Saturday, April 28, 2012

Purchase of Birmingham Festival Center has Israeli ties

For those in the Birmingham area looking to “buy Israel,” the effort just got a lot easier, in one sense.

The Eastwood Festival Center on Crestwood Boulevard, home to a Home Depot and The Edge 12 movie theater, was just acquired by Mark Gold of Buyer’s Group and Skyline International Development of Canada, and is being renamed the Crestwood Festival Center.

Skyline is owned by founder Gil Blutrich and his Israeli development company, Mishorim Group. The Israel Land Development Company acquired around 30 percent of the company in 2001.

Southpace Properties of Birmingham manages the property, and said that Skyline plans to invest millions of dollars into the property. The parking lot’s spaces have already been repainted, and additional lighting, painting and landscaping are already planned, along with new signage.

Festival opened in 1989 but since then the entire area has transformed. Nearby Eastwood Mall dwindled and closed, then recently was razed and a new center, anchored by Super Wal-Mart, opened. Century Plaza, just down from Festival, outlasted Eastwood Mall but continued to lose tenants and is now vacant.

Festival is about 65 percent occupied and has numerous empty spaces, but four leases for about 50,000 square feet are currently being negotiated. The entire complex is just over 300,000 square feet.

One new tenant will be the Birmingham Police Department, which is being given a free 3,000-square-foot space for a substation and community outreach center.

According to the Birmingham Business Journal, former owner DDR Corp. had been asking $7.34 million for the property, which the county values at $5.6 million. Skyline reportedly bought the center for $3 million.

In December, Skyline bought the Cleveland Arcade, the first major indoor shopping center in the United States, for $7.7 million at a sheriff’s auction. The previous owners had put more than $70 million into renovations before defaulting. That was Skyline’s first purchase in the U.S.

Additional Skyline purchases have been in Las Vegas, St. Petersburg and Los Angeles since then.

Skyline also owns the Horseshoe Resort in Canada, the historic King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto, and other office buildings, shopping centers and hotels, including the Pantages Suites Hotel and Spa, and Cosmopolitan Hotel in Toronto.

ILDC is one of the oldest companies in Israel, founded in 1908.

Detroit Tigers player from Montgomery arrested after anti-Semitic tirade


Delmon Young, who was born in Montgomery and currently plays outfield for the Detroit Tigers, was arrested in New York City on Friday morning after what is being described as a drunken anti-Semitic tirade and assault.

He was arraigned in Manhattan criminal court, charged with aggravated harassment. The charge could be upgraded to a hate crime, and could result in up to a year in jail.

Officers were called to the Hilton Hotel, where the Tigers are staying during this weekend’s series with the New York Yankees, at 2:41 a.m. According to reports, he was outside the hotel as a group of four tourists from Illinois were approached by a panhandler who was wearing a yarmulke and Star of David necklace.

As the men took out some money, Young allegedly shouted “you bunch of f---ing Jews” and attacked the group. He pushed Jason Shank of Schaumberg, Ill., into a wall and tackled him, scratching up his arm.

The four then ran into the hotel with Young following, but Young was stopped by a guard. After the police arrived, Young was taken to a hospital, reportedly to sober up, before being processed. He was released Friday evening on $5,000 bond.

The New York Post reported that Young’s lawyer, Dan Ollen, said something was said to Young that caused him to react. He added that “there are many false allegations regarding the actions of my client.”

In a statement, Young said “I sincerely regret what happened. I take this matter very seriously and assure everyone that I will do everything I can to improve myself as a person and player.”

The Tigers said “this is an allegation, and we need to allow the legal process to take its course. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time.”

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement saying “Bigoted words are unbecoming for any professional sports player and anti-Semitism certainly has no place in the game, either on or off the field… We hope that Mr. Young will take the necessary steps to apologize and ensure that his alleged anti-Semitic words do not reverberate and do lasting harm.”

Young was born in Montgomery in 1985. His father was a recruiter for the Navy, stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base.

He was the first pick for Tampa Bay in the 2003 draft, playing in his hometown with the Class-AA Biscuits in 2005. That year he was the Southern League’s Most Valuable Player.

In 2006, Young was suspended for 50 games while playing for the Durham Bulls for throwing a bat at an umpire.

Update: The Detroit Tigers announced today that Young was placed on the restricted list and will undergo an alcohol and anger management evaluation on Monday. He will be out for an undetermined length of time.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Remembering the April 27 tornadoes

One year ago today, a series of dozens of tornadoes caused a wide path of destruction through many areas of Alabama. Almost 250 were killed.

Recovery efforts are ongoing, with Jewish groups from across the country coming to help rebuild homes near Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.



About 20 members of Temple Beth Or in Dayton, Ohio, recently spent Spring Break working on tornado recovery in Pratt City, near Birmingham, as the region continues to rebuild from the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak. They are pictured above on the steps of the historic 16th Street Baptist Church, with Hebrew Alabama T-shirts from the Birmingham Jewish Federation. They worked with Christian Service Mission in rebuilding efforts.

Members of the Temple Beth-El Brotherhood in Birmingham spent a day working in Pratt City in late March, while a few blocks away students from the Hillels at San Diego State University and the University of California-Santa Cruz worked to finish Mary Patterson’s home. The Hillel groups were among those coordinated by the Jewish Disaster Relief Corps, which is being housed at Knesseth Israel.

The Jewish groups have been working side by side with Islamic Circle of North America relief groups.

Southern Discomfort: Jewish culinary historian's trip explores roots on both sides of slavery

On May 23, culinary historian Michael Twitty of the Washington D.C. area will embark on a two-month journey through the South that will explore his family history through food.

In what he is calling the Southern Discomfort Tour, he plans to visit plantations where his ancestors were enslaved, meet long-lost relatives and dine with the descendants of “the people who owned my family,” some of whom he is likely related to through his white great-great-great-grandfather, Capt. Richard Henry Bellamy, who fought for the Confederacy and was captured in Vicksburg.

He also plans to say Kaddish at the graves of ancestors and learn more about the Jewish roots in his family, and Jewish influences in his culinary research.

His uncle had recorded oral histories that mentioned his family in northern Alabama having Jewish roots, and Twitty learned about it when working on a school genealogy project. He figures the Jewish person where part of his family comes from likely came from central Europe in the 19th century. “I’m still trying to discern where those links will take me,” he said.

