Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Israel Plastics Company Opening Auburn Plant

An Israeli manufacturer specializing in plastic parts for the automotive industry will open a plant in Auburn, and is slated to begin production in the next few months.

Arkal Automotive USA will open its first U.S. manufacturing operation at the Auburn Technology Park West in a 32,000 square foot facility that has room to expand to up to 110,000 square feet. In the first phase, the project will be an investment of $7.2 million and produce 25 new jobs.

Arkal Automotive is a division of Arkal Plastic Products. The parent company was founded in 1963 at Kibbutz Bet Zera, just south of the Sea of Galilee. Arkal was Israel’s first and largest manufacturer of injection-molded technical parts.

The automotive division was formed in 1997 to take advantage of the company’s expertise in plastics and to provide development, manufacturing and production solutions for the global automotive industry. The company currently has a Canadian facility serving automotive plants in Michigan and Ontario.

“For the last two years ARKAL has collaborated in a partnership with another Auburn-based company. Business at both companies apparently is strong enough to enable both companies to expand beyond that partnership,” explained Auburn Mayor Bill Ham.

“It is a good day for Auburn when a technology-driven company is planning to invest and hire people in our community.”

Ram Drori, general manager of Arkal Automotive Plastic, complimented Auburn’s economic development program. “The pro-business attitude and valuable input provided by the economic development team made the difference over other locations that we evaluated. We are looking for a long and good relationship with Auburn that will support our strategy of growing in this area.” 

Arndt Siepmann, director of industrial development for Auburn, said the company is expected to begin production of components for the Hyundai plant near Montgomery and other automakers in February. The city has been working on the deal since April, passing an incentives package in June and a 10-year tax abatement last month.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Revisiting the Personhood Amendment

An amendment that would classify a fertilized egg as a person for all legal purposes in Mississippi went down to a surprising defeat on Nov. 8, by a 58-42 margin, but the battle is likely just beginning in Mississippi and elsewhere.

Amendment 26, known as the “Personhood amendment” stated that life would be defined as beginning at conception. Personhood USA is promoting these bills nationwide as a way of eliminating abortion. Some charge that the bills would also criminalize some forms of birth control, and have a chilling effect on such procedures as in vitro fertilization, as all embryos would then have rights.

The medical community expressed concern that under the law, ectopic pregnancies could not be dealt with, leading to the death of women.

The Personhood movement is seen as resulting from frustration over the inability of abortion foes to make much of a legal dent in abortion and prompt a Supreme Court showdown over Roe v. Wade. However, many of the groups that oppose abortion did not go to bat for Mississippi 26, saying it was too extreme.

The bill was placed on the ballot after supporters collected 130,000 signatures in 2010.

Part of the coalition of religious leaders opposed to Mississippi 26 was the Jewish community, as Jewish tradition has always given precedence to the mother’s life and well-being.

Three of Mississippi’s four resident rabbis were listed among the faith leaders opposing Mississippi 26 by Mississippians for Healthy Families — Rabbi Debra Kassoff, Rabbi Valerie Cohen and Rabbi Marshal Klaven.

At a press conference with Catholic leaders and other clergy before the vote, Rabbi Debra Kassoff called the bill a “blunt instrument” that would “harm Mississippi women and their families both physically and spiritually.”

Rabbi Cohen said “when a fertilized egg or embryo is putting a mother’s life at risk, the state shouldn’t decide what’s next.” Noting that religious traditions give guidance in such situations, she added the bill would take away some “freedom of religious choice.”

Jewish Women International noted in a statement that Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate in the country, the highest teen birthrate and the highest rate of unmarried pregnancies. “Given these shocking statistics, it’s shameful that anti-choice groups have made this the focus of political debate in Mississippi… lawmakers in Mississippi must bring attention to issues that will actually improve the lives of their constituents.”

The statement concluded, “Actual persons in the Magnolia state deserve better than Initiative 26.”

The National Council of Jewish Women applauded the defeat of the “draconian ballot initiative,” stating that “extremist views do not represent the will of the voters.”

