in religion and culture to find their collective paradise by means of activism. This isn’t only about the marches and the uprisings for better conditions and fairness and against industrial exploitation (though, yes, all of that) but further, how aspirations took hold: how those building Israel in the early years of statehood shaped and were shaped by Zionism. Here, not just Zionism, but what they were endeavoring in the first place — whether that be the place Israel or the idea Israel, the utopian communities (the Soviet-planned Jewish Autonomous Region Birobidzhan, the agricultural experimental societies and so on), the optimism that landed them to fight in wars that weren’t their own for causes that aligned with their own dreams.
The Panorama Jazz Band at Chabad of Louisiana’s Purim in the Big Apple, at Torah Academy on March 12
A Panorama of Jewish involvement in New Orleans Jazz Fest by Lee J. Green There are many Jewish connections in the 37th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This year’s Jazz Fest features headliners including Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5 and Jewish lead singer Adam Levine, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dave Matthews, Harry Connick Jr., Lorde, Snoop Dogg, the Alabama Shakes as well as Earth, Wind and Fire, and runs from April 28 to May 7. Jazz Fest Marketing/PR Director Matthew Goldman is Jewish, as is Ben Ellman with Galactic and Ben Jaffe of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Some of the deepest musical ties come from the Panorama Jazz Band, which will perform at noon on May 6 at the New Orleans Fairgrounds on the Jazz and Heritage Stage. Founding member and leader/clarinetist Ben Schenck is not Jewish but has been claimed as a “surrogate member of the tribe” since they are the “go-to” Klezmer and Jewish music band for New Orleans and the region, especially for weddings and community events. “We don’t need electricity, we create our own. We don’t need to plug in. Just give us some chairs and we can play,” said Schenck, who grew up in Maryland and studied at Bennington College in Vermont. He referenced being inspired by great Jewish jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman. “The music creates a celebratory spirit. For me, that’s what it’s all about.” Schenck would find his way down to New Orleans in 1988 and a few years later was a founding member of the Klezmer All-Stars. In 1995, after Schenck left the All-Stars, the Panorama Jazz Band took shape when a friend asked Schenck to organize a combo for her wedding. Originally a trio, the group evolved by 2006 to include seven players. They also now have the Panorama Brass Band for parades and large events. That line-up includes Jewish F helicon player Mark Rubin. Clarinets are prominent in klezmer music, jazz and Creole music. Panorama also plays Balkan, Latin American and other flavors of music. Since his first Jazz Fest Shabbat at Touro Synagogue 26 years ago with the Klezmer All-Stars, Schenck and Panorama have been an integral part of the service. “I grew up as a Quaker in Maryland and I moved to New Orleans to play Jewish music. It might not make sense on paper but there was a strong connection and calling to the music as well as the people” in New Orleans and in the Jewish community, he said. Through Jazzfest Shabbat, Schenck got to play with two of his musical idols — Irma Thomas and the late Alain Toussaint. “Those are two artists who, when you were in their presence, you quickly realized they were on another level,” Schenck said. “They were so nice and they just lit up the stage every time.” Schenck is also Panorama’s manager and says they are adapting to the changing music industry. On their website they have a Song of the Month
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club, $3 per month to access their newest music. “Now we actually have the money up front when we go into the recording studio,” he said. Ninety-five percent of their music is public domain, but he gets composer royalties from his arrangements. The 52-year-old Rubin serves as Panorama’s “cultural interpreter.” He grew up in a musical family but around very few other Jews in Stillwater, Okla. “We would sometimes travel two hours to a synagogue to be with just a few Jewish families, and we stopped keeping kosher when the kosher butcher gave us bad meat,” he said. “We were very proud of being Jewish but at the time in Oklahoma there were a lot of issues with anti-Semitism and racism.” Rubin’s father is originally from Cuba, and within his family tree there are Orthodox Jewish refugees from Belarus. His parents met while playing in the University of Arizona marching band. His father become involved with B’nai Brith leadership, and after college landed a job at the Oklahoma State University Hillel. “My dad wanted me to experience many different cultures out there. Because music ran deep in our family, we would go on trips regularly to New Orleans when I was growing up,” he said, adding that his father played baritone horn and he played tuba growing up. “I quickly developed a love for New Orleans and the music,” said Rubin. When Mark was 14, his father passed away. The New Orleans-based Jewish Children’s Regional Service reached out to help him, his mother and two younger siblings. “Ironically, my case worker back then was Ned Goldberg, who is now JCRS’s executive director. They helped us out so much and we are forever indebted. That is one of the greatest examples of Tikkun Olam ever,” he said. In Oklahoma in the mid 1980s, Rubin turned his musical interests to the American punk rock scene. He would go on to serve as a tour manager for punk bands, and acts such as Husker Du, Black Flag, the Meat Puppets and The Flaming Lips would stay with Rubin when they came to Oklahoma. “At that time I realized that I didn’t just want to be a part of the music scene, I wanted to be a musician,” he said. Rubin got a string bass and moved to Dallas. In the late 1980s he moved to Austin and caught on with the Sugar Hill bluegrass label. He formed a band called The Bad Livers in the mid 1990s and even made the soundtrack for two Richard Linklater films. “Understanding how bluegrass and country music ties into cultures as well as beliefs, with people saying how the music fills them up with the holy spirit, it awoke something in me — a desire to learn more about and play music that is part of my soul, identify and religion — Jewish Klezmer music,” said Rubin. He went to KlezKamp in the Catskills, which shut its doors two years ago, and dove into many teachings through books, recordings, conversations as well as immersing himself in musical performances. Rubin’s journey into performing and teaching Klezmer and Jewish music would take him across the world. He said there was great interest in countries such as Poland, Germany and Austria. “I was so well-received. I would teach them of our Yiddish culture. I went to places in which our Jewish ancestors were murdered in the Holocaust and they were even more embracing of what I had to share with them than here in the U.S., it seemed,” he said. In the 2000s, Rubin would get to know and sometimes play with some New Orleans jazz musicians, including Schenck and Panorama. After Katrina, Schenck and his very pregnant wife stayed with Rubin in Austin, where their son was born. Rubin moved to New Orleans in 2014 and continues to make music with Panorama, as well as collaborating with others and playing solo gigs. Rubin said he is always teaching and always learning. “I continue to learn more about the Jewish community here in New Orleans and the rich history of the Jews here,” he said. “I want to continue to get more involved and feel even more connected.”
