ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is Samantha Dubrinsky. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
“There are Jews in Alabama?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question over the past six years working as a Jewish professional for the Birmingham Jewish Federation.
Usually, these questions are asked by Jews in other parts of the country. Generally, their perception of Alabama is that it is heavily Christian and they’re right — the Jewish community here is only one half of one percent of Alabama’s population.
The next question, after I’ve explained that yes, in fact, there are Jews in Alabama — 6,200 of us just in Birmingham, to be exact, is “What’s it like being a Jew in Alabama?” This question stems from wondering what it’s like for the Jewish community, which is small, to live in a predominately Christian environment.
“It’s great,” I always reply. “We have so many opportunities to build bridges with those around us, including many members of the Christian community. In fact, the Christian community is our biggest ally.” There’s usually some confusion after I explain this, which I’ve come to conclude stems from the fact that Jewish communities in other areas don’t seem to have as good of a relationship with the Christian community.
When I begin to tell them about how the Christian community supports us, they’re stunned. I tell them about how earlier this year when Jewish Community Centers across the country were receiving bomb threats (Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center received four), the National Christian Foundation of Alabama raised over $100,000 on our behalf to help improve security within the Jewish community.
I tell them about the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s Ugandan-born Christian board member who, every year, organizes a fundraiser on her own to help fund shelters in Israel, who speaks passionately against anti-Semitism and proudly displays her love for Israel.
I also tell them about how Alabama was the first state to recognize Israel as a sovereign Jewish homeland in 1941, thanks to the support of the Christian community. And, that in that same vein, legislation protecting Israel from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was passed in Alabama in 2016. This effort was organized and driven, in large part, by the Christian community.
And, one of my favorite ways to demonstrate the Christian community’s support of the Birmingham Jewish community dates back to the summer of 2014, when Israel was undergoing attack. A rally called “We Stand With Israel” was held at the Levite Jewish Community Center. Over 500 people attended that rally — it was standing room only — and a significant amount of those people were members of the Christian community. Several of the program speakers were members of the Christian community.
Every other year, members of the Jewish community travel with members of the Christian community to Israel on an interfaith trip. While I’ve never been on one of these trips, participants have told me that it’s an amazing experience that allows for understanding, learning and gratitude for each group’s respective beliefs.
So, yes, it’s great to be a Jew in Alabama. And it’s even better to have a wonderful friendship with the Christian community. At this special time of year, when Christians are celebrating the most important event in their tradition, I want to say thank you, on behalf of the Birmingham Jewish community.
Thank you for your support. Thank you for your understanding. And, most importantly, thank you for being our friends. We want you to know that we are here for you, just as you have been for us, so call on us when we are needed. Merry Christmas.
Samantha Dubrinsky, a Birmingham native, works for the Birmingham Jewish Federation as the Director of Community Impact. Samantha is passionate about moving the “Magic City” forward.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
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