Email Exchange Highlights Jewish Saga
By Richard Friedman,
BJF Executive Director
Sometimes if you’re quiet, and listen carefully enough at the Birmingham Jewish Federation, you can eavesdrop on Jewish history, even if it’s only a tiny slice of our remarkable saga.
This happened to me the other day as I took time out to “hear” the voices of BJF volunteer leader Ginger Held and staff member Florina Newcomb (pictured here) contained in an email exchange they had with each other, an exchange on which I was cc’d.
Two days before, Florina, an outstanding young woman now in her early 30s, had coordinated a program at Temple Beth-El co-sponsored with the Temple by the BJF, Birmingham Jewish Foundation and Collat Jewish Family Services.
The program celebrated the story of Jews who, like Florina and her family, had emigrated from the former Soviet Union to Birmingham in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The program was highlighted by the showing of the film “Stateless” which tells the story of Jews like Florina’s family who emigrated from the former Soviet Union to various American cities. The film highlights their arduous journey and the uncertainty these families faced.
Florina, who arrived in Birmingham as a six-year-old girl, was one of the speakers at the program. She reflected on her journey from Moldova to Birmingham and expressed her gratitude over winding up in Birmingham and the support our Jewish community provided her and the other families who came here.
“I want to commend you on coordinating the program Sunday,” wrote Ginger. “You spoke beautifully and from the heart. The documentary gave us just a glimpse of the hardships that your family and others endured to start a new life.”
Looking back, Ginger added, “In Birmingham at the time, we were so focused on resettling and trying to make our new community members comfortable that we forgot the difficulties they faced in getting here. It was a very brave group that uprooted their families and moved to a strange country. But, oh how lucky we are!”
And knowing what an outstanding professional asset Florina is to the BJF and what great Jewish community members she and her family have become, Ginger added, “You are giving back to this community on so many levels and we are glad you are here!!”
Birmingham, led by our Federation, was part of a years-long national movement in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that advocated continually for Jews in the then-Soviet Union, pushing for their freedom to emigrate even when it seemed hopeless. That dream, however, began to come true on a widespread basis in the late 1980s and North American Jewish Federations, including our own, raised massive amounts of money to facilitate this historic migration.
All of this is something Florina never forgets and never takes for granted as she goes about her day to day work at the BJF — the very agency that provided the funding for her and her family to begin new lives in a country where they could live openly and freely as Jews.
“I am so glad you enjoyed the program!” Florina wrote back to Ginger. “It’s funny, I remember some things from our journey here and I heard the things that my family talked about, but it wasn’t until I saw the movie that it all just clicked.”
“My brother Boris and I drove home together after the program and we were talking about how lucky we are not just that we ended up in the US but that we ended up in Birmingham. We are very glad that this is where we grew up and this community is the one we are a part of!”
So are we. And sometimes, no matter how busy we are, taking a step back to eavesdrop on Jewish history not only is a reminder of the miracles we attained by working together but also an inspiration to achieve new ones in the future.