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culture Touro goes Zydeco for Jazz Fest Shabbat Touro Synagogue Cantor David Mintz doesn’t think there has ever been Zydeco music composed for a Shabbat service. That bit of history will be made at the New Orleans congregation’s 26th annual Jazz Fest Shabbat, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots will headline the service, which also features Mintz, the Panorama Jazz Band and the Touro Synagogue choir. Held the first Friday night of Jazz Fest, the service has become a must-stop for Jewish jazz enthusiasts, and the service generally has a packed house. For the last three years, Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots Mintz has commissioned New York composer Toby Singer to do an original work for the service. A former High Holy Days music coordinator for Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston, Singer is doing a Zydeco version of “Shiru L’Adonai Shir Chadash,” “Sing Unto the Lord a New Song.” Mintz said “This would indeed be a new song, and we’re really excited about it.” In planning for Jazz Fest Shabbat, a frequent debate is whether to stick with local artists or go for national figures. “To go Zydeco goes to our Louisiana roots,” Mintz said. JazzFest Shabbat began in 1991 with Cantor Steve Dubov, with the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars as the first guests. Headliners in recent years include Irma Thomas, Kermit Ruffins, Marcia Ball, John Boutte, Joe Krown, Walter Wolfman Washington and Russell Batiste Jr. Last year, Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen were the guest artists. A veteran New Orleans musician, Bruce Sunpie Barnes worked for 30 years as a park ranger with the National Park Service. Born in Benton, Ark., he dreamed in Creole as a child. He was an All-American college football player for Henderson State and played for the Kansas City Chiefs. He turned down an opportunity to continue in the Canadian Football League so he could play music and be in nature. He got a job with the Park Service at Jean Lafitte National Park, arriving in New Orleans in 1987 not knowing what to expect. His Delta harmonica style got him noticed, and he quickly made a name for himself. After having dreams of playing an accordion, he saw the accordion from his dream in a store, taught himself how to play it and immediately landed a job that enabled him to pay off the instrument. By 1991, he formed Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots, taking his name from Little Sunpie, what an aunt called him as a child when he hung around a musical uncle called Sunpie. His band was one of just a few Zydeco bands in the area. A current member of the Paul Simon Band, he recently did a 58-city arena tour, Paul Simon and Sting Together. In 2015 he authored “Talk That Music Talk,” and he is Big Chief of the North Side Skull and Bone Gang, one of the oldest black Carnival groups. Jazz Fest Shabbat is free and open to the public, and will also be livestreamed online. Jazz Fest Shabbat Patrons will have a dinner at 6 p.m., receive VIP seats for the service and have an exclusive concert with Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots during dinner.
culture Young courage Anne Frank among featured stories in Baton Rouge film series “The Diary of Anne Frank” will be part of a three-film series in conjunction with “The Power of Children: Making a Difference,” at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge. Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White will be featured in the exhibit, which will be displayed from April 6 to May 25. Their stories teach about overcoming obstacles and making a positive difference in the world. “The Ryan White Story” will be screened on April 25 at 7 p.m. In the early 1980s, White contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. The AIDS crisis was in its early stages and little was known about the mysterious disease, leading to fear and misinformation that White had to face. A world-wide movement arose out of his simple desire to be allowed to attend school. “The Diary of Anne Frank” will be shown on May 2 at 7 p.m. The 1980 adaptation of the stage play stars Melissa Gilbert. Brendan Karch, history professor at Louisiana State University, will lead a discussion after the film. “Ruby Bridges,” on May 6 at 1 p.m., is based on the story of one of the first four black firstgrade students to attend previously all-white public schools in New Orleans. She was the only black student at William Frantz Public School. A discussion after the film will be moderated by Lori Martin, LSU sociology professor. Each film has been chosen as family friendly, but parental guidance is recommended because of sensitive subject matter. The films will be shown in a large-screen format in the House of Representatives room, and the exhibit will be available for viewing before each film. The Capitol is open Tuesdays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours are available for large groups.
Jewish groups partner for anti-bullying forum Hadassah Birmingham, the Levite Jewish Community Center and SOJOURN are partnering with numerous local organizations for a forum on homophobic bullying, April 20 at 6 p.m. at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. The panel discussion will include students, parents and school officials and will include information on what is happening in schools and the community to combat homophobic bullying. Co-sponsors include the Alabama Safe Schools Coalition, Birmingham Gay and Lesbian Parenting Group, City of Birmingham, Birmingham Mayor’s office, Magic City Acceptance Project, PFLAG, United Way of Central Alabama and YWCA.
April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 57
BUBBA MEYER Q: Bubba, I was told there is a Southern Jewish connection to the Teddy Bear.