In 2002 Twitty underwent an Orthodox conversion to Judaism. In 2004 he ignored “the current campus hype which likens Israel to apartheid era South Africa” and went on an AIPAC trip to Israel to find a “connection” to “my people, to my land.” While there, “My beloved grandmother waved from the river banks she once praised in song as chilly and wide, as I rafted down the Jordan. In that nexus, my prayer book met my grandmother’s spirituals, and staring at my reflection in those waters, my soul made sense.”

Being Jewish is a major component of his role as a culinary historian, with Judaism’s “use of the material to express the spiritual — with food being a major form of midrash.” He went from an African-American background into a Jewish background, then back again with influences from “the seder, the Haggadah, and the use of food to tell stories, relate history, and give an ennobling power to what it means to be ethnic, to have tradition, to a part of a particular people. “Each side informs the other,” he added.

That is true of cuisine as well, he noted. “Where both African and Jewish Diasporas collide, amazing culinary activity happens.” He is “almost certain” deep frying is an African and Jewish contribution to Southern cuisine.

“I am working on a larger project on my own cooking which incorporates that story of the intersections, similarities and contrasts between the food of the African and Jewish Diasporas,” he said.  “We’ve been in a lot of the same places, cooked similar foods and influenced each other’s cooking for centuries.”

In addition to his culinary work, he teaches at Jewish schools in the Washington area and is good friends with the sister of Rabbi Michelle Goldsmith of Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El. “They have become part of my Jewish family over the past few years,” he said.

He added that he “can’t wait to come to Birmingham” for the first time, which he likens to his “Poland” — the birthplace of his grandparents before the Great Migration to the North. “I want to get to know what life is like for Jews in Alabama,” he noted.

Through his website, The Cooking Gene, Twitty works to demonstrate how learning about “the foodways” from slave times is a “vehicle to demonstrate the importance of knowing about the individual lives of enslaved people.” It is “an act of culinary preservation and cultural pride.”

Especially during his time in Louisiana and Mississippi, he plans to trace plantations and sites of memory where his ancestors were enslaved. He also will dig up genealogical information. But a main focus of the trip is cooking and educating, doing workshops and conducting community service activities.

“We want to transform how our ancestors are remembered, but we want to better the lives of all people today,” he said, calling attention to food deserts and small-scale local food producers. To that end, he wants to “use the medium of food to promote social justice work, racial reconciliation and healing, and better access to quality food in the communities I visit.” He hopes the trip will “promote the kind of dialogue and community work that will lead to better understanding and a better future.”

He mentions the oft-used term of “racial” strife but asserts “we are only one human race.”

While he has seven community service projects lined up that involve food and promote inter-ethnic cooperation, “we are still looking for more projects — so if anyone has something in a major community we can participate in, that’s great.”

He and his traveling team plan “on doing a lot of historic cooking demonstrations so people can understand what a tough job being the cook actually was, and so they can get a sense of what these women and men of old had to endure and what they created in spite of it.” He believes “Southern food culture is one of the most beautiful and culturally refined American cuisines with an incredible geographic and historical breadth and diversity.”

He has done well over 100 presentations at plantations, historic sites and universities. In many cases, he is “horrified” by how Southern plantations and museums annihilate and obfuscate slavery. “It’s as if the buildings emerged like mushrooms or the food spontaneously appeared.  That’s unhelpful in terms of inter-ethnic relationships where people don’t really understand what slavery was about.”

As a long-time Holocaust educator, he asks “what is the cost of not knowing this story and not preventing its future manifestations?”

 His itinerary will include Alabama stops in Anniston, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile, along with Russell County, where Bellamy is buried; Oxford, Jackson, Vicksburg and Natchez in Mississippi; Donaldsonville, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette in Louisiana. He is open to additional programs, presentations and workshops along the way. “We want to be of benefit to every community we visit.”

The tour will be photographed and filmed, “blogging about our experiences as they happen — and give elders, farmers and food producers out there a voice. Hopefully our work will culminate in a book and/or documentary, but first comes the journey.”

He isn’t embarking on a blame-the-South tour. “I have always defined myself as a Southerner,” he points out. As for white families he encounters, “I’m not looking for anything but any relevant information about our family history and an opportunity to cook with them and share details about our respective families.  I am actually pretty emotional about the idea that there are people out there of all colors that I share blood with.”

He has “no good blood for the philosophies that ripped my family apart from its homelands and exiled them and ripped their families apart in slavery,” but as a Hebrew School teacher with a curriculum on the Holocaust “I know what it means to have a measured take on the pains of the past and move forward.”

To fund the trip, he is relying on “crowdfunding” through Indiegogo, where he has giving levels based on chai and double-chai. He hopes to raise at least $8000 to fund the trip, and was about half-way there as of late April.

“A lot of social justice work is happening with this trip, and we are doing out best to help out communities across the South where folks are in need of exposure for their work, their farms, their restaurants, their community programs,” he said.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

J Street trying to make Washington inroads

By Allison Good

Special to Southern Jewish Life

Attendees to this March’s J Street conference in Washington were surprised by the appearance of Barukh Binah, the Netanyahu government's deputy chief of mission to Israel's embassy in Washington.

Binah was among many Israelis who spoke at the conference, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert, acclaimed author and activist Amos Oz, social protest leader Stav Shaffir, and the mayor of the town of Yerucham. They represented a wide spectrum of political perspectives, from the right-wing government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, to the centrist Kadima party, to the liberal left.

“We need you to stand with us," said Binah, the first Israeli government representative to ever address the pro-Israel, pro-peace group, during J Street's gala dinner. "It is as simple as that and someone ought to say it. Internal activism is a central part of democratic society, but pressures on the elected government of Israel can present us with a problem, especially when we need you the most.”

He added that, at the end of the day, it is Israelis, not Americans, who “may have to pay the ultimate price.”

“Our borders are curved and dusty, and made of missiles and mayhem, and as we continue to face incurable threats we have to make decisions of life and death,” Binah explained. “We... have no margins of error, none whatsoever.”

Binah also begged the audience not to forget its past.

“While our view is always toward the future, we dare not forget our past,” he said. “Please do not tell me that it is no longer relevant because it is. It is alive and scorching. I urge you to stand by our side... as Jews for the sake of our forefathers and our future.”

Though his speech garnered more booing than applause, Binah seemed to think his words had been well-received.

“I thought they responded well,” he told Southern Jewish Life. “Many people approached me afterward and told me I said something that had to be said.”

