JCRS Receives Four-Star Rating

New Orleans-based Jewish Children’s Regional Services has been given a four-star rating by Charity Navigator, the highest rating the evaluation service gives.

Ned Goldberg, JCRS executive director, said Harold Steinberg of Memphis asked him at a board meeting in January whether the organization had applied for a rating. Goldberg contacted Charity Navigator, which evaluated the organization’s tax returns and issued the rating in February.

Charity Navigator has rated over 5500 non-profit organizations. According to Ken Berger, president and CEO, “approximately a quarter of the charities we evaluate have received our highest rating, indicating that Jewish Children’s Regional Service executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way, and outperforms most other charities in America.”

The website lists over 200 Jewish charities. Among those listed as four-star organizations are ADL, birthright Israel Foundation, Hadassah, Hillel, and the Jewish Federations of Atlanta and Houston. Jewish National Fund, which had a wave of bad press over its spending in the mid-1990s, leading to a complete organizational shakeup, also received four stars.

The American Jewish Committee received 3 stars, as did B’nai B’rith. The American Jewish Congress received a no-star rating.

There were no other Jewish charities in the SJL coverage area rated by Charity Navigator.

What To Get The Agency That Does Everything

The family of Judy Abroms is having an 80th birthday party for her, and everyone is invited.

Tony Award-winning playwright, poet and performer Sarah Jones will be the featured performer at “Hands Up Together,” the second annual fundraising celebration for Birmingham’s Collat Jewish Family Services, May 4 at the Alys Stephens Center. The performance is being underwritten by the Abroms family in Judy Abroms’ honor, so all proceeds from the evening will benefit CJFS.

Jones is heralded by the national media for her multi-character solo show “Bridge and Tunnel,” originally produced off-Broadway by Oscar-winner Meryl Streep and later becoming a critically-acclaimed long-running hit on Broadway.

She is also a regular guest on NPR programs “Fresh Air” and “Studio 360.” She has appeared on TV shows including “The Today Show,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” “Live with Regis & Kelly,” and on “Sesame Street” as “Ms. Noodle” on the “Elmo’s World” segments. Most recently she has performed live at the White House at the invitation of Michelle Obama for Women’s History Month.

She recently became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, traveling as a spokesperson on violence against children, and performing for audiences from Indonesia to Ethiopia, the Middle East and Japan.

CJFS President Marjorie Perlman said the 7:30 p.m. event “presents a unique opportunity for the Birmingham community to come together and be entertained by a Broadway star with a strong social conscience while also supporting CJFS, an agency that is a recognized leader in providing senior services.”

Proceeds from the evening will be used to continue to build on the agency’s Personal Care program that provides the elderly in Birmingham with the support that they need to be able to age in place with a level of independence. “Additional funding is sorely needed to increase the number of seniors served as well as increase services to those currently in the program,” Perlman said.

CJFS serves all races, religions and ethnic groups in the greater Birmingham area, and has become known as an expert in providing services for the aging population and their families.

“In providing counseling, emergency assistance, and care management, CJFS provides older adults the dignity and peace they so richly deserve,” said CJFS Executive Director Esther Schuster.

Judy Abroms is the event chair, with co-chair Judy Rotenstreich. They are working with a steering committee comprised of members from throughout the Birmingham community.
Tickets to “Hands Up Together” are $100 each and seating is very limited. For reservations call (205) 879-3438 or visit www.cjfsbham.org.

"You Belong in Birmingham" takes Peetluk Tourney

With two new teams added to this year’s Bill Peetluk Memorial Lag B’Omer Softball Invitational, the drama increased exponentially as one of the new teams, “You Belong in Birmingham,” defeated the combined Knesseth Israel/Chabad squad 18-16 in the championship game on April 18.

The winning blast came in the sixth inning as Warren Beth launched a three-run homer onto Montclair Road in front of the Levite Jewish Community Center’s field.

During the tournament’s first seven years, the men’s clubs or Brotherhoods from the three local congregations competed with Mesch AZA for the title. In addition to YBIB, a team from Zeta Beta Tau at the University of Alabama was added this year.

You Belong in Birmingham is a project of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, encouraging young Jewish adults to consider settling in Birmingham and providing a support network for them.

The Peetluk tournament raises money for the Mesch AZA/Magic City BBG Peetluk Scholarship Fund at the Birmingham Jewish Foundation which provides scholarships to Birmingham Jewish teens who need financial assistance to attend youth conventions, leadership training conferences and other national and international programs.

Peetluk was advisor to Mesch AZA in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the early games, YBIB dispatched defending champion Temple Beth-El, 12-10, after an early 8-1 deficit. Eric Goldis drove in four runs for Beth-El, including a home run, but YBIB took the lead in the top of the 6th inning when Nate Lawson stroked a two-run triple. Beth-El's Matt Levey put his congregation back in front in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI hit. YBIB then scored three in the top of the last inning, which included David Lorberbaum's and Matthew Ladden's third hits of the game.