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Is that right? Morris suggested that Rose make a stuffed bear to honor the story. They put the “Teddy’s When I first heard the question, Bear” in their store window, and customers I thought about my old college immediately started asking to buy it. They sent buddy, Teddy Bayer, who is as the original to the White House, requesting Southern and Jewish as Manischewitz in a ma- the president’s permission to use his name and son jar. But, what you’re talking about? Well… make more, and Roosevelt agreed, though he There actually is a Southern connection to added that his name probably wouldn’t be of the Teddy Bear, and a Jewish connection. If you much help in selling them. want to call it a Southern Jewish connection, The demand was so great, the Michtoms feel free, but technically it wouldn’t quite be couldn’t keep up. They closed the candy shop accurate. and went into Teddy Bears full-time. It became The Teddy Bear, of course, is named after the Republican symbol of the 1904 election and Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who besides was displayed at the White House. being president was also known as a huge In 1907 Michtom founded the Ideal Novelty hunting enthusiast. In November 1902, he was and Toy Company. After World War II, Ideal on a bear hunting trip in Mississippi, at the was the largest doll-making company in the invitation of Governor Andrew Longino. It was country. In 1951, Ideal partnered with a comalso an official trip to settle a dispute over the petitor to establish the United States-Israeli Toy border between Mississippi and Louisiana. and Plastic Corporation, to manufacture toys Among the hunters was future Louisiana in Israel. Ideal’s last huge hit wasn’t a doll — it governor John Parker, John McIlhenny of was the Rubik’s Cube. The company eventually Tabasco fame, and Mississippi Senator Huger merged with Mattel. Foote, grandfather of Shelby Foote. The original Teddy Bear is now at the SmithWhile it was a successful hunt for most in sonian. the group, the president had an uncharacterisThe hunt took place near the town of Ontically rough time, without a single success over ward, about half an hour north of Vicksburg. five days. Roosevelt’s assistants, not wanting Today, the Onward Store is part country store, him to leave empty-handed, cornered a black part restaurant and part shrine to the Teddy bear and tied it to a tree for Roosevelt to shoot. Bear legacy. He refused, saying it was unsportsmanlike — The Teddy Bear is also the official toy of though he did instruct for the bear, which was Mississippi, and every October the Great Delta wounded and dazed from the capture, to be put Bear Affair is held in Rolling Fork, where a difout of its misery. ferent commemorative bear is sold annually. News of the incident spread, and a political So, if you say the Teddy Bear has Southern cartoonist in the Washington Post, Clifford Jewish roots, you “missed it by that much.” Berryman, did a cartoon about it, which many Speaking of which, the Michtoms’ daughter, interpreted as having anti-lynching overtones. also named Rose, was in over 40 episodes of In Brooklyn, candy shop owner Morris “Get Smart” as Aunt Rose, and was Mrs. KolMichtom saw the publicity. A Russian Jewish check in “Laverne and Shirley.” immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1887, he Have a question for Bubba? and his wife Rose made stuffed animals at Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. night, after the candy store closed.
opinion >> Thank You to Hate
Continued from page 4
Thank you for making me talk to my neighbors and community members about what we do, what we will do, and what we need to keep doing in the future to ensure that our Jewish community continues to thrive. Thank you for your help. I only wish I had never needed it to begin with. Sincerely, Joshua Rutsky Jew. (This follow-up was written just after the March 23 arrest) Now news is breaking out of Israel that the suspect is a 19-year-old Jew with dual US-Israeli citizenship and possible mental issues. Needless to say, this is a moment of great shame for Jews everywhere, but the shame is not in the words I shared. The shame is that we had a Jew among us who was as filled with hate as many of the Anti-Semites out there. That is a shame, but not a surprise. Hate is everywhere. No community is free of it. It is an infection that cannot be rooted out in any simple or consistent way, and it comes back again and again. In the next few days, I expect that the way this is going to play out is going to be very unpleasant for us. Those people who have been Holocaust deniers, those who said “the Jews rigged 9/11” and those who claimed in online forums that this was a typical Jewish manipulation of the media and a callous, self-inflicted act designed to earn political capital are going to claim that their viewpoints have proven justified. It will be very difficult for us to argue that the exception does not prove the rule, because of how strongly the community reacted to this ongoing series of threats. Even among ourselves, we are going to begin doubting. To this, I can only say that I do not regret or withdraw a single word of what I said. Hate is hate. Hate is destructive from within and without. Hate is hurtful no matter the source. Hate is not limited to a political, social, or religious point of view. Hate is hate. While it distresses me to no end that this particular source of hate came from our own ranks, it does not change the overall scheme of things. That 19 year old didn’t deface cemeteries in several countries. That 19 year old wasn’t the one who carved swastikas or painted them on walls and doors. That 19 year old didn’t deface the New York subway system with swastikas. That 19 year old didn’t spray paint “F** yall Jews” on suburban Chicago homes, or on a synagogue in Seattle. He didn’t attack Jewish men in Paris with a hacksaw, shouting “dirty Jews.” He didn’t join the chanting in hallways at a Dutch school graduation party and at soccer matches of the words “Together we’ll burn Jews, because Jews burn the best.” That 19 year old is one point on a very, very large graph. He will be the point that many people would like to focus on for some time, but he is only one point. Ignoring that is like ignoring 100 measurements in a study because you like the 101st better than all the others. I sincerely hope that Israel convicts this person and sentences him to a long, long time in prison. I hope that after that, he is extradited back to the U.S., and he serves even more prison time here. But most of all, I hope that this doesn’t become another tool in the toolbox that has been used to attack the Jews again and again. I fear it will, but unlike some people, I don’t think we have ourselves to blame. I think we have this one sick person to blame.