Hadassah also referenced the Mississippi bill, stating Hadassah “is a strong advocate for a woman’s freedom of choice and opposes any attempts to restrict, through state administrative regulations, legislation, or court action, the right to reproductive choice and/or use of family planning programs delivering any and all services.”

Personhood USA states its primary mission is “to serve Jesus by being an Advocate for those who can not speak for themselves, the pre-born child.”

The Mississippi initiative was spearheaded by Les Riley, who founded Personhood Mississippi in 2009. He also chairs the Mississippi Constitution Party, which seeks “to restore our government to its Constitutional limits.”

Riley was also a regular blogger for Christian Exodus, which originally sought to relocate thousands of “Christian constitutionalists” to South Carolina, to set up self-government “based upon Christian principles at the local and state level… with the ultimate goal of forming an independent Christian nation that will survive after the decline and fall of the financially and morally bankrupt American empire.”

The group also promotes “personal secession” through “a home-centered economy, with intentional community, home-schooling, home-gardening, house churches, health-cost sharing, private exchange, unlicenced ministry, and any other way in which we might live free and godly lives in Christ Jesus.”

Recently, Riley’s posts were erased from the Christian Exodus site.

He asked that supporters of 26 “pray not only for victory in the election, but that many people who are outside of Christ would be brought to him by our efforts — even those opposing the amendment.”

For years, abortion opponents have referred to the years since Roe v. Wade overturned laws against abortion as the American Holocaust. That imagery was prevalent in the Mississippi vote as well.

Personhood USA argued that “Denying the humanity of a class of persons may sound familiar; it is… how they justified exterminating the Jews under Nazi Germany. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now.”

At a Tupelo rally the night before the election, Phil Bryant, who won the governor’s race, compared abortion to the Nazis marching Jews to the ovens, and said that if 26 were defeated “Satan wins” and opponents to 26 were saying “we want you to be able to… continue to extinguish innocent life.”

Perhaps the most controversial was the distribution of a video, “180,” that made no bones in comparing abortion and the Holocaust. “Saying it’s OK to choose is the same thing as saying it’s OK for Hitler to choose,” the film stated. It also showed a discussion of the Holocaust that transitioned into a comparison of Nazi Germany with arguments for legal abortion.

Personhood USA claims it sent the video to 600,000 people in Mississippi before the referendum.

The Anti-Defamation League called it “one of the most offensive and outrageous abuses of the memory of the Holocaust we have seen in years.”

Abraham Foxman, ADL national director and a Holocaust survivor, said it tried to make a case against abortion “through the cynical abuse of the memory of those killed in the Holocaust.

“Not only does the film try to assert a moral equivalency between the Holocaust and abortion, but it also brings Jews and Jewish history into the discussion and then calls on its viewers to repent and accept Jesus as their savior.”

Ray Comfort, creator of “180,” responed by saying the ADL should thank him, as doctors who charge for abortions are just like the Nazis who profited from killing Jews. “Every time Hitler killed a Jewish family he lined his pockets by seizing their assets… it amounted to billions of dollars, financing a third of his war-machine with the blood of the Jews.”

Comfort said “Germany lawfully slaughtered six million Jews. America has lawfully slaughtered nearly 10 times that amount.”

Days after the Mississippi defeat, Personhood USA claimed it has passed 1 million signatures nationally on petitions of support for its views. It also stated that a third effort to pass Personhood in Colorado will be launched.

On Nov. 22, Personhood USA released results of a Mississippi survey that showed only 8 percent voted no because they were pro-choice. The organization said it was “shocking” that 31 percent voted no because they thought the bill would ban in-vitro fertilization, which they claimed is a “direct lie from the Planned Parenthood camp.”

The statement claimed Planned Parenthood used Mississippians for Healthy Families as a front group and funneled taxpayer money into the state to defeat the amendment.