Temple Emanu-El, also a perennial favorite, was eliminated in dramatic fashion by the KI/Chabad team, which was down by three with two outs in the final inning when Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz strode to the plate. He nailed a grand-slam to end the game, 13-12 (see sidebar).

KI/Chabad then defeated ZBT, which was competing less than 12 hours after the fraternity’s “South of the Border” late-night recruitment event.

Mesch AZA took a 3-1 lead against YBIB, but then surrendered 19 consecutive runs. Mesch was led by Jesse Gettinger and his three base hits who along with Yitzi Peetluk were a combined 5 for 5.

Babs Tribute as LJCC Celebrates 50 Years of Theater

Old memories will be revisited and new “Memories” will be made on May 1, as nationally acclaimed Barbra Streisand tribute artist Carla Del Villaggio headlines a gala celebrating 50 years of theatre at Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center.

Theatre LJCC, which was known until the early 1990s as the Center Players, has been a fixture of the local theater scene.

Del Villagio entitles her show “Then and Now… a Tribute to the Artistry of Barbra Streisand.” “I believe that Barbra Streisand is the greatest entertainer of my lifetime. I have been a big fan of hers for many years and I have worked hard to make sure that my tribute to her reflects very favorably as well as respectfully on her illustrious career,” she said. “The show goes back to the ‘vintage Barbra’ of the ‘Funny Girl’ 60s, up through her contemporary performances. There is so much good material to work with.”

Del Villagio lives in Orlando and teaches vocal performance at two colleges in the area. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in vocal performance with a strong concentration on opera.

“Barbra was always my hero and idol growing up but I never thought about a career as a tribute artist. On day a few years ago, my husband (Paul) got me out to sing some karaoke so of course I did some of her songs,” she said. “He and some friends convinced me to enter the Sunburst Convention of Professional Tribute Artists in Orlando (in 2006). I was encouraged by the response and thought I would see where this would go. That’s when things took off.”

Even though Del Villagio had been told she sounded like Streisand when she sang and spoke, the college professor starting doing a great deal of homework on the celebrity. “I studied her dialect, her mannerisms, and her vocal style. I had been trained and performed as a classical (and operatic) singer and I had to learn Barbra’s ‘Broadway’ style,” she said.

In 2006, Del Villagio got to see Streisand perform live in South Florida and started to get some bookings for her tribute act. It started with private events and crescendoed into Jewish community centers along with synagogues across Florida, then across the Southeast.

“I have seen her perform live, but I have never met her. If I did I would be so awe struck I wouldn’t know what to say,” she said. Del Villagio has some friends in California who are friends with Streisand’s agent. She isn’t certain, but believes Streisand has seen videos of her tribute act and is pleased. “If she has seen it and I am sure she can see how much love and admiration I have for her work. I know she has even hired tribute acts to perform at parties, so she is positive about us.”

At one of Del Villagio’s JCC performances, an elderly woman was moved to tears by the program. “She was a Holocaust survivor. I was really moved at how it moved her. Barbra does that to people and I hope I can bring a lot of that out in my performances,” she said.

Del Villagio was the 2008 winner of Agent’s Best Impressed Award at the Sunburst Convention of Professional Tribute Artists; 2009 winner of the Overall Best Celebrity Re-Creation Award, and the 2009 Rising Star Award at the Celebrity Impersonator Convention in Las Vegas.

Through she has performed in a few cities across the region, this will be her first time in Birmingham. “Paul and I are looking forward to exploring the city as well as getting to know the fine community. We’ve heard some wonderful things about the LJCC and its rich history of theatrical entertainment,” said Del Villagio.

General admission for the 8 p.m. performance is $25 per ticket for the special evening. VIP tickets can be purchased for $50 each ($50 for 50 years) and include preferential reserved table seating; wine with a cheese plate and photo opportunities. A VIP table for eight can be purchased for $350 (the cost of seven tickets). Reserve at www.bhamjcc.org or by calling (205) 879-0411.

Calling Jewish Saints to Celebrate Breesus

With the New Orleans Saints’ spectacular rise this past season, it was inevitable that the team would be spoken of in Biblical terms.

As the victories continued, quarterback Drew Brees was dubbed “Breesus,” which led to a question for Jewish Saints fans — with such a Christological reference being given to Brees, how does one express support?

Why, by joining Jews for Breesus, of course.

Of course, given the identity of the group that the name is a parody of, there were some misgivings, including from the founder of Jews for Breesus himself. Still, that did not prevent over 1000 fans from joining the Facebook page that was established on Dec. 1.