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opinion >> From the Editor Continued from page 3
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The bludgeon of intersectionality is privilege — if you have it, you need to “check” it before you are permitted to participate. If you are part of what is viewed as a privileged group — whites, males and heterosexuals are generally seen as the top of the privilege chart, which is actually a racist and sexist notion — you need to acknowledge and repent your esteemed status, not that you’d truly understand the struggles of the downtrodden anyway. When certain groups are called out as being privileged, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that eventually, the virus of Western civilization isn’t far behind. And sure enough, at a university in Illinois last month, flyers were distributed talking about how it isn’t really “white” privilege, because such a large proportion of the mythic white 1 percent that controls everything is… Jews. Ending white privilege, the flyer asserted, starts with ending Jewish privilege. This turn of events should not come as much of a surprise, given that it has become more difficult for Jews to be part of these increasingly-extreme coalitions. Black Lives Matter nationally issued anti-Israel planks in its platform. One of the organizers of the women’s strike in early March is a woman who was convicted of being part of a plot to bomb a Jerusalem grocery store in 1969, killing two college students. Faced with the posibility of being kicked out of the U.S. because she lied about never being in jail, she is now the victim and has become a celebrity of the left, even speaking at the national conference of the misleadingly-named Jewish Voice for Peace. And the women’s strike platform also contained a plank calling for Israel’s destruction. Over the last couple of weeks there has been a huge public debate on whether Jewish women who think Israel has a right to exist can call themselves feminists, with Linda Sarsour, one of the Women’s March on Washington organizers claiming it is impossible. Actress Mayim Bialik publicly countered her, but many liberal Jewish women are stunned at how they are being kicked to the curb by their former home in the feminist movement. It is bizarre that the group consistently ranked highest on the receiving end of bias crimes is viewed by these groups as too privileged and not welcome in their advocacy. It is especially perverse given the horrible track record of the Palestinian leadership, not to mention much of the Arab world, on women’s rights — such as they are. In recent months, particularly with the waves of bomb threats and anti-Semitic vandalism across the country, there has been a huge outpouring of support from the non-Jewish community. There has been a lot of interfaith coalition building, and likely more common cause made between American Jews and Muslims than at any time in recent memory. It is incumbent on these groups and mainstream coalitions to not allow intersectionalism to seep in and start excluding people of good will based on a lack of adherence to a laundry list of ideologies. This world needs more coalition building and less grievance building, more dialogue and compromise, and fewer litmus tests. President Trump may want to build a physical wall, but intersectionalism is building its own dangerous rhetorical wall.
Larry Brook EDITOR/PUBLISHER
jewish deep south: bagels, biscuits, beignets
Herbed gefilte fish from The Gefilte Manifesto. Image: Lauren Volo
The Gefilte Manifesto:
New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods by Jeffrey Yoskowitz & Liz Alpern The authors, co-founders of The Gefilteria, write that their plan is to “bring our foods out of the jar and to the street, to the pushcarts where we began, to the flavors of the people” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those tastes are preserved in amber, either. Take for instance the recipe for Ashkenazi Kimchi, which was inspired by melding the idea behind the Korean staple with what we know so well, sauerkraut. And as a Southerner, it’s good to see sweet pickled watermelon rind included here. As expected, there are several riffs on gefilte fish, from the kind that mom would feel comfortable adorning with a carrot coin and leaf of romaine to the “Old World Stuffed Gefilte Fish” which would surely evoke admiration of effort and be the centerpiece of most any table. Andy Adelman took over Casablanca last summer There are traditional takes on the standards, and surprises, like cholent deviled eggs. Smart little throw-backs (why did we ever stop making KOSHER NEW ORLEANS hamantaschen with pastry dough?), and origin stories (where did black & whites come from anyway?) make for really enjoyable new connections.
New Twists on Traditional Jewish Desserts by Amy Kritzer
When the opening page of a cookbook involves a golden unicorn atop a bed of sprinkles, you just know that the sugary goodness inside is going to be par-taaay. Here, Amy Kritzer gives mandel bread the espressocherry treatment. Her rugelach is studded with pecans and the chocolate filling gets dusted with a little cayenne. You know those weird cake squares with the rainbow colors at any supermarket bakery with a kosher section? Amy takes them ombre (and true, the world is over ombre, but these little numbers beat those fake stacked bits any day). The Passover chapter includes “Brown Butter Charoset and Salted Manischewitz Caramel” and — before you put that bottle back down — another for Manischewitz Ice Cream. Sweet Noshings is a little kooky but 100 percent fun, and as it turns out, completely delish.
New owner making a few changes, slowly Last year, when Andy Adelman stopped by Casablanca restaurant in Metairie, he wound up with something extra with his meal — the restaurant itself. While he was dining, owner Linda Waknin asked him to call her later without explaining why. It turned out that after 21 years, “she was looking to sell the restaurant and really wanted to keep it in the community and make sure it stayed kosher,” he said. Waknin, whose family is from Morocco, moved to New Orleans from Israel in 1979. In 1995, she started Casablanca, featuring her family’s Moroccan recipes. At the time, dishes like homemade couscous, lamb tagine, chicken bastila and fish tagine were new flavors for New Orleans. After the restaurant was damaged in the post-Katrina flooding, they reopened as quickly as possible, partly to help try and bring the Jewish community back to the area. Having a large number of Jewish volunteers from around the country come to New Orleans to help rebuild the city also boosted business. While Adelman “had thought about” owning a restaurant, he hadn’t continued on the next page seriously considered it. “It was always kind of a dream.”