Olmert, who has been indicted on corruption charges for seeking bribes in a Jerusalem real estate scandal, followed Binah with a much-applauded rallying cry for a two-state solution, invoking the peace plan he presented to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, in September 2008.

“I thought then and I thought now that there is no alternative to what I proposed, and one day... when we will celebrate peace with the Palestinians, this peace will be identical to what I proposed to Abu Mazen finally and officially on September 16, 2008,” he declared.

The Olmert Plan proposed a two-state solution along the pre-Six Day War 1967 borders and the annexation of 6.3 percent of the West Bank, an area home to a large Jewish population.

The former prime minister’s comments on the final status of Jerusalem were both firm and sobering.

“It is impossible to have a city with 500,000 people who are privileged and have all the advantages and benefits of what a city can offer, and 250,000 who are not at the same level, to put it mildly,”Olmert said about Jerusalem's disenfranchised Palestinian population.

Regarding the Holy Basin and Temple Mount, he asked the audience to “cry” with him.

“It was hard to offer to Abu Mazen that there should be no sovereignty over the Temple Mount — not yours, and not ours,” Olmert said. “Don't applaud with me, cry with me, but understand that for a Jew to offer this is possible only if you have reached the inevitable conclusion that if you want to live in peace and secure the future of the Jewish people in the State of Israel as an independent democratic Jewish state, this is a conclusion that you have to make, and I proposed it.”

Famed Israeli author Amos Oz agreed with Olmert.

“Let us wave no flag over the disputed holy places, let us make the necessary arrangement that everyone can pray freely and comfortably and proudly in the holy places,” he declared during the opening plenary. “There can be no happy ending.”

Shaffir, one of the leaders of Israel’s social protest movement, said that young Israelis are particularly pessimistic about the country’s political process.

“The young citizens of our country have quite a different perspective,” she explained. “Many of our best friends are finishing the military service left the country and are today living in Europe or the U.S. Many more have given up on a future in Israel not only because of the financial situation but also because the lack of hope in our political process.”

Last summer’s protests erupted due to the extreme social and financial inequality that has plagued Israel for several years. As Shaffir noted, Israel has the second highest income inequality in the world after the U.S., according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The protests were also the largest in Israel’s history; throughout the summer, activists built 120 tent camps all over the country.

“The situation is the result of 30 long years, shared by both left- and right-wing governments that reduced our social and health services one by one,” Shaffir added.

Michael Biton, the mayor of the town of Yerucham, which is located in Israel’s Negev desert, waxed nostalgic about the social cohesion of the 1970s.

“I was fortunate to be born into the Israeli society that existed in the 1970s,” he said. “Back then Israel may have been poorer in resources, but it was richer in solidarity and social cohesion.”

Yerucham, which has been plagued with corruption and official neglect for years, is thriving under the leadership of Biton, who called for bolstering the Israeli periphery instead of the settlements in the West Bank.

“We need to stop pouring resources into Judea and Samaria,” he explained. “We need to stop neglecting the Galil and the Negev, and start delivering a new and fair social contract to cities that will be in Israel for the long haul.”

Student Activism


At J Street's conference in Washington, it was clear that while the liberal pro-Israel and pro-peace group has gained support among American college students and some Congressmen, it cannot seem to break into the Obama administration's conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Of the 2,500 attendees who attended the summit in March, over 650 were students. They came from 125 schools, including Stanford University, Brown University, the University of Wisconsin, American University, the University of Virginia, Tulane University, and the University of Texas. International students came from the London School of Economics, McGill University in Montreal, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Thirty-eight chapters of J Street U, the organization's network of student activists, were present.

“We knew we needed to change the conversation on campus,” J Street U West Coast representative and Reed College student Hannah Fishman told the audience at the opening plenary on March 24.

In his opening address, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami acknowledged the students’ presence.

“We owe our continued success and our growth to the hard work of thousands of students and local activists,” he said. “You are the heart of this movement, and I offer you my deepest thanks.”

In addition to attending conference panels about issues like nuclear Iran, Palestinian perspectives on the conflict, the future of “pro-Israel,” and the Arab Spring's effect on prospects for peace, students also participated in a special J Street U campus strategy meeting and lobbied on Capitol Hill during J Street's Advocacy Day.

J Street's Congressional appeal, on the other hand, is harder to measure. When asked how he thinks Congress perceives the organization, Ben-Ami abstained from specifics.

“You can't generalize 535 across the board,” he explained. “I think there are those on the far right who think we are anathema to everything they think, and I think there are those on the center (to) center-left who are thrilled that we're here. I think it's a mixed reaction that depends a lot on the place they're coming from.”

At a panel titled “Congress and the Peace Process: Creating the Space for Dialogue,” Representatives from across the country decried the lack of positive response from their colleagues.

“A lot of the legislation we deal with when it comes to Israel is made worse by the current leadership in Congress,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). “There are lots of bills on Israel that come to the floor that I support, but then there are others with additional language that incite controversy and it becomes much more difficult to support them.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), on the other hand, says she thinks there is a space in Congress for the two-state-solution discourse.

“Is there space in Congress? I say yes,” she said. “I have the privilege to discuss Middle East policy with my colleagues frequently because of the resolutions that come up, and we see Congress veering [away] from supporting a two-state solution, and I can tell you that the majority of members I talk to want that space to cast more balanced votes. They want our country involved as an honest broker.”

When it comes down to numbers, though, the odds are not in J Street's favor: Only 11 Congressmen signed a letter requesting a meeting with President Barack Obama to share their suggestions for advancing a two state solution.

Rep. Eddie Berenice Johnson (D-Tx.), who traveled to Israel with J Street in November 2011, explained that “J Street is an organization I've been looking for for at least 25 years.

“I am pro-Israel, but I'm equally pro-peace because I think sincerely that if there is an uprising to that extent in the area, there will be a third world war with Iran.”

When asked what they thought was the greatest obstacle to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, all three responded with one word: politics.

“The big question for us is how do you get peace back on the radar screen when war is the focus and the debate?” McGovern explained. “How do we get back to identifying the initiatives we can support that help create a climate for peace?”

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel who currently teaches at Princeton University, acknowledged that even pro-peace Washington insiders are unable to crack the Obama administration’s circle of decision-makers.