“My family and I invested years of work into this amendment, only to have the largest abortion provider in the country invade Mississippi with their anti-family rhetoric,” said Riley. “Knowing that Mississippi voted ‘no’ because of lies from our opponents makes me more determined than ever to try again, defending the rights of all Mississippians.”

He established a Personhood political action committee, and may launch another petition drive for another vote.


Personhood, coming soon to…


Alabama: Sen. Phil Williams of Rainbow City has already pre-filed legislation for the 2012 session that would set a vote for a constitutional amendment similar to Mississippi 26 — with one major difference. His bill defines persons to “include any human being from fertilization and implantation in the womb.”

The rewording is meant to answer some of the issues that were raised in the Mississippi vote, such as in vitro fertilization or some forms of birth control. But the national group Personhood USA has slammed the bill, saying it is watered down by including “implantation,” and vowed to work to defeat it.

Florida: A petition drive is underway for ballot access in the state. Personhood Florida needs almost 677,000 signatures. When the group has 10 percent of the signatures, they can go to the state Supreme Court for approval — amendments are judged at the start of the process, instead of being challenged closer to a vote or even after being approved by voters.

As of mid-November, the Florida group had 20,000 signatures. State law was recently changed to shorten a petition drive to two years; and with a Feb. 1 deadline looming for the November 2012 ballot, the organization is now looking at 2014.

Louisiana: In the October primary, Rep. John LaBruzzo was defeated. He introduced a Louisiana Personhood bill last spring, which was approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee, 10-2, but was sent to the House Appropriations Committee on a 65-30 vote in June, killing the bill.

Opposition to the Louisiana bill came from the Louisiana National Right to Life chapter, the state’s Catholic bishops and the Focus on the Family affiliate, LaBruzzo said.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bonds, Birmingham Federation to Mark 30 Years of Rosh Ha'Ayin Partnership

Next month, Israel Bonds, the Birmingham Jewish Federation and Birmingham Jewish Foundation will team up for a community celebration marking the 30th anniversary of Birmingham’s relationship with Rosh Ha’Ayin.

Mayor Moshe Sinai and Meir Serrouya, head of the Rosh Ha’Ayin Music Conservatory, will be visiting Birmingham for the Dec. 12 event, which will be held at Temple Beth-El at 5:15 p.m. No reservations are necessary. Birmingham Mayor William Bell is also scheduled to speak.

As part of the evening, the Federation and Foundation will present their annual awards.

In 1981, Birmingham was paired with Rosh Ha’Ayin, then a forgotten development town of about 15,000 inhabitants, most of whom moved to Israel from Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949. Project Renewal was an initiative of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin to pair such development towns with Jewish communities around the world; Birmingham’s relationship is seen as one of the strongest from that program.

The relationship began even before Project Renewal, as Birmingham’s Kimerling family built a community center in Rosh Ha’Ayin, which was renovated and rededicated in 2007.

In the mid-1980s, the renowned Rosh Ha’Ayin Mandolin Orchestra made visits to Birmingham, and there was an exchange of young adults for summer camps.

After the 1985 Birmingham Festival of the Arts Salute to Israel, Birmingham-Southern offered a full scholarship to one Rosh Ha’Ayin student.

In the 1990s, Russian and Ethiopian immigration, coupled with industrial development and the building of several new neighborhoods for retired military, swelled the area’s population to almost 40,000. Located at the end of a rail line to Tel Aviv, Rosh Ha’Ayin is now considered a bedroom community for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Rosh Ha’Ayin is building its reputation as Israel’s city of music. Rosh Ha’Ayin groups Meitav, Batterista and the Young Rosh Ha’Ayiners have performed in Birmingham in the last four years. There have also been culinary and educational exchanges, and every community mission from Birmingham includes a visit to Rosh Ha’Ayin.

In 2005, Partnership 2000 was launched, pairing Rosh Ha’Ayin with Birmingham and New Orleans. New Orleans continues its relationship with Rosh Ha’Ayin through P2K’s new name, Partnership 2Gether.