April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 61
nosh While Adelman “had thought about” owning a restaurant, he hadn’t seriously considered it. “It was always kind of a dream.” Before long, that dream came true, and Adelman took over on August 15. Rather than make immediate changes, he sat back and “gave it some time” to see what he “could not take off the menu.” He soon discovered that “everyone has their thing” that they insist has to stay on the menu, and pretty much the entire menu falls into Fish Tagine that category. Some people said they were looking forward to him changing the whole menu while others insisted he should not change a thing. His task now is “finding the balance of changing some things but keeping the place people love and are attached to.” He said some upcoming additions will include shakshuka, a brisket sandwich and sabich sandwich. While he will do catering for Passover, the restaurant itself will be closed. Adelman grew up in Indiana. He studied in Israel, where his wife to be, Aleeza, was on a two year Pardes Educators Program rogram through the Avi Chai Foundation. Part of the deal was that she had to commit to three years of teaching at a Jewish Day School. After she was hired at the Jewish Community Day School in Metairie, they moved to New Orleans in 2010, took part in the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans’ newcomers program, and he started doing programming at Tulane Hillel. “We thought we’d come here for a couple of years, then go to a larger city with more Jews,” he said. Instead, they are still in the New Orleans area with “a house, two kids and a restaurant,” and she became the Director of Jewish Enrichment for BBYO in 2015, and will co-chair the 2018 Limmud New Orleans. How did Adelman go from education to the restaurant business? A few years ago, Shir Chadash did a Shabbat retreat at the Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica. As the Reform camp does not have a kosher kitchen, he was on a committee that planned and prepared the Conservative congregation’s meals beforehand at Shir Chadash and brought everything to the camp. The food got rave reviews, and “I thought that was it.” About five months later, he got a request to cater an 80th birthday lunch with a “very extravagant menu.” Again, he thought that was the last of his experiences in the food business. Then there was a request for a bar mitzvah. “The next thing I knew I had my own catering business,” he said, adding that it came about through word of mouth. He started providing catering for events at synagogues and the Jewish Community Center, then rented the kitchen at the Goldring/Woldenberg Jewish Community Campus in Metairie for his business, also doing the lunch program at Jewish Community Day School. He also had a startup business, Bayou BBQ Cleaners, which deepcleaned barbecue grills. He has made a few changes at Casablanca to enhance business, including going on the OpenTable website to offer online reservations. To ease the transition, his goal was to keep the staff together, including having Waknin’s daughter, Aline, continue with the restaurant. Adelman noted that roughly 60 percent of Casablanca’s clientele is not Jewish. A lot of the visitors also aren’t from the area. “I never knew how many kosher tourists came through New Orleans until I was here,” he commented. The restaurant is under the supervision of the Louisiana Kashrut Committee. 62 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
April 2017 â€¢ Southern Jewish Life 63
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Jewish Food and Cultural Festival Little Rock • April 30 War Memorial Stadium 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Temple Emanu-El, Tuscaloosa Annual Jewish Food Festival April 2, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The festival will include traditional Jewish foods: corned beef sandwiches, kosher hot dogs, cabbage rolls, blintzes, kugel and more, as well as homemade Jewish Box lunches range from $10 to $12, treats including rugelach, babka, and have brisket, a corned beef challah, and chocolate-covered sandwich or falafel. matzah. Israeli dishes, such as falafel, The food sampler bar, which hummus, and Israeli salad, will also be available. enables one to purchase four tickets for $5 and sample numerous Jewish There will be numerous booths on dishes, will be back, with items Jewish and Israeli culture and art, the popular Ask-the-Rabbi booth, a including black and white cookies, replica of the Western Wall for leaving sweet kugel, knishes, matzah ball notes, and a Jewish music stage. soup, stuffed grape leaves, bagel and schmear, blintzes, baklava, rugelach, TEMPLE SIN and hamantashen. AI LAKE CHARLES Seating will be at the Bloom Hillel Center next door.
ANNUAL CORNED BEEF SALE
Dothan Deli Day May 4 Nearly 2,000 bag lunches prepared each year Robert Goldsmith says this will be his last Deli Day before his wife retires as the congregation’s rabbi this summer, and that this sale should hit 16,000 lunches during his “corned beef king” tenure. The $12 bag includes a quarterpound sandwich on Atlanta Bread Company Jewish rye, a kosher dill pickle, bag of potato chips and a Sweet and Sassy huge chocolate chip cookie.