“Unfortunately, the advice that we’ve given... has been greeted with a Washington consensus of naysayers,” he said. “There is an attitude that suggests that the price the U.S. would have to pay in terms of diplomacy and in terms of political commitment and the investment of our resources may be too high.”

Ben-Ami was also quick to criticize the President’s approach.

“It’s no question that the 2,500 people who are here and the tens of thousands that are actively engaged would say that the results of the first three and a half years of the Obama administration are not what we hoped for,” he noted. “We would like to see the administration take a more proactive role.”

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hands Up Together in Birmingham on May 3

Birmingham’s Collat Jewish Family Services will hold its annual Hands Up Together gala on May 3 in the inaugural community event for the new Dorothy Jemison Day Theater at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.

The venue has 150 more seats than previous Hands Up Together venues, and all seats will be reserved. Sponsors have priority seating.

Philanthropist Jimmie Hess will be honored in celebration of her 90th birthday, with a reception following the performance, sponsored by her friends. Euan Morton will be the featured performer. After graduating from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London, Morton spent many years working in various aspects of the craft, from Profitshare Theatre to film and television. In 2002 his performance as Boy George in the West End production of the musical “Taboo,” earned him nominations at the Whatsonstage Awards and at the prestigious Laurence Olivier Awards. He also starred in the Broadway version of “Taboo” and won a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Debut Performer on Broadway. He was nominated for five more awards, including the Tony Awards.

Recently, Morton received rave reviews for playing the title role of Tony Kushner’s adaptation of “Brundib├ír” at The New Victory Theatre, and won an Obie Award for starring in “Measure For Pleasure” at The Public Theatre. Over the last years he has been performing at sold-out concerts in New York City at The Oak Room at the Algonquin, Joe’s Pub, The Zipper Theatre and Town Hall, as well as at The Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. He released his debut solo album, “NewClear” in March 2006. He is releasing his second album, “Caledonia - The Homecoming” with LyricPartners.com.

Tickets for the 7 p.m. show are $100, while sponsorship levels range from $500 to $5000. Proceeds will benefit the work of CJFS, whose goal is to fulfill the unmet social, emotional, educational and financial needs of the Jewish community as well as the greater Birmingham community.

For more information, go to www.cjfsbham.org.

Celebrating Israel's 64th

Celebrations in Birmingham and New Orleans will salute Israel’s 64th birthday this month.

In Birmingham, the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s Israel Connections Committee and the Levite Jewish Community Center will present a community celebration on April 22 at the soccer field. The event will begin at 3:30 p.m. with a parade and other family activities, including inflatable rides, face painting and more.

Starting at 5:30 p.m., refreshments and picnic dinners will be available for purchase, catered by Sababa restaurant. Local jazz musician Eric Essix will perform at 6 p.m.

Essix was part of a Birmingham sister cities delegation that traveled to Rosh Ha’Ayin and Karak, Jordan, last May in a cultural exchange. Essix performed at the opening night of the Sister City International Music Festival in Rosh Ha’Ayin and taught several classes at the city’s music conservatory. At the festival, conservatory director Meir Srouya had Essix perform with five other musicians who had not even rehearsed together before, to demonstrate how music can communicate across great divides.

For the last several years, Rosh Ha’Ayin has tried to establish itself as Israel’s music city. Essix said he was impressed by the passion and interest the students had in music. He will speak about his experiences as part of the April 22 event.

“The community leaders and teachers impressed me the most,” Essix said. “The mayor of Rosh Ha’Ayin is totally committed to the concept of promoting music as a core component in the development of young people and the overall culture in his community. “

In New Orleans, the Uptown Jewish Community Center will hold this year’s celebration on April 25 from 5:45 to 9 p.m. The event is themed “The Sounds and Taste of Tel Aviv.” There will be a range of Israeli foods and an art market. As part of the celebration, "Hebrew Jazz" from Rosh Ha’Ayin, in town for JazzFest, will perform. Rosh Ha’Ayin is New Orleans’ Partnership 2Gether community.

The evening gets underway with a reception starting at 5:45 p.m. Starting at 6 p.m., the New Orleans Rabbinical Council will lead a community memorial service for Israeli soldiers who died in combat. The celebration will then be underway at 6:30 p.m.

This mirrors how the days are observed in Israel, with Israel’s Memorial Day leading into Independence Day.

Jewish and Muslim Students Unite In Tornado Response

Last month, a delegation of 16 students from Bridges: Muslim Jewish Interfaith Dialogue at New York University traveled to Birmingham, to work together in recovery efforts and to further their dialogue.

Their trip was their service initiative as part of President Barack Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Bridges teamed with the New York-based Jewish Disaster Response Corps, which has been on the ground in Alabama since the April 27, 2011 tornadoes ripped through the state.

JDRC Founder Elie Lowenfeld, an NYU alumnus, accompanied the group and said he tries to work with Bridges as much as possible. Lowenfeld said that the trip was a unique opportunity for members of NYU’s Muslim and Jewish communities to develop meaningful relationships with each other, as well as provide service and hope to disaster survivors. “Disasters don’t just knock down walls and knock down homes and displace people’s lives,” he said. “They can really knock down barriers and knock down the things that divide us and really be a place where we can come together.”

Accompanying the nine Jewish and seven Muslim students were Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna.

Chelsea Garbell, president of Bridges and a junior at NYU, said the main purpose of the trip was to facilitate religious dialogue. “When we engage in religious dialogue and service work, we strengthen relationships among ourselves, and through those relationships we are able to provide invaluable assistance to the communities we encounter.” She added that while in some areas there is animosity between Muslims and Jews, “if we can learn from one another, and develop an understanding of our similarities and differences, we can stand together as human beings in an effort to better the world around us.”

Fatima Kutty, a Bridges executive board member who hopes to go to medical school after graduation, said she enjoys working in an interfaith environment, and through “amazing conversations,” she has learned a lot about the Jewish religion and its people. She added, “Once relationships are established people are less likely to discriminate.”

As part of their visit, the students had a dinner at the Levite Jewish Community Center, with members of You Belong in Birmingham in attendance.

 More student groups will be coming to Birmingham throughout the year, coordinated by JDRC.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ZBT takes Peetluk Tourney title


When the Bill Peetluk Memorial Softball Invitational began a decade ago, it was a contest among Birmingham’s Men’s Clubs and the Mesch AZA youth group. In recent years additional groups have been added, and this year, the championship trophy is leaving Birmingham.