Earlier this year, four celebrity chefs from New Orleans visited Rosh Ha’Ayin to do cooking demonstrations and provide Louisiana-inspired dishes for the dedication of Rosh Ha’Ayin’s promenade.

As a city, Birmingham officially became sister cities with Rosh Ha’Ayin on Nov. 9, 2005. In a first for any city, Birmingham had a simultaneous signing for sister city relationships with an Israeli and an Arab city, Karak, Jordan.

Birmingham had a civic trip to Rosh Ha’Ayin earlier this year. Mayor William Bell, scheduled to be on the trip, had to stay in Birmingham to deal with aftermath of the April 27 tornadoes.

On that trip, Birmingham musician Eric Essix performed at a music festival in Rosh Ha’Ayin. The trip also focused on expanding business ties between the two cities.

At the Dec. 12 event, the Federation will present the annual Joanie Plous Bayer Young Leadership Award to Hilary Gewant. The Young Leadership Award is presented to an individual in the community, age 40 or under, who has already made a mark in volunteer service.

Lisa Engel will receive the Federation’s Susan J. Goldberg Distinguished Volunteer Award. The Foundation will recognize Pat Weil with the N.E. Miles Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to an individual or couple with a lifetime history of philanthropy, and who has endowed an annual campaign gift.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jasper's Jewish Community Remembered in Exhibit


Jasper’s Temple Emanu-El may have closed in 2005, but the Jewish community’s mark on the Alabama town is far from forgotten.

Last month, “The Jewish Families of Walker County” opened at the Bankhead House and Heritage Center, featuring memorabilia, Judaica and photographs from the area’s Jewish community.

The exhibit, which opened in early November, will be on display through Dec. 24.
Paul Kennedy, president of the Walker Area Community Foundation, said the exhibit first came to mind in 2007 when he went into the Emanu-El building. When the foundation opened its permanent home in the historic Bankhead residence, this was one of the first exhibits they wanted to do there.

There was another tie between Sen. William Bankhead and the area’s Jewish history. When Emanu-El had its cornerstone laying in 1922, Bankhead gave an address.
The exhibit, coordinated by Brenda Beard as a “labor of love” because she was “adopted” by the May family.

The exhibit includes replicas of many newspaper advertisements for Jewish-owned stores in Jasper and in coal country, in mining towns like Parrish, Sipsey and Cordova. Life cycle photos span the decades and generations.

Cash registers, medical equipment and other items recall the community’s businesses.
There is a ketubah from 1906 for Gerson and Fannie May, signed by Rev. A Rappaport of Birmingham, with the ceremony taking place in Democrat, Ala.

Photos depict a 1943 wedding of Jerome Newmark and Dolly Frankel at the Greenville Hotel in Greenville, Miss.

The Jasper community has been known for one of the highest per-capita United Jewish Appeal campaigns. Another item of note was when student rabbi Hugo Gryn came for the High Holy Days and dined with the Mitnicks. As it turned out, Gryn was a Holocaust survivor, and George Mitnick had not only liberated the camp he was in, he had signed his liberation certificate. Gryn later became the executive director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

Kennedy said a fun part of the exhibit has been “the gentiles who come in and remember these families and what they did for them, ‘when times were bad they were here for us’,” they would say.

The Bankhead House is at 800 West 7th Street in Jasper.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Isaacson Takes His "Jobs" to New Orleans

New Orleans native Walter Isaacson, making his way through the publicity whirlwind for his runaway best-seller “Steve Jobs,” will speak at the New Orleans Jewish Community Center’s Uptown facility on Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.

The event is a preview of the JCC’s annual People of the Book festival, the bulk of which will take place in early December.

With the Oct. 5 death of Jobs, visionary creator of Apple Computers, sales of the book have skyrocketed to the top of the best-seller lists. The book itself was released on Oct. 24, having been moved up a month due to the intense interest.

The notoriously-private Jobs cooperated with Isaacson on the book, sitting for 40 interviews since 2009. He did not ask for any control over the book, nor did he insist on reading it before publication. “I don’t have any skeletons in my closet that can’t be allowed out,” he said. He set no limits on subject matter, and spoke candidly about friends and rivals.