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64 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
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Fish returns to B’ham for Legends of Tennis event inspired by nepalese background of
by Lee J. Green Association of Tennis Professionals retired great Mardy Fish reeled in quite the catch in 2008 when he married Jewish attorney and former briefcase model from the TV game show “Deal or No Deal” in a Jewish ceremony at a Los Angeles synagogue. Fish grew up Catholic, but the couple are raising their children Jewish. On April 28, Fish returns to Birmingham for the first time since 2004 as a part of the Powershares Series Legends of Tennis event, along with fellow retired ATP legends John McEnroe, Jim Courier and Andy Roddick. The former world number seven and U.S. number one tennis player reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinals at the 2007 Australian Open, before eventually falling to Roddick. He also won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics and reached the quarterfinals in a few other grand slams over the years. Fish was born in Edina, Minn., and went to high school in Vero Beach, Fla., before moving to Los Angeles and meeting his wife, Stacey Gardner. “My wife is Jewish and our kids are being raised Jewish. My wife’s parents are very religious and involved in helping out the family. They are very helpful in the day to day and they have been a great support for us,” he said. “I was brought up Catholic and my wife was brought up Jewish. I believe the kids usually
Executive Chef Abhi Sainju
sushi / curry / ramen / momo eclectic cocktails
follow the wife’s family religion. We went that route and I have fully embraced the religion. The main thing I have learned and appreciate is how involved the families are and how supportive everyone is,” he said. “I feel like my mother-in-law is always there and involved. It’s great to have that sort of help from close family.” Fish said he appreciates the chance to play competitively against players who were his contemporaries and those he idolized as he was getting into to tennis. He also looks forward to his return to the Magic City. At the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, “I played on a bus tour with Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi and the Bryan Brothers in 2004, as well as a challenger on clay earlier on in my career,” he said. “I really enjoyed those events. The fans in Birmingham have always been great to me and I look forward to coming back.”
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Munich Jewish tennis club backdrop for “Gift” A Jewish tennis club in Munich provides the backdrop for a new fictional novel “A Backhanded Gift” from author Marshall Jon Fisher. The book from New Chapter Press is available on Amazon.com. Fisher, a tennis player and instructor as well as a writer, burst into prominence in the tennis world back in 2009 with the release of his popular book “A Terrible Splendor,” about the Don Budge-Gottfried von Cramm 1937 Davis Cup match at Wimbledon. Set in the 1980s, “A Backhanded Gift” tells the story of aspiring writer Robert Cherney starting his first novel and teaching tennis to a motley group of men at a Jewish tennis club. But love isn’t just a term for the tennis court in this book that goes from serious to comic. Fisher grew up in Miami and started playing tennis when he was 8 years old. He played varsity tennis at Brandeis University, ending up at number one in doubles and number two in singles on the Division III team in his senior year. “A college teammate who was from Munich got me a job teaching tennis at his club and I spent the better part of two years there. So the setting is based on my time there, but of course the plot is fictional. Very little of what happens in the novel actual-
ly happened. If I had written about my real life in Munich, it would have been pretty boring,” he said. “As a novelist, I’m always looking for something unique in my own experience, outlook or imagination that I can bring to my work,” said Fisher. “I haven’t seen much fiction about teaching tennis or tennis at all really, so I felt I had something new to present.” He said all the clubs in Munich were allowed to hire pros to play for them. Many brought in American college players, such as Fisher, to coach and play. And at the highest level, touring pros would even play for local clubs. “What I remember most, however, is the pristine quality of the beautiful red-clay courts. Even the smallest public facilities had gorgeous clay courts we’d die for here in the U.S.,” he said. After returning from Munich he earned an Master’s in English at City College of New York. He moved to Boston and began working as a freelance writer and editor on topics ranging from wooden rackets to Internet fraud. He wrote two books in 1996 and 1998 with his father, David E. Fisher. One was about the invention of television and the other was about life on other worlds. Fisher now lives in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts with his wife and two sons.
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sports From the JCCs to the Barons front office by Lee J. Green
Chag Sameach from The Pig!
Piggly Wiggly has a rich tradition built over several decades by stores that are locally owned and operated. We are so happy to be back home in Crestline in our new location, with plenty of kosher items in stock. If you don’t see it, just ask & we’ll order it! Happy Passover from all your friends at the Birmingham-area Piggly Wiggly stores! Crestline: 41 Church Street Homewood: 3000 Montgomery Hwy River Run: 3800 River Run Dr Clairmont: 3314 Clairmont Ave and other stores throughout Birmingham pigbham.com
66 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
Jesse Feldman dreamed of becoming a major league baseball player when he was younger. But the new media relations director of the Southern League Double-A Birmingham Barons says having a career in baseball communications is the next best thing. “I knew I wanted to have a job in sports. I love my job every day. It’s such a great environment to be in,” he said. Feldman grew up playing and watching sports at several Jewish Community Centers across the country. He was actually born in Jerusalem, but when he was 2 years old his dad got a job as the executive director at the Charlotte JCC. Feldman’s father would later take the helm at JCCs in Portland, Buffalo and Essex County, N.J.,where Feldman went to high school. His dad is now executive director of the West Palm Beach JCC. Jesse Feldman graduated in 2015 from Ithaca College, where he did a lot of television and radio broadcasting work. After graduation he went to the major/minor league baseball job fair and landed a communications job with the major league Tampa Bay Rays. Following a year there, he landed the job with the Birmingham Barons. “This is my first time in Alabama. Everyone has been very friendly. I want to get more involved in the Jewish community but I got here in January and I have been so busy getting ready for the season,” said Feldman, who got an apartment across the street from the LJCC. In the pre-season, Feldman does a lot of compiling, writing and editing for Barons’ publications, schedules and programs. When the season starts he coordinates media relations, press releases and other necessary communications. Feldman grew up in a Conservative, kosher household. He said he still tries to have at least kosher-style Shabbat dinners as much as possible. This month his parents are coming up from South Florida to visit and to catch some Barons games. The Barons’ season at Regions Field starts with a homestand from April 12 to 16. On opening night Jake the Diamond Dog will entertain. The Rickwood Classic at the oldest baseball stadium in the country, Rickwood Field, will be May 31, which also happens to be Shavuot. “We have some great new promotions including some former players and managers bobblehead give-away nights,” he said. Inside the stadium down the first base line “we also have the new Switchyard on 14th. It’s two airstream trailers. One has some great new foods and one has more than 20 local craft beers.” As of press time, the Barons’ roster had not yet been announced. But there will be another Jewish name on the roster, Feldman said — pitching coach Jose Bautista, from the Dominican Republic.