The Zeta Beta Tau fraternity from the University of Alabama took the title back to Tuscaloosa on April 14, in a 22-20 comeback win over Temple Emanu-El. The tournament was held at the Levite Jewish Community Center.

Mitchell Spielberger's towering 3-run game-tying home run in the 7th inning was soon followed by Jacob Lapidus's go-ahead two-run ground-rule double.

ZBT's Jake Schwartz, from Chapel Hill, N.C. tallied 5 RBIs to help secure the fraternity's first Peetluk title in its third year of participation.

Temple Emanu-El was led by Player-Coach Glenn Fleisig, who was a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate with three singles and a double. Nathan Marcus went 3-for-3 with three singles.

In first-round games, Jason Olenick and Mark Senter each homered in Temple Emanu-El’s 8-2 win over the combined Knesseth Israel/Chabad squad. Jeff Spielberger smashed two triples driving in 5 runs, leading Temple Beth-El to a 10-9 upset win over the two-time defending champs, the Chai Flyers of You Belong In Birmingham. The young Jewish adult group of the Birmingham Jewish Federation was led by David Lorberbaum, Kevin Broday and Max Morris, who each drove in two runs.

In the semi-final games, Temple Emanu-El defeated the Manly Men of Mesch AZA, 21-2. Matthew Marcus homered for the second straight year for Mesch, a rocket shot over the right field fence onto Montclair Road. ZBT advanced to the championship game with a 13-8 win over Temple Beth-El. Ian Obici and Jake Schwartz both scored three runs for the victorious fraternity guys, while Atlanta's Neil Wiesenfeld, a member of AZA with Bill Peetluk in Orlando during the early 1970s, had a few defensive gems in the outfield for Temple Beth-El.

Each team joined the community-wide commemoration of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, by participating in a community-wide reading of the names of children who were killed in the Holocaust.

Proceeds from the tournament benefited the Mesch AZA/Magic City BBG Peetluk Scholarship Fund at the Birmingham Jewish Foundation.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Blondheims providing Joy to Life in breast cancer fight


In 1997, Joy Blondheim, a member of Montgomery’s Jewish community, was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, eight months of chemotherapy, “the best friends, the best family, the best husband — and the best medical insurance,” she said.

In all, the ordeal cost roughly $1 million. “If I didn’t have medical insurance I don’t know what I would have done.”

But in Alabama there are “thousands of women in that situation who don’t have that” to rely on. Once Blondheim’s battle against cancer was over, “we decided we had to give back.” And thus was born the Joy to Life Foundation, which is now 11 years old and is holding its signature 5-kilometer fundraiser, the Walk of Life, in Montgomery on April 21.

The idea was simple — to help women who were not as fortunate. Medicaid pays for mammograms for women over 50, but “there is a gap” for women under 50. As Blondheim was diagnosed in her 40s, she decided the foundation would concentrate on providing mammograms to women in their 40s, in the interest of improving survival rates through early detection. Women who are younger than 40 are seen on a case-by-case basis, but they are hoping to extend the program below age 40 in general.

Initially in the three-county Montgomery area, the foundation now provides services in 29 counties — basically from Montgomery south to the Mobile area. The foundation partners with the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Breast and Cervical Cancer program.

That partnership is “beshert,” Blondheim said, because if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, how can the foundation raise enough money per woman for treatment? Instead, women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are guaranteed treatment by the department.

“We had the idea, we thought we could do it, and the breast and cervical program came to us and said ‘we can make it work’,” she said.

But now, the foundation is working in “emergency” mode. Because of greater awareness, there is “an onslaught of women who are having their mammograms,” Blondheim said. “That’s a good thing.”

However, because of that the department has run out of federal funding for the year.

Blondheim explained that each mammogram costs the foundation about $100, but the women also have to have an office visit for additional screenings, which is where the department’s funding comes in. That funding has run out.

For the rest of the budget year, the foundation is stepping in so no woman with symptoms would have to be delayed in her treatment. “Everything is being taken care of by us,” she said.

The foundation and department estimate that 42 lives will be saved by that decision.

“Because of all the money we are spending, it is more critical that we get an all-time high at our signature event,” she said.

The foundation has other fundraising initiatives that are helping. One of Alabama’s specialty license plates benefits the foundation. And now, an unusual tool to raise money and awareness is being touted by the foundation in some markets across the state — bright pink 96-gallon trash containers. “In the darkest of times, you always need to keep your sense of humor,” she said.

Last year there were almost 5000 participants in the Walk of Life, raising over $200,000. This year, they are hoping for 6,000. The event “is a big celebration of life,” because that is the foundation’s emphasis. She takes inspiration from the word L’Chaim. “It’s always ‘to life’.”

The run and walk is a USATF-certified course, and this year optional chip timing will be offered, as cash prizes will be awarded to the top three male and female finishers. The plan is to expand the event next year to include a 10-kilometer race.

A post-race party will be held at Riverfront Park, featuring a 9-foot by 12-foot screen that will have a slideshow and tributes to honor and remember “the ones we are walking for. The Arizona Skyhawks paratroopers will parachute in, and the Trimm Band will perform.

Breast cancer survivors are invited to a pink Survivor’s Tent. There will be a group photo and butterfly release at 10:15 a.m.

Participants can walk or run as individuals or as teams. There is also a kids dash at 9:45 a.m. for ages 3 to 8. Sponsored by McDonald’s, the dash will be started by Ronald McDonald, and will be about 75 yards across the grassy area at the amphitheater.

Early-bird registration ended March 31. Online registration is available through April 18 at joytolife.org, with late registration at the Union Train Shed on April 20 and 21.

The 5-kilometer race is $35 through April 18, $40 at the door. The kid’s dash is $15 through April 18, $20 at the door.

The goal this year is to raise at least $250,000. Since the foundation began, close to 5500 mammograms have been provided, with 25 women diagnosed and successfully treated.

“I don’t take it lightly and I thank God every day,” Blondheim says of her experience. “So far I’m one of the very lucky ones. It took a long time for cancer to be on the back burner for me.”

A co-founder of the foundation, husband Dickie “is very passionate as well, as you can imagine. When you’re touched by cancer, it’s life-changing for everybody.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

From Treme to Touro: John Boutte headlines JazzFest Shabbat


For years, John Boutte was regarded as one of New Orleans’ best-kept secrets.

