By Samantha Dubrinsky,
BJF Director of Community Impact
The Birmingham Jewish Federation/Birmingham Jewish Foundation/Israel Bonds Annual Community Event, held Sunday evening, focused on “Birmingham & Beyond,” a fitting theme for a night where Mayor-Elect Randall Woodfin spoke about his vision for the future of Birmingham.
BJF President Hilary Gewant welcomed the group and thanked Temple Emanu-El for hosting the event, as well as BJF staff, for putting the event together. Hilary introduced the theme of the night explaining, “For us as Birmingham Jews, many of whom belong to families who have benefitted our city for decades, who we are frames our values: our civic work, our volunteerism, our community. Not only are we citizens of Greater Birmingham, but we are also members of the Jewish Diaspora. We think locally and globally. We care deeply about the future of our city, the future of Israel, and the future of our Jewish community.”
Gen. Charles Krulak, a BJF volunteer, introduced Mayor-Elect Randall Woodfin and spoke about how Birmingham’s new mayor is the embodiment of leadership. Mayor-Elect Woodfin has character, is selfless, has moral courage and a tremendous depth and strength of integrity, Gen. Krulak explained. Gen. Krulak is serving as a co-chair of Mayor-Elect Woodfin’s transition committee.
Mayor-Elect Woodfin said he was grateful for the opportunity to speak to the Jewish community. He discussed his experience on the campaign trail and said that during the campaign, what he heard from Birminghamians is that they are desperate for progress — progress for everyone. He also said that through speaking to citizens of our city he believes that there are more solutions in Birmingham than problems.
“It’s not about change for change’s sake. It’s about progress. Progress allows us all to participate,” Mayor-Elect Woodfin explained. “As the mayor of the city of Birmingham over the next four years, I pledge my commitment to every single person, every age group, every stakeholder and every community partner in the city.” Mayor-Elect Woodfin’s speech was punctuated by strong applause from the audience.
DEDICATION TO ISRAEL
Long-time BJF volunteer leader and Israel Bonds supporter Jimmy Filler presented the Israel Bonds Star of David Award to Rabbi Jonathan Miller, who recently retired after 27 years of service to Temple Emanu-El. Jimmy explained that when Rabbi Miller first arrived in Birmingham, he expected to stay for just five years and thankfully, Jimmy said, that turned into 27. Jimmy praised Rabbi Miller for fostering interfaith dialogue and being a true friend of other faiths. “Nowhere and no one else could someone have created so much harmony outside of their own religious faith,” Jimmy said.
Rabbi Miller thanked Jimmy for his kind words and explained that the state of Israel has always been in his heart. “Israel brings all Jews together and gives a common message to the outside world,” he said. “The success only comes from our commitment to Israel and its commitment to the Jewish people.”
MEANINGFUL AWARDS, CONNECTIONS
Next, BJF past-president Jerry Held’s children — Layne Held, Elisa Nelson and Brian Held — presented the Susan J. Goldberg Distinguished Volunteer Leadership Award to their father. In a moving introduction, Jerry’s children explained how close the Held family was to Susan. “Dad, it seems very fitting to us that you are receiving the Susan J. Goldberg Distinguished Volunteer award. Not only because of your leadership, character and community involvement, but because you and Susan had a very special friendship,” one of them explained.
Jerry accepted the award, explaining how honored he was to be linked to Susan in this way. “Susan’s death was very difficult, not only for Edward and his children, but also for many of us here tonight, and to continue to honor Susan’s memory with this award is such a perfect recognition of her life in our community. My wife, Ginger, was actually the first recipient of this award, and I am now the 12th recipient. And for me to be receiving this award tonight with Edward receiving the N.E. Miles Lifetime Achievement Award is so special. For all of the community work that Edward and Susan did during their life together, and for Edward now endowing their annual campaign Federation gift, is such a fabulous tribute to both of them,” he said.
AN UNUSUAL HONOREE
Next, BJF Executive Director Richard Friedman introduced Jahan Berns, the recipient of the Joanie Plous Bayer Young Leadership Award, praising her for her dedication to the Birmingham Jewish community and Israel. “I had the privilege of calling Jahan to notify her that she had been selected as this year’s recipient of the Joanie Plous Bayer Young Leadership Award,” Richard explained. “She was speechless at first, then emotional and very humble. I told her that we are probably the only Jewish Federation in America that will have given our Young Leadership award to a woman born in Uganda, who was raised as a Muslim, and who converted to Christianity. Yes, Jahan is pretty unique — but it’s not because of those biographical factors. It’s because of her soul, her heart, her love for the Jewish people and humanity in general, the relentlessness with which she ‘walks the walk,’ and the way that through her leadership and association with us, she has distinguished the Birmingham Jewish Federation.”
Jahan began her acceptance remarks by saying, “A few weeks ago, while reading up on the British mandate and the Balfour Declaration, I came across a wonderful quote by Wilson Woodrow, in which he described the Jewish people as having ‘made large spiritual contributions to mankind; and being unique among significant peoples.’ I couldn’t agree more. As a former Muslim that converted to Christianity, the deep gratitude I feel for the Jewish people’s contribution to mankind keeps growing as the years roll by.”
She concluded by saying, “I am grateful to the Birmingham Federation and Foundation, and all my Jewish friends for all they’ve taught me, and the opportunities they’ve given me to grow and take my passion for Israel to new heights. Though I never got to meet Joanie Plous Bayer, I have heard only great and wonderful things about her. I am so grateful that she left me and others a great legacy, and I am very proud and honored to get this young leadership award named after her.”
For the last award of the night, Federation and Foundation past-President Ginger Held presented the N.E. Miles Lifetime Achievement Award to volunteer leader Edward Goldberg. “This award is an honor presented to a senior community leader who has shown a lifetime of leadership giving to the Federation’s annual campaign and who has committed to endow their Federation gift with a donation to the Birmingham Jewish Foundation. This means that each year –forever — a gift will be made in Edward’s name from the Foundation to the Birmingham Jewish Federation,” Ginger explained.
“I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award than Edward,” Ginger said. “Edward may not have been born here, but he represents the best of our community. We are incredibly fortunate that this is where he and Susan, of blessed memory, decided to call home, raise their children, and build his business.”
Edward, who was greatly appreciative of the award, explained how important tzedakah (giving) is to him and his family. Edward mentioned all the wonderful programs that are happening in the Birmingham Jewish community. “But, even with all these great programs and events, they don’t happen without significant contributions… Our community needs your help. Commit to an organization that touches you. Get your friends involved. Volunteer your time, contribute and when you’re ready to endow your gift, call Sally Friedman at the Birmingham Jewish Foundation.”
Birmingham Jewish Foundation Richard Pizitz Jr. concluded the program by congratulating all the honorees and thanking those for attending the event.