By Samantha Dubrinsky,
BJF Director of Community Impact
If you had told me a few years ago that one of my new friends would be a Ugandan Christian woman who converted from Islam and now lives in Birmingham, Alabama, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that in addition to being a friend she serves on the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s board AND would travel to Israel with me, I would have laughed.
It turns out that the joke is on me because Jahan Berns, the woman I have described above, is all of those things and more. Jahan has an amazing story that she has used to motivate her community to engage in Israel advocacy, contribute to causes in Israel and support the Birmingham Jewish community.
Jahan was born in Uganda in 1979 — the year that Uganda’s infamous dictator Idi Amin was deposed. Jahan’s father was a beloved, high-ranking officer in the Ugandan army and was assassinated in 1986 while attempting to become the president of Uganda. Following his assassination, Jahan’s family was robbed of their home and wealth and became destitute. Through much sacrifice and hard work, Jahan’s mom, a single parent, educated Jahan and her sister. The president of Uganda later helped to pay for Jahan’s schooling.
Jahan attended an excellent girls boarding school founded by British missionaries. She graduated among the top students in her country and received a scholarship to attend the best law school in East and Central Africa. After graduating from law school, Jahan lived in London, England. She finally migrated to the US and ended up in Alabama where she went back to law school for the second time. Jahan works at the law firm of Sirote and Permutt, as a mortgage banking litigation attorney.
I don’t want to spoil Jahan’s story because I’m sure she’ll be sharing parts of it with you on Sunday, Oct. 29, at the Federation/Foundation/Israel Bonds Annual Community Event where she is being honored. Jahan is this year’s recipient of the BJF’s Joanie Plous Bayer Young Leadership Award and is one of the most deserving people I know.
In addition to honoring Jahan on Oct. 29, the Birmingham Jewish Federation will present its Susan J. Goldberg Distinguished Volunteer Award to Jerry Held. The Birmingham Jewish Foundation will present its N.E. Miles Lifetime Achievement Award to Edward Goldberg and Israel Bonds will be honoring Rabbi Jonathan Miller. The event will take place at Temple Emanu-El. A reception will start at 4 pm with the program following at 5 pm.
Jahan, while not a friend I would have anticipated, is a friend I cherish. Her passion, dedication and ability to persevere through difficult situations is astounding. I often wonder how she does everything that she does. It is not without a lot of hard work, that’s for sure. Please join us in helping honor Jahan.