Last year, music legend Irma Thomas was the featured performer at Touro Synagogue’s annual JazzFest Shabbat, while that very week at the Big Easy Awards, Boutte was being honored as the city’s Entertainer of the Year.

This month, Boutte will be the featured entertainer at JazzFest Shabbat on April 27. He has rocketed to prominence following the exposure he has received for “Treme Song” on his “Jambalaya” album. That song was selected to be the theme music for the HBO series “Treme,” about the struggles of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Born in the 7th Ward as the eighth of 10 children, Boutte grew up surrounded by New Orleans music. In high school, he played coronet and trumpet, and sang in street bands.

He graduated from Xavier University and then spent four years in the U.S. Army, directing Army gospel choirs in the U.S. and Korea. Returning home, he got a job at a credit union, then met Stevie Wonder, who encouraged him to develop his talent.

Boutte traveled Europe with his sister Lillian and performed on her live album, then pursued his own musical dreams.

He gained a reputation and opened for Mel Torme, Lou Rawls, Rosemary Clooney and Herbie Hancock. He released several albums, starting with “Through the Eyes of a Child” in 1993. “Mardi Gras Mambo” is a Cubanismo album, fusing Cuba and New Orleans. “Jambalaya” was released in 2003.

His “Gospel United” album recorded in Denmark is noted for its arrangement of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and has gone gold in several European markets.

He is routinely featured at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and will be playing JazzFest again this year, on May 5.

The evening at Touro Synagogue begins with a patron’s dinner and concert with Boutte at 6 p.m. The event usually sells out well in advance. Patron levels start at $150, $50 for those under 17.

The Shabbat service at 7:30 p.m. will feature Boutte, along with the Panorama Jazz Band, Sophie B. Wright Charter School, Touro Synagogue Choir, along with music director Terry Maddox and Cantor Jamie Marx.

Jazz Fest Shabbat, started two decades ago by the late Cantor Stephen Dubov, showcases local musicians on the opening weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival with a particular emphasis on jazz music along with traditional Jewish worship prayers and songs.

The event is very popular and generally draws a packed house. Many out of town JazzFest devotees make the service part of their annual visit to New Orleans.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Farrakhan Urges Students to Learn from Jewish Success


Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan addressed a packed house at the Elmore Gym at Alabama A&M University tonight, concentrating on the topic “The True Meaning of Education,” but also acknowledging the controversy over his appearance and sprinkling in numerous comments and references to the Jewish community.

Farrakhan was invited by the Alabama A&M Poetry Club and Alabama A&M Democrats. The university, as well as the state and local Democratic parties, distanced themselves from the visit. Many religious leaders in Huntsville decried the visit by the “divisive” leader, and a Facebook page opposing the visit was established yesterday, though there were only 18 “likes” as of tonight.

The Birmingham Jewish Federation and Jewish Federation of Huntsville and North Alabama also launched an “Alabama Says No to Farrakhan” effort on Facebook.

Those who were critical of the visit acknowledged Farrakhan’s right to free speech, their concern was over giving Farrakhan a forum for his views.

Early in the talk, Farrakhan thanked the university for “not giving in.”

He stated that blacks “get frightened when Jewish people” are critical of a black man.

Jews “are the controller of the ceiling and you only go as far as they permit,” he said. “Sometimes in order to crack that ceiling you have to genuflect.”

He then went into the current controversy over Florida Marlins coach Ozzie Guillen’s pro-Castro remarks, ascribing Jewish ties to it. The roots of the alleged Jewish hatred of Castro, he said, comes from the Talmud, which he said states that a Jew is not a real man until he owns property. “Don’t fault them, that is what they are taught,” Farrakhan said.

After the expulsion of Jews from Spain, many Jews wound up in Cuba and amassed large tracts of land, Farrakhan stated. That land was taken by Castro, and the Jews fled to Miami and other places, where “Cubans, who are Jewish, run it all.”

He added that those Jews “rebuilt” where they went because “no one could take the knowledge they had.”

He spoke of what Jews, Christians and Muslims claim to believe, then said “the hypocrisy in religion must end.” He told the students that if they truly knew Jesus, they would be “trying to get yourself together to meet him” and not succumb to worldly temptations.

Stating the three faiths stem from Abraham but have been in conflict, Farrakhan said that “when Christ comes back he wants to straighten out the family.”

He questioned those who would label him as anti-Semitic. “No Jewish person have I or any with me ever physically stopped, violated. Our Koran teaches us that if we see somebody writing a swastika on a Jewish synagogue we are to stop them. Any house where God’s name is mentioned is a house we should respect.”

He decried the notion of someone coming out of a mosque to attack Jews or anyone else. “Is your hatred that much that you want to go kill people?” One may have hate in one’s heart, Farrakhan said, but “what do you do about it?”

Many of his references to Jews were out of admiration. He noted that Elijah Muhammad had urged his followers to “study the white man, and the most productive of the white man are the Jewish people.”

Farrakhan added, “They own, we rent. They build and we ask for a job.”

In a show of hands, he asked the students to state their majors. When he asked how many engineering students there were, he commented disapprovingly that there were only 15 in a room of 6,000. He questioned the utility of an African-American studies degree. “Jews don’t learn Jewish history in school,” he said. “They learn science and math, they learn to be masters of everything they touch. And they approach everything they touch with the mind of a master.”

Addressing the Jewish community, Farrakhan said “I do not dislike you for your success. I admire you for your success. But I want to see success for our own people, not taking away from the success of others — unless your success is built on our failures.”

In short, he wants to see blacks be a “productive, self-respecting people.”

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Huntsville faith leaders mobilize before Farrakhan visit

Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, will appear at Alabama A&M University on April 10, invited by the campus' poetry club and student Democrats.

Farrakhan has a long history of anti-Jewish and anti-white comments, as well as hostility to the gay community. In a speech last month in California, he said Jews have "an agreement with hell and covenant and death" in controlling the U.S. government and media. He also refers to the Jews of today as imposters with no historical ties to the land of Israel, states that Jews controlled the slave trade and drain money from the black community today.

Representatives of Interfaith Mission Service, Temple B'nai Sholom, the Jewish Federation of Huntsville and North Alabama and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Advocacy and Youth Services met with A&M President Andrew Hugine on April 3. They told Hugine that Farrakhan's visit should be balanced with a forum. Hugine said such a forum, like Farrakhan's appearance, would have to be sponsored by a student group.