Alumni, parents and supporters of Birmingham’s N.E. Miles Jewish Day School broke out their wigs and mustaches for a Wig and Stache Bash, the school’s annual gala, held on March 5 at Temple Beth-El.
April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 67
That eclectic menu blends the international cuisine with some Alabama/ Southern flair. A couple examples are momos, steamed Nepalese dumplings of ground turkey in an Alabama tomato vinaigrette, and KFC — in this case, Kathmandu Fried Chicken lollipops with house sweet sauce. Several dishes at Abhi are unique to Birmingham, including lumpia, a Filipino egg roll with turkey, carrots, celery, water chestnuts and house sweet sauce. Abhi Manager Anjanede Overloon said that farmers are currently growing special vegetables for the restaurant that were not previously available here. Those will rotate into gado gado, steamed seasonal vegetables with house peanut sauce. Other unique-to-the-region and kosher-style items at Abhi include Wagyu rendang curry and Nepalese lamb curry. A few years ago, Sainju started Everest Catering and is incorporating some items from that into Abhi as well, and at some point this season the restaurant will start catering. He has done some of the Sushi Shabbat events at Temple Beth-El. Overloon said the initial response to Abhi restaurant has been very positive. “We’ve already seen plenty of repeat customers,” she said. Before long, that dream came true, and Adelman took over on August 15. Rather than make immediate changes, he sat back and “gave it some time” to see what he “could not take off the menu.” He soon discovered that “everyone has their thing” that they insist has to stay on the menu, and pretty much the entire menu falls into that category. Some people said they were looking forward to him changing the whole menu while others insisted he should not change a thing. His task now is “finding the balance of changing some things but keeping the place people love and are attached to.” He said some upcoming additions will include shakshuka, a brisket sandwich and sabich sandwich. While he will do catering for Passover, the restaurant itself will be closed. Adelman grew up in Indiana. He studied in Israel, where his wife to be, Aleeza, was on a two year Pardes Educators Program rogram through the Avi Chai Foundation. Part of the deal was that she had to commit to three years of teaching at a Jewish Day School. After she was hired at the Jewish Community Day School in Metairie, they moved to New Orleans in 2010, took part in the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans’ newcomers program, and he started doing programming at Tulane Hillel. “We thought we’d come here for a couple of years, then go to a larger city with more Jews,” he said. Instead, they are still in the New Orleans area with “a house, two kids and a restaurant,” and she became the Director of Jewish Enrichment for BBYO in 2015, and will cochair the 2018 Limmud New Orleans. How did Adelman go from education to the restaurant business? A few years ago, Shir Chadash did a Shabbat retreat at the Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica. As the Reform camp does not have a kosher kitchen, he was on a committee that planned and prepared the Conservative congregation’s meals beforehand at Shir Chadash and brought everything to the camp. The food got rave reviews, and “I thought that was it.” About five months later, he got a request to cater an 80th birthday lunch with a “very extravagant menu.” Again, he thought that was the last of his experiences in the food business. Then there was a request for a bar mitzvah. “The next thing I knew I had my own catering business,” he said, adding that it came about through word of mouth. He started providing catering for events at synagogues and the Jewish Community Center, then rented the kitchen at the Goldring/Woldenberg Jewish Community Campus in Metairie for his business, also doing the lunch program at Jewish Community Day School. He also had a startup business, Bayou BBQ Cleaners, which deep-cleaned barbecue grills. He has made a few changes at Casablanca to enhance business, including going on the OpenTable website to offer online reservations. To ease the transition, his goal was to keep the staff together, including having Waknin’s daughter, Aline, continue with the restaurant. Adelman noted that roughly 60 percent of Casablanca’s clientele is not Jewish. A lot of the visitors also aren’t from the area. “I never knew how many kosher tourists came through New Orleans until I was here,” he commented. 68 The Southern Jewish Life • April 2017 restaurant is under the supervision of the Louisiana Kashrut
Image: Ted Murphy
300 Summit Blvd #103 Birmingham 205/969-6858 abhiatthesummit.com
Momos 1 lb. ground turkey 1 cup red onions diced 2 tsp. ground coriander 1 tsp. ground cumin 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro 2 tbsp. chopped green onions
2 tbsp. soy sauce 2 tbsp. olive oil 1 tsp. salt 2 tsp. garlic paste 2 tsp. ginger paste Dumpling wrappers
Mix all the ingredients, other than the wrappers, in a big bowl and let marinate for half an hour. Then take one dumpling skin at a time and apply water around the edges. Fill the pocket with the turkey mixture in middle. Fold in half. Pinch edges of each side together, leaving no air pockets inside. Steam all the dumplings in a steamer for 15 to 20 minutes. If steamer is not available, boil in a pot of hot water like a ravioli until it floats on top. Drain. One may also pan fry it after steamed until golden brown. Serves 3-4
Abhi Eatery + Bar by Lee J. Green
Abhi Sainju wanted to make sure his own restaurant would be like a United Nations of cuisine - a melting pot of foods, cultures and traditions. With that in mind he fulfilled a lifelong dream and in late February opened Abhi restaurant at the Summit in Birmingham. Sainju is from Nepal and his wife, Ainah, is from the Philippines. In addition to cuisine from those two countries, Abhi restaurant features dishes from Japan (including a wide array of sushi), Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and India. Soon they plan to start a series of “One Night in…” special events. They will sell tickets and each night will represent a different country with food, music, fashion and entertainment. “My wife and I have traveled around the world and we want to share what we have observed with everyone in our home city of Birmingham,” said Sainju, who, along with his wife, has been in Alabama for more than 20 years and graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “These are not just foods from different countries. They are insight into the cultures of these places.” Last September, the Sainjus traveled to Israel, both saying it was a “remarkable, life-changing trip” to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Last month they also opened up an Abhi food stand in the new Pizitz Building, with a smaller menu than at the Summit. This month, the Summit location will start opening for lunch in addition to the current dinner, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. That location seats 75 to 80 inside plus a few tables on the patio. “Everything we are doing is fresh. We are working with local farmers and starting in April plan to get fresh seafood from the Gulf,” said Sainju. “The beef we serve is naturally raised and we don’t use MSG. Most of our menu is also kosher-style.”
