Controversy to the Max: Caught in Alabama's Immigration Turmoil

It might seem hard to believe, but a flashpoint in Alabama’s current battle over a new law against illegal immigration is a Jewish deli.

The law in question, HB56, is being litigated now, but is seen as the strictest in the country. A provision that the government can not enter into a contract with illegal immigrants now means that those renewing a car tag or driver license have to demonstrate citizenship, which has led to outrageous lines in some counties. Many in the Hispanic community, assuming a wave of racial profiling whether they are legal or not, have already started leaving the state.

On Oct. 12, Steve Dubrinsky, owner of Max’s Deli in Birmingham, was quoted in the Birmingham News about how he was fearful of losing his nine-person kitchen staff, who are all legal immigrants from Mexico. There was an immediate backlash.

On his way to work, Dubrinsky was listening to Matt Murphy’s radio show, where callers were castigating Dubrinsky for supposedly employing illegals, and Murphy was challenging Dubrinsky on the legal status of his workers — figuring that if they are indeed legal, they have nothing to worry about. If they are concerned, he figured, they must be hiding something.

Some callers recommended a boycott of Max’s, and after some bloggers also got hold of the story, dozens of negative reviews of Max’s suddenly appeared online. “We got 90 negative reviews on Google in one day,” he said, along with hundreds of negative emails.

Over the next couple of days, Murphy and Dubrinsky went back and forth on the issue, with Murphy challenging Dubrinsky for documentation or at least to use e-Verify. Dubrinsky found out that e-Verify can not be used on current employees, nor is it legal to use it on potential employees until they are offered a job.

Many of the workers at Max’s came with Dubrinsky from a Mexican-themed restaurant he previously was involved with.

After a few days, Murphy said he was satisfied that Max’s workers are legal. He said he did not call for a boycott, though on his show he asked if Alabamians should boycott businesses that knowingly hire illegals. In general, though, he said boycotts aren’t done by conservatives and libertarians; they are the domain of “group-think” liberals.

There was a boycott in the state, though — on Oct. 12, the Hispanic community staged a walkout statewide to show their impact on the economy. Many places were closed for the day, but Dubrinsky said he convinced his staff to work lunch, then they closed early, at 5 p.m.

National and international coverage over the controversy exploded. The Huffington Post did an article on the difficulty Max’s is facing even with documented workers, and Dubrinsky was interviewed on NPR and Telemundo, among others. He was deluged with hundreds of emails of support from all over the world, and 300 friend requests on Facebook.

In one local article, Dubrinsky referred to Murphy as an “a—h---” for getting all this rolling, so on Oct. 27 Murphy said he would donate $100 to the Max’s Deli Brown Bag Project for Canterbury United Methodist Church if he could get through lunch there without anyone calling him that. Dubrinsky quipped “in fun” that he’d give $1 for each person who did. In all, eight did, which Murphy said was “a normal Thursday.” He still made the donation, which Dubrinsky matched.

Afterward, Murphy said the whole thing boiled down to “Good guy. Good food. Difference of position.”

Dubrinsky has few nice words for “lawmakers who created this… Why didn’t they think about” what would happen if 100,000 undocumented workers were suddenly pulled out of the state’s work force.

He’s not supporting illegal immigration, Dubrinksy stressed. “I don’t support this law. I support immigration reform.” Most people he speaks with are also in the middle — that something has to be done about illegal immigration, but this was not the way to fix it.

He is skeptical of claims that the immigrants are taking jobs away from citizens. He related a job offer he recently made to a woman who decided that her government benefits were more lucrative than a job at Max’s that pays above average for that position. Also, efforts to bring the unemployed into tomato fields to replace immigrants who disappeared have been a failure, with reports that as few as 1 in 50 are sticking with it for more than a few days.

A large disappointment, Dubrinsky said, is immigration is being talked about around the world when Alabama comes up — not the football team’s success, the state’s growing auto industry, cutting-edge AIDS research or any number of charitable efforts.

Alabama-native Sabra looks to promote Israeli products

Yes, Sabra is her real name. No, she is not and never has been Israeli or Jewish. But the Fairhope, Ala., resident is now embarking on a large-scale plan to promote Israeli-made products across America.

Sabra Joines is currently laying the groundwork for Sabra Style, finding vendors and investors. “There are so many supporters of Israel, and they want to know practical ways to support Israel,” she said.

At first, she thought about opening a storefront in Fairhope and featuring Israeli products, but the idea grew into something much larger — distribution and home shopping.

Our October Cover

For those of you wondering about the pictures on our October issue cover, here is where they are, from left to right, top to bottom:

Goldberg's in Greenwood, Miss.

Cohen's in Lexington, Miss.

The street marker in front of the defunct Henry Kline Memorial Congregation in Rolling Fork, Miss.

Congregation B'nai Israel, Monroe, La.

Temple Beth El, Pensacola, Fla.

Tzedakah box at Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, in the shape of the building.

Temple Beth Shalom, Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.

Chapel at Ramah Darom, Clayton, Ga.

Historical marker at first site of what is now Springhill Avenue Temple, Mobile, Ala.

Gemiluth Chassodim, Alexandria, La.

Temple Shalom, Lafayette, La.

Shir Chadash, Metairie, La.

Elvis store, on the road to Jerusalem

Windows from Temple B'nai Israel, Florence, Ala.

Bama Hillel to Rededicate Torah

The dedication of the new Bloom Hillel Center at the University of Alabama will be completed in November with the return of Hillel’s recently-restored Torah.

The building was dedicated in April after a four-year planning and construction process. The previous Hillel was located on a prime spot across from Bryant-Denny Stadium; the new facility is part of the so-called “God Quad” area that also includes the Lutheran, Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Baptist student centers.