In a statement days before the meeting, Hugine noted that "this administration did not extend an invitation," the university is not sponsoring or funding the event, and "views which may be expressed during this upcoming event do not reflect or embody the views of Alabama A&M University."

IMS President Rev. David Freeman said the panel would turn Farrakhan's appearance into a "teachable moment" and "could identify ways that people are identified in negative, hurtful ways."

B'nai Sholom Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar said Farrakhan has every right to speak, and the student groups have a right to invite whoever they wish, but it is "unconscionable" for Farrakhan "to be given the honor to speak at Alabama A&M" and "does not create a welcoming and inclusive environment."

Bahar noted the controversy comes at a difficult time for mobilizing the faith community -- she is wrapped up in preparations for Passover, which begins tomorrow night, while area ministers are busy with preparations for Easter.

On March 30, the Alabama Democratic Party issued a statement distancing itself from the talk, and noted that the student Democrats are not affiliated with the national or state Federation of College Democrats.

Bradley Davidson, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, said "While we agree with A&M President Dr. Andrew Hugine's stance that students be provided the freedom to open a dialogue with speakers from across the political spectrum, the Alabama Democratic Party has not been involved with any event at Alabama A&M University."

The Final Call, the NOI newspaper, said supporters are refusing to be "bullied" into cancelling the program, and referred to opponents as "elements bent on interfering in the affairs of Black people."

Kris Taylor, president of the A&M poetry club, told WHNT-TV that "There is positivity coming from this. I don’t believe (Farrakhan) is going to come here and bash the Jews."

Wayne Snodgrass, president of the Greater Huntsville Interdenominational Ministerial Association, told The Final Call he plans to attend and refused requests to speak out against Farrakhan. Final Call also reported that some local pastors emailed the A&M administration in support of Farrakhan's appearance.

The talk is scheduled to be webcast at http://www.noi.org/webcast/.

Editor's Notebook: Reflections on Farrakhan's Visit

By Larry Brook, editor

On April 10, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan will appear at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, a visit that has garnered a great deal of advance controversy.

It is well known that Farrakhan uses the rhetoric of race-baiting and has a particular interest in the Jews, wrapped up in an otherwise positive self-help message for blacks. His organization promotes books that tout the discredited theory that Jews controlled the slave trade, that the Jews took over the black economy in America, as well as the usual canards about Jewish control of the government, media and banking industries.

Back in the late 1990s, he spoke in Birmingham, not that long after a visit from Khalid Abdul Muhammad, an organizer of the Million Man March, who had made a name for himself in 1993 during a speech at Kean College in New Jersey. There, he called Jews "bloodsuckers" and called for the genocide of whites. Farrakhan removed him from his NOI post, but criticized Muhammad's tone, not "the truth" of his words.

I attended both events, after receiving word each time from the local Nation of Islam mosque.

Muhammad was a great speaker, Farrakhan was absolutely mesmerizing. People talk about Farrakhan's lengthy addresses, but he is one of those speakers who can hold an audience's attention for a long time and not make it seem that long.

Both men played to full houses, at the Alabama Theatre and Boutwell Auditorium. Naturally, I received more than my share of "are you nuts" from those who learned I was going to attend. And yes, there were many over-the-top statements at both programs.

The audience reaction was interesting. The more extreme pronouncements were not really greeted with amens and agreement -- the atmosphere was more like being in a comedy club where you know the comic is going to say outrageous stuff and stick it to the man, as it were. Laughter, fist-pumps and "can you believe he said that?"

Both times, you could count the number of whites in the building on a single hand; at the Alabama the only other white was the guy running the sound board. Also, the local mosque's leadership knew exactly who I was, who I represented and what I was doing there.

Each time, the entire night, I was treated and greeted with unfailing politeness and courtesy. It was quite a disconnect -- the anti-white, anti-Jewish rhetoric coming from the stage, and the absolute friendliness toward me from everyone I encountered in the audience.

-----

The last time there was such a controversy over an anti-Jewish speaker in Huntsville was in the 1990, at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. At the time, there was a local Holocaust denier named Robert Countess, now deceased, who rented rooms at UAH to bring in more noted deniers. Countess himself was on the board of the Institute for Historical Review, the think(?)-tank of the denier movement.

He brought in David Irving in 1993 and Robert Faurisson in 1994. Naturally, the Jewish community was outraged; and Huntsville's rabbi at the time was Rabbi Steven Jacobs, the son of a Holocaust survivor.

The response to the program, though, was unique and brilliant. Here's the brilliant part -- the Jewish community and Jewish students were deliberately excluded from the protests and counter-programming. As the organizers told me then, they wanted to be sure that Countess and his guests could not simply dismiss any opposition as being Jewish noise and therefore unworthy of being taken seriously.

Admittedly, Countess did still attack the students' characters, sneering that the students couldn't even spell "Sorbonne," let alone be admitted to the historic university where Faurisson attended.

A handful of students quietly passed out flyers to those who attended the lecture. The flyers had a list of reliable sources and books on the Holocaust. They also held a screening of "Schindler's List" at the same time as the lecture, and drew four times what Countess did.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Holocaust Commemorations in Region

Numerous events are planned in the region to commemorate the Holocaust, beginning with a city-wide initiative in Montgomery in early April.

Golabek event in Montgomery April 3

On April 3, Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem, Temple Beth Or, the Jewish Federation of Central Alabama, Southern Poverty Law Center and the City of Montgomery were sponsoring “An Evening with Mona Golabek,” following a city-wide reading program and teacher training for the city’s schools.

An acclaimed concert pianist, Golabek spoke and performed at Temple Beth Or last July, and during her visit “fell in love with Montgomery” and its Civil Rights movement legacy.

The concert, which she has performed for over 100,000 students, is her true family story, chronicling hope, survival and how through the darkest times, music has the power to help people survive.

She wrote a book entitled “The Children of Willesden Lane,” the story of her mother, who was a 14-year-old pianist in Vienna just before World War II. She was saved through the Kindertransport, a project to save Jewish children in Germany and Austria by bringing them to England where they were sponsored by Jewish and non-Jewish families who helped them survive the Holocaust, while most of their parents did not. Over 10,000 children were saved from certain annihilation.

Lisa Jura used her music to help her survive and that music was passed down to her children, as well as telling her story through that passionate music. Golabek’s concerts are based on her mother’s music.

