Everyone thought this Jewish man crazy for moving to Birmingham

Danny Cohn
Danny Cohn

Today’s guest columnist is Danny Cohn.

If you’d like to be a guest columnist, please click here.

Just about everyone told us we were crazy to move to Birmingham.

Then right when I moved, family yet to come, the world was hit with the Coronavirus.

So I’m new to Birmingham—starting a new job and a new life—all alone.

I arrived in Birmingham on March 9th as the new CEO of the Birmingham Jewish Federation. My family relocated to Omaha, Nebraska five years ago having spent the previous 15 years in Chicago.

Though I was hoping for the best, I was not prepared for the incredible generosity of my new community.

What people don’t seem to understand is that Birmingham is not only a great place to raise a family, but as I have come to realize over the last eight weeks, a great place to set an example of how people take care of others during a crisis. It’s only been eight weeks, but the sense of community here is astounding.

Many people don’t realize how few Jews live here—only about 6,000 of the 1.1 million people in our metropolitan area. (Half of one percent)

The Levite Jewish Community has provided more than 1,300 meals for those in need, delivered 225 perishable and non-perishable food packages for senior living facilities, put together 75 non-perishable food kits for HICA and serves essential worker families through its Operation Cares Camp. In addition, the LJCC is serving as a mobile site for the Community Food Bank and has provided more than 300 grocery boxes for those in need.

Since pivoting from face-to-face service to a new normal, Collat Jewish Family Services has served 191 clients. Each of these clients received wellness and needs assessment calls at least weekly. These regular calls are reducing the isolation and loneliness so many are experiencing at this time.  Additionally, CJFS assists clients in getting the food/medication/household supplies they need safely, either through delivery services or through its own staff and volunteers.

CJFS has also provided financial assistance for rent, utilities, food and medications to people who are experiencing financial hardships directly related to COVID-19.

The United Way of Central Alabama along with our Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham are models for other communities on how to do things right by providing grants that are successfully reaching those in need throughout all of Birmingham. The people of Birmingham are generous which has been shown through the amount of monies flowing into these organizations.

For the last 84 years the Birmingham Jewish Federation has served as the central philanthropic arm of the Birmingham Jewish Community, providing funding for the community’s most critical needs. I am honored to be at the helm of this organization. I am also proud to say we are able to financially support all of the institutions mentioned above, as well as communities abroad, such as Israel, that need our help through these unprecedented times.

When people question our move to Birmingham, my reply is – just wait until you visit and you will understand. Aside from a strong philanthropic arm and beautiful scenery, we have collaboration, not just philanthropically, but with government and NGOs that want to support each other, not only in times of crisis but on a daily basis. I look forward to forging these relationships after we as a community successfully emerge from this pandemic.

Birmingham isn’t a “come back town” it’s a “run to town”.

I knew from our visits Birmingham was beautiful, I knew that residents were kind, the cost of living was low, and the food scene was on fire. And I knew that the health care system here was second to none. What I didn’t know was that southern hospitality isn’t just home hospitality, but caring for the community as well – a community I am now proud to call home.

Danny Cohn, a recent transplant from Omaha, NE, is the newly appointed CEO of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, the Jewish Community’s central fundraising, community relations and community development agency.

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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).

Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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10 thoughts on “Everyone thought this Jewish man crazy for moving to Birmingham”

  1. The lessons to be learned from this are fundamental to making a city truly great…..for people.

    1. Daniel,
      I love that you have had such a good experience living in the BIRMINGHAM community. Everything you said is true. Having lived in Birmingham previously for 20 years and now living elsewhere, there are some things about BIRMINGHAM that are hard to replicate…..things that are unique to its size (big enough, not too big), its high quality healthcare, it’s great food scene, it’s beautiful topography and climate, it’s friendly people, etc. I am glad you have embraced it and have now become part of that fabric and can perpetuate those things to others in, and moving to, the community.

  2. I am not Jewish, just another Goyam. Back in the 1990s, my family lived in the Tiny Kingdom in Crestline and I joined and worked out at the LJCC. I met wonderful people, was welcomed with open arms, and thoroughly enjoyed my five years there before departing Mountain Brook. Never was my religion questioned or discussed, nor was my being Gentile disparaged.

    Birmingham would do well to recognize its Jews and their community of productive and honorable people.

    1. When I was at Mountain Brook School, my experience was not the same but very similar and much earlier My Jewish classmates were similar. Maybe you met their children. Never mind that I was Baptist. They were in fact among my very best friends. They were friendly, welcoming, told me about their religion without in any way proselytizing me, and very intelligent, therefore very interesting. TheJews in Birmingham have very likely contributed more to our city than anyone has imagined.

      A much more recent example my former church, Southside Baptist took them in so they could continue their services when Temple Emanuel was being restored and extended. I was very pleased to know that.

      It so well indicates that Birmingham, is a fine city, especially after the horrible days of steel worker’s strikes, and the Civil Rights necessary experience. It is sad to find out that those increasing distant and dark memories still hurt the progress.

      Another point. It is a big advancement for the city the the Civil Rights District is now a National Monument. There is History that we might not like, nevertheless it must be remembered. Doing so also indicates we have moved now far beyond that moment. I can hardly wait for the new Forum to be built, and see something design by a world renowned architect, Sir Norman Foster. Further development is being planned. That will be something to be truly proud to have in our city.

  3. The days following April 27, 2011 was a perfect example of seeing how neighbors and more specifically how neighboring communities could come together to help one another in the Birmingham area. The massive tornado outbreak of that day was one of the more tragic days in our area’s history. Folks dropped everything – work, family, etc. to assist those in need. It was an amazing thing to be a part of.

  4. I head a US-based international NGO with a focus on life-saving projects in Israel. I meet with Jewish Federations across North America, and tell them with confidence and certainty that BJF is the leading Jewish community for Israel programs. I believe that a Federation that places Israel at it’s core is a strong Jewish community.

  5. It is the quality of a place that makes it good, not its size! This reprot from Danny Cohn was about that important quality of good neighbors. Welcome to Birmingham, Cohn Family!

  6. Welcome to Birmingham. I’ve been in the area for all 61 trips around the sun. The best food anywhere in the world especially the hotdogs on 4th Ave North.

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