Isaacson also interviewed over 100 family members, friends, competitors and colleagues to chronicle the inventor’s life.

Isaacson is the CEO of the Aspen Institute and has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine.  He has previously written bestselling biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Henry Kissinger. In 2007, he spoke at the New Orleans JCC about his then-new “Einstein: His Life and Universe.”

A native of the New Orleans Jewish community, Isaacson is a graduate of Isidore Newman School and worked at the Times Picayune.  Following Hurricane Katrina, he was appointed by Governor Kathleen Blanco as vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

The event is free and open to the public, but seating will be limited.  Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event and can also be pre-ordered at the bookseller’s website, www.octaviabooks.com.

Details of the New Orleans People of the Book festival were still being worked out as of press time. The festival will begin on Dec. 6, with the annual Booklover’s Lunch on Dec. 8 at noon. The annual Brunch and Books finale will be Dec. 11 at 10:30 a.m.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Swingin' On A Star benefits NOLA agencies

On Nov. 12, the New Orleans Jewish community will be “Swingin’ on a Star” to benefit Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans, New Orleans Jewish Community Center and Tulane Hillel.

The gala event features entertainment by The Yat Pack, New Orleans-based band offering Swing Era music with Las Vegas flair. There will be a silent auction and live sports and entertainment auction, hosted by Lee Zurik of WVUE-8.

The live auction includes a Rodrigue print, “We Are Marching Again,” signed by Sean Payton and Drew Brees; a week at a four-bedroom home in the Colorado mountains; and a New Orleans weekend including two nights at the Roosevelt, dinner at August and Domenica restaurants and lunch at Luke.

The Silent Auction features specialty items donated by local restaurants, boutiques, jewelers, spas, hotels, and more. Hundreds of items are available at a variety of price points. The silent auction showcases gift certificates from a wide variety of restaurants including Commander’s Palace, Clancy’s, Galatoire’s Restaurant, Gautreau’s, Patois, cafĂ© b, Kyoto and much more.

The auctions include JazzFest passes, original artwork and a spot on a Mardi Gras parade float.

Absentee bidding will be available on the event website until the day of the event.
A raffle, at $100 per ticket, will be for two spots on the April 2012 JFS mission to Cuba.

The 7:30 p.m. event will be at City Park’s newest venue, the Arbor Room at Popp Fountain. For more information on tickets and auction bidding, go to www.swinginonastar.org.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Moses and the Cantor at Beth-El


On Nov. 13, “Moses and the Cantor” will perform at Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El. Baritones Oral Moses and Cantor Daniel Gale will present a musical exploration of vocal works from the Jewish and African-American traditions, including spirituals, Yiddish songs, art songs by Black and Jewish composers, and songs from the American musical theater.

There will be a guest appearance by Temple Emanu-El Cantor Jessica Roskin, and they will be accompanied on piano by Dr. Kathryn Fouse of Samford University in Birmingham, and Judith Cole of Atlanta.

Moses and Gale met at the University of Michigan, where they shared an interest in opera. They began performing together, doing “Songs of Struggle, Songs of Faith: Celebrating the African-American and Jewish Musical Traditions” starting at Saginaw Valley State University and then in several other venues.

In 2005, the two performed “Songs of Struggle, Songs of Faith” at the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, as the kickoff for a year of Holocaust education programs in Birmingham.

They were part of Beth-El’s centennial concert in January 2007, and in 2008, the two were part of the premiere of “Flame Language,” a Holocaust memorial composition by Kennesaw State Associate Professor of Music and Composer-in-Residence Laurence Sherr.

Moses started his music career in Germany in a U.S. Army chorus, then with the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers. He is professor of voice and music literature at Kennesaw State University.

Gale has been cantor at Beth-El since 2005.

The 2 p.m. concert is free and open to the community. Donations will be accepted at the door.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jewish Deli Caught in Alabama Immigration Crossfire

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 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 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.