“When I first heard the nickname, Breesus, I thought it was funny,” said New Orleans native Gadi Soued, who started the Facebook group. “But as a Jew, I also thought that it was a little weird for me to be using a nickname that was based on a messiah that I didn’t believe in. But as the name grew on me, I just decided to take it to its logical conclusion. If I believed in Breesus, I would tell everyone that I was a Jew for Breesus. At the end of the day, it’s really all just in good fun, right?”

It isn’t the first time a local Jewish group has played off that name. In 2005, the Krewe du Jieux used “Jieux for Cheesus” as its parade theme.

Soued is a first-generation American. His father was born in Syria and fought in Israel’s War of Independence. According to Soued, he loved the Saints “so much that they used to make him sick to his stomach.”

His mother was born in Egypt and emigrated to Israel in the 1950s. While she “doesn’t know the first thing about football,” being in New Orleans one becomes a Saints fan regardless.

He and his older brother went off to college in the early 1990s and did not return to New Orleans, but “my brother and I love the Saints.”

Now living in Boca Raton, Soued said he enjoys the looks people give him when he says he is from New Orleans. There, “everyone is a Jew from Long Island, or New Jersey, or New England, or somewhere up North.”

Though he had not lived in New Orleans for years, when Katrina hit in 2005 “I just felt so helpless and a little bit guilty.” His childhood home was under water, as was Beth Israel, the congregation where he grew up.

Last year, he came to New Orleans for the United Jewish Communities Young Leadership conference, TikkuNOLAm, where the agenda included a community service project in St. Bernard Parish. But that wasn’t his first trip back after Katrina — in 2006 he was there for the reopening of the Superdome, the Saints-Falcons Monday Night Football extravaganza. He also went to the playoff game against the Eagles.

Being near the Super Bowl, he and his brother were both there to see the Saints win. He noted that his father was watching the game from above — he died in 1988, never having seen his beloved Saints win a single playoff game. “I know he was smiling that day,” Soued said.

At the game, they sat next to a woman in her 40s who was carrying a picture of her father, who had recently died. “She held the picture up… so he could watch it.” He added, “it’s an indication of the passion that Saints fans have for their team, and how the Saints and family are so intertwined.”

Now that the season and the celebrations are over, he is unsure about the future of the Jews for Breesus group. One recent post is about another dilemma for Jewish Saints fans — next season’s home opener? The second night of Rosh Hashanah.

Tree of Remembrance: Birmingham Groups Gather to Plant Anne Frank Tree

Several Birmingham organizations will join together this month to dedicate a horse chestnut tree, similar to the one that inspired Anne Frank during her years of hiding during the Holocaust, at one of Birmingham’s “sacred spots” for civil rights.

The original tree in Amsterdam narrowly escaped being cut down two years ago. An aggressive fungus has taken hold, and almost half of the wood is rotten. The tree’s structure has been stabilized, and it could stand for another five to 15 years.

Last year, the Anne Frank Center USA announced that it was distributing 11 saplings from the tree to sites across the United States, and applications were being accepted for places that wanted them.

A group of Birmingham organizations, citing the city’s history as a civil rights era battleground, applied for one sapling to be placed in Kelly Ingram Park, which is now called “a place of revolution and reconciliation.” When it was announced that Birmingham would not be one of the sites selected, organizers decided to press on with a similar tree at the same site.

The dedication, “Roots of Courage; Branches of Hope” will be held on April 11 at 1 p.m. at the park. The community is invited.

Max Herzel, a local Holocaust survivor, and Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor of the 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, will both speak. There will also be the announcement of the winner of a “Roots of Courage, Branches of Hope” poetry contest for Jefferson County eighth graders.

The event is being sponsored by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham Public Library, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Birmingham Holocaust Education Committee, all of whom were part of the original proposal last summer.

James Horton, director of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, oversaw site selection and is caring for the tree before planting.

Joel Rotenstreich, former JCRC chairman who formed the project committee last summer, said there are several varieties of horse chestnut trees. “We have been careful to locate and buy the specific Aesculus Hippocastanum variety that was outside Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam.”

He said one crucial step was the support of Melvin Miller and the members of the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board, for approving the placement of the tree and plaque in the park.

Though Birmingham was not selected for a sapling from the Amsterdam tree, another Southern civil rights site was.

Two of the trees will be in Arkansas — one at Little Rock Central High, where the “Little Rock Nine” integrated schools in 1957 while 1200 soldiers kept order, and one at the Clinton Library in Little Rock.

Other sites include Boston Common, where there are other monuments to liberty; the Southern Cayuga Central School District, near where the women’s rights movement is said to have started; Holocaust centers in Seattle and Farmington Hills, Mich.; at a statue of Anne Frank in Boise, which was previously vandalized by white supremacists; and Sonoma State University in California, where an exhibit was established by one of Anne Frank’s schoolmates who is an Auschwitz survivor.

Three sites were chosen before the contest began — the White House, Ground Zero in New York City, and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, home of the “Power of Children” exhibit that honors Anne Frank.


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