During her three-day Montgomery visit, Golabek has her main public performance at 7 p.m. on April 3 at the Davis Theatre. For three mornings, she will perform children’s concerts for 9th graders. The sponsors have provided over 2,000 copies of her book for 9th graders in the city, and private schools were also invited to take part.

Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Thompson sees this as a unique opportunity for students to see history come to life.

“Golabek’s mother was sent to London to live just before World War II,” said Thompson. “Both her grandparents died in the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. It is phenomenal that students will have the opportunity to learn from Ms. Golabek. I hope parents and children will read this book together.”

Mayor Todd Strange said “We are excited for our students and our city to have the opportunity to join together to learn and to remember. I want to encourage every Montgomery citizen to participate.”

Auburn University at Montgomery
will hold its annual remembrance program on April 25 from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Birmingham area survivors Max Herzel and Max Steinmetz will speak. The program, which will be held at the AUM Gym, is open to the community.

Herzel will also be the guest speaker at the annual remembrance program at Jacksonville State University, north of Anniston. The program will be April 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stone Center Theater. Winners of the JSU Imagining the Holocaust writing contest will also be recognized. The contest is open to students statewide.

Historian to speak at Birmingham commemoration


Birmingham’s commemoration will feature keynote speaker Harry Reicher, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and scholar-in-residence at Touro Law Center.

Reicher will speak on “The Catalytic Impact of the Holocaust on the Human Rights Movement of the Post-World War II Era.” In the three years following the Holocaust, the international community moved swiftly to establish a human rights system, designed to bring perpetrators to justice and prevent another Holocaust. Since then, the system has repeatedly failed. Reicher’s presentation will look at the system, where it has failed, and confront the question of whether the world will really learn.

The April 18 event will be at 7 p.m. at the Norton Campus Center at Birmingham-Southern College. It is open to the community, without charge. The program is underwritten by Birmingham-Southern College’s endowed fund for programs in Judaic Studies and Middle Eastern Culture, the BJF Jewish Community Relations Coalition, the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center and the Helena Lubel Fund of the Birmingham Jewish Foundation.

As part of the Birmingham event, the BJF JCRC is coordinating the reading of 5,000 names of those murdered in the Holocaust. Area faith institutions and civic organizations are being asked to take 150 names in a “simultaneous” reading on April 14 or 15. The names can be read at a worship service or program.

Black liberator to speak at New Orleans commemoration


The New Orleans community-wide event will be April 22 at 7 p.m. at the Uptown Jewish Community Center. Guest speaker will be Leon Bass, an African-American soldier who was from one of the first battalions to arrive at Buchenwald during the liberation, where he saw what he called “the walking dead.”

Bass wrote “Good Enough: One Man’s Memoir on the Price of the Dream.” In it, he writes about being part of the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, an “angry soldier” who “was being asked to fight for freedom while at the same time, as a black man, I was constantly being told in many ways that I wasn’t good enough to have that freedom.”

Coming upon the concentration camp changed his life. “The price to realize the dream,” he explains, “is to stand up and be counted by doing the right thing, whether large or small, every day.”

He went on to become a high school principal and to fight racism. In 1994 he was the keynote speaker at the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, and in 1996 he was awarded the Pearlman Award for Humanitarian Advancement from Jewish Women International. He appeared in the Academy Award-nominated Documentary “Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II.”

As part of the commemoration, Sarah Smith, Leigh Baltazar and Carla Murphy of Harry Hurst Middle School in Destrehan will be honored as Educators of the Year for integrating Holocaust education into their English curriculum. Students from the Donald R. Mintz Youth Leadership Mission of the Anti Defamation League will also be recognized.

The Northshore Jewish Congregation in Mandeville is holding two programs in observance of Yom Hashoah. Times for the events were not set as of press time, but information should be available from the congregation.

On April 17, Av Szyller, a past president of the congregation, will show pictures from his childhood in France and talk about how the Jews of France were rounded up for the concentration camps.

Szyller was arrested by the Nazis but managed to set off on foot through the mountains to escape. Many of his relatives were not as fortunate. He would return to Europe in 1945 as a U.S. Army sergeant. Last May, Szyller spoke about his experiences to an audience of hundreds at the Stennis Space Center.

Also speaking at Northshore will be Edward Hafer, assistant professor of music history at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hafer is currently researching “Music at the Gates of Hell: Cabaret Performances in the Concentration Camp Westerbork.” Westerbork was located in the Netherlands.

Hafer’s presentation is about the lengths that Jewish prisoners went to try and maintain their sense of worth in the darkest times.

On Feb. 11, he gave a similar presentation at the American Musicological Society’s Southern regional conference at the University of Alabama.

On April 18, Gates of Prayer in Metairie will have a Yom HaShoah memorial service at 7 p.m.

In Baton Rouge, the Educational Services Department of The Advocate is administering the annual Holocaust writing contest. For younger students, essays are based on the film “Porceline Unicorn,” while older students will discuss and design Holocaust memorials.

The winners will be recognized at the Baton Rouge commemoration, April 15 at Beth Shalom at 4 p.m. Plater Robinson will be the guest speaker.

The Alabama Holocaust Commission’s official annual gathering will be on April 17 at 11 a.m. at the Old House Chamber at the State Capitol in Montgomery. A luncheon will follow, which is $10 per person.

The Jewish Federation of Huntsville and North Alabama will hold its commemoration at the Huntsville Museum of Art, where the exhibit “Darkness Into Life: Alabama Holocaust Survivors Through Photography and Art” opened March 18 and will be displayed through June 10.

The exhibit portrays the wartime experiences of 20 Alabama Holocaust survivors and the lives they made for themselves in Alabama following the war. Coordinated by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, the exhibit is comprised of photographs by Becky Seitel and paintings by Mitzi Levin.

One of those portrayed is Regina Dembo. At the 2 p.m. program on April 22, Dembo will relate her story of how her parents arranged for her to escape but had to stay behind themselves.

The event will also feature music and dramatic readings. Awards will be presented for the annual essay contest the Federation sponsors in area schools.

Mobile’s annual commemoration will be held April 18 at 7 p.m. at Springhill Avenue Temple.

Beth Israel in Gulfport will hold its Yom HaShoah program on April 18, with details to be announced.

The Ft. Walton area observance will be April 17 at Niceville Community Center at 6:30 p.m. Pam Smith will speak on Holocaust Remembrance and Stories of Rescue. George Collins will speak on Human Trafficking in Okaloosa County.