It is also located across the lawn from Tuscaloosa’s new Temple Emanu-El, which was also recently dedicated.

The Torah dedication will be Nov. 13 at 1 p.m., and is open to the community, with a dessert reception following. A luncheon will be held beforehand with religious leaders from around the region, including representatives of major Jewish organizations. The state’s congregational rabbis are all being invited to the dedication.

The Torah will be danced into the building under a chuppah, and there will be live klezmer music. Rabbi Bernard Honan of Huntsville, who was Hillel’s rabbi in the 1970s, will officiate, along with Rabbi Steven Jacobs. Jacobs is rabbi of Tuscaloosa’s Emanu-El, and holds the Aaron Aronov Chair of Judaic Studies at Alabama.

Honan, the only rabbinic Torah scribe in the Reform movement, has been restoring the Torah, which has been held in safekeeping at Birmingham’s N.E. Miles Jewish Day School for the last three years while Hillel was in temporary facilities. His son, Michael Honan, is co-chair of the University of Alabama Hillel Foundation.

The Torah, which was donated over 50 years ago, will be housed inside an ark that features hand-wrought iron doors created by artisan blacksmith Steve Davis of Sunheart Metalworks of Tuscaloosa.

Dan Nichols and E18hteen Plan Southern Sukkot Tour

Sukkot is a holiday about temporary dwellings — and that gave musician Dan Nichols an idea, which has transformed into the Road to Eden concert tour of the South for Nichols and his band, e18ghteen. They will be traveling through the region in an RV — a temporary dwelling.

The tour starts Oct. 12 in Pensacola, then follows a packed schedule through Oct. 21 in Indiana. A film crew will be following along, making a film version that is slated to be released in November 2012.

Nichols said he is “thrilled” at the response his idea has received. He wanted to come up with a way to do a series of concerts several nights in a row, and make it available to smaller communities that might not ordinarily be able to bring in his band.

He also had musical reasons for wanting to do that type of tour. Usually he plays one or two dates somewhere in the country, flying in from Raleigh, N.C., while his band comes in from Nashville. Sound check serves as rehearsal, they do the show and then head their separate ways.

During the summer, he visits 15 to 20 Jewish summer camps, working from 7 a.m. to midnight. He has been at Jacobs Camp for the last 12 summers.

Being in the RV for 10 days, he and his band will have plenty of time to work together, socialize and fine-tune each show. “It’s rare we get that opportunity,” he said. Despite what seems to be a hectic schedule for the tour, “to me this looks like heaven.” Having a driver who is donating much of his time also will help give the band time together.

At each stop, the RV will be part of the background for the concert, and they will have a sukkah next to it. In some communities, there will be a potluck dinner and people will bring their lawn chairs, he said.

The tour is being sponsored by the Henry S. Jacobs Camp, the Goldring Family Foundation First-Time Camper program, and “I wasn’t prepared for others to be as excited about it.”

He especially likes the involvement of Jacobs Camp, which will do a presentation at each of the concerts up to St. Louis. “I love that, since I’m a product of Jewish summer camping.”

Jonathan Cohen, Jacobs Camp director, said when he heard Nichols wanted to tour the South, “in a recreational vehicle, no less — we couldn’t resist the opportunity to get on board… We are so excited to help bring a great musician with a great message to so many of the communities we serve. What a great way to celebrate Sukkot and Simchat Torah!”

The Goldring program, administered by the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana, issues a $1,000 grant to first-time campers going to a Jewish non-profit sleepaway camp. It is open to residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and northwest Florida.

Nichols started attending the URJ Goldman Union Camp in 1979 at age 10, near his native Indianapolis. In some ways, he hasn’t left, now serving as artist-in-residence for the 14 Reform camps.

It was at Goldman Union “that I learned to play guitar, got my first songleading job (and) fell in love with Jewish singing.” The final concert in the tour will be at Goldman Union, “a big celebration, a big last hurrah” and homecoming.

He and his band released their first CD, “Life,” in 1996. He has been a featured presenter at the URJ Biennial, Limmud in England, and the National Federation of Temple Youth national convention.

He and the band did a Chanukah concert for broadcast on XM in 2008, and also did a live simulcast concert at Masada that year for Israel’s 60th birthday and NFTY’s 50th anniversary.

Doug Passon of D Major Films is doing the film. Nichols is also planning to blog from the road.

The tour kickoff will be at Pensacola's Temple Beth El on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m., following a 6 p.m. family Sukkot service. The concert is free and open to the community.

In Dothan on Oct. 13, there will be a hot dog dinner at 6 p.m., followed by a short Sukkot service and the concert. It will all take place outdoors at Temple Emanu-El, weather permitting.

The Birmingham events on Oct. 14 will be inside Temple Emanu-El, with a heavy hors d’oeuvres reception at 5 p.m. before the 6 p.m. concert.

In Montgomery, the band will perform at Temple Beth Or at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 15 with the gospel group Tribe of Judah, a student group from Alabama State University.

The New Orleans concert on Oct. 16 at 11 a.m. is co-sponsored by Temple Sinai, Touro Synagogue, Gates of Prayer, the JCC, BBYO, JewCCY, Jacobs Camp and Jewish Children’s Regional Service, which will break from its gift-wrapping program for the concert. The concert will be at the Jewish Community Center in Metairie.

In Baton Rouge, the concert is sponsored by Beth Shalom, B’nai Israel and the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge. It will be held at the Louisiana State Police Training Academy auditorium on Independence Boulevard on Oct. 16 at 4 p.m.

The Jackson concert will be in Beth Israel’s “backyard” at 6 p.m. on Oct. 17, with audience members invited to bring a picnic basket, lawn chair “and enough dessert to share.”


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