Continued from page 70
The son of a Hasidic rabbi, a leader of the 20th century’s Yiddish literary movement, and winner of the Nobel Prize for inventing a popular brand of sewing machine, Singer helped bring the logical illogic of Chelm to the masses. What makes their stories so relevant? The people of Chelm are blissfully ignorant of their ignorance, while believing they’re the wisest people in the land. If that’s not enough, the people of Chelm stumbled into problems, only to endearingly stumble out of them in the end. They’d take the wrong course to get to the right answer. Or, at least, one that just can’t be argued with. They brought a glimmer of hope and a smile to the faces of people living in similar villages, facing all-too-real versions of the same problems. Whether in Eastern European villages a century ago, or wherever this is read today, the need for that is a truth that can really be held self-evident. Doug Brook’s stage career began under duress, appearing as a narrator in “How the Bagel Saved Chelm.” It went mostly downhill from there. To read past columns, visit http://brookwrite.com/. For exclusive online content, like facebook.com/ rearpewmirror.
> > Abhi
That eclectic menu blends the international cuisine with some Alabama/Southern flair. A couple examples are momos, steamed Nepalese dumplings of ground turkey in an Alabama tomato vinaigrette, and KFC — in this case, Kathmandu Fried Chicken lollipops with house sweet sauce. Several dishes at Abhi are unique to Birmingham, including lumpia, a Filipino egg roll with turkey, carrots, celery, water chestnuts and house sweet sauce. Abhi Manager Anjanede Overloon said that farmers are currently growing special vegetables for the restaurant that were not previously available here. Those will rotate into gado gado, steamed seasonal vegetables with house peanut sauce. Other unique-to-the-region and kosher-style items at Abhi include Wagyu rendang curry and Nepalese lamb curry. A few years ago, Sainju started Everest Catering and is incorporating some items from that into Abhi as well, and at some point this season the restaurant will start catering. He has done some of the Sushi Shabbat events at Temple Beth-El. Overloon said the initial response to Abhi restaurant has been very positive. “We’ve already seem plenty of repeat customers,” she said.
April 2017 • Southern Jewish Life 69
rear pew mirror • doug brook
Taking the Chelm
Soon after The Beginning, as the story goes, the Big G sent out an angel with two sacks. One full of wisdom, one full of foolishness. The mission: to spread them both equally throughout the world. However, the bag of foolishness was heavier and tore, depositing all the foolishness into one place. In recent months, people have had strong opinions about exactly which city that was. However, originally, it was the village of Chelm. Long before Neil Simon decided to write a play inspired by their stories — it was “Fools,” which premiered in 1981 — the wise men of Chelm were the fodder of folktales for generations of Eastern European Jews. Sigmund Freud once said, “The occurrence of self-criticism as a determinant may explain how it is that a number of the most apt jokes… have grown up on the soil of the Jewish popular life. “They are stories created by Jews and directed against Jewish characteristics,” Freud added. “I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character.” Freud’s lesser-known brother, Schaden, used to laugh at his brother’s frustration at being known less for quotes like that and more for a particular brand of envy. Known throughout the world as the fools of Chelm, the village’s serene populace considered themselves the wise men of Chelm. In one of the greatest THE STORIES examples of ignorance being bliss, they OF CHELM ARE couldn’t understand why the rest of the world didn’t understand their thoughtful TIMELESS… insights. UNFORTUNATELY The best place to look at the wise men’s wisdom is with the wisest man of all — the rabbi. For example, one day a girl asked the village rabbi which is more important, the sun or the moon. He answered that the moon is more important. It shines at night when it’s needed, and the sun shines during the day when it’s already light out. Interestingly, the judicial system in Chelm set some interesting legal precedents with as much sense as some of today’s court rulings. One day, a man in Chelm bought a fish to cook. He put the live fish in his coat. The fish slapped his face with its tail. The man went to the court of Chelm to file charges against the fish, which was sentenced to death by drowning. Of course, their unique wisdom blended into everyday life. This included married life, because the people of Chelm would wake up every day and usually remember that they were married. In Chelm, one man’s wife ordered him around constantly. One day, she had several friends over, and wanted to show off her total control of her husband. She ordered him to crawl under the table and, to the great amazement and delight of her friends, he did. She then ordered him to come out. He refused, angrily declaring from under the table, “I’ll show you I’m still master of this house!” Numerous writers have captured the folktales about the people of Chelm. Prominent among them is Isaac Bashevis Singer. continued on the previous page 70 Southern Jewish Life • April 2017
April 2017 â€¢ Southern Jewish Life 71