Civil Rights Experience Affects Maccabi Guests
The 1960s are remembered for a lot of things. In Birmingham they have a special significance. That is when events happened here — critical components of what is referred to as the Civil Rights Movement — which shook the world.
It was a time when black Americans were denied their rights as Americans and racial segregation was a widespread practice, especially here in Alabama. It also was a time of triumph because the Civil Rights Movement showed what can happen when brave people rally behind gifted leaders on behalf of just and righteous causes.
What happened in Birmingham — demonstrations, bombings, the gradual crumbling of an oppressive system — not only changed our city but shook the world and rallied the oppressed.
These were the messages that were delivered to nearly 900 teen athletes Tuesday — young Jews from across the country and Israel and Ukraine — and coaches and parents who are in Birmingham this week for the JCC Maccabi Games. Taking time out to learn about the Civil Rights Movement and the lessons from that era that still remain relevant today has been one of the highlights of the week for our guests.
Under the theme JCC Cares, athletes, coaches and parents spent Tuesday morning at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which commemorates the struggle; Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four young black girls were killed in a racial bombing in 1963; and Kelly Ingram Park, a gathering point for Civil Rights demonstrators during that era.
They heard from veterans of the Civil Rights Movement who made the events of the 1960s come alive and relevant to today’s world.
The visit to what is known as Birmingham’s Civil Rights District took place on the Jewish remembrance day of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, among other Jewish tragedies. The day thematically tied together the destruction of the Temple and the bombing of the church.
One of the participants most affected by the day was Birmingham’s Bruce Sokol, a Maccabi volunteer co-chair who grew up in Birmingham and who remembers the trauma and triumph of the Civil Rights era.
“I was 19 and in Birmingham on the day of the Sixteenth Street church bombing and I wanted our young visitors to leave with a history of the Civil Rights struggles and its huge impact on all citizens in Birmingham,” explained Bruce who helped design this unique Maccabi day.
“To experience this programming had to be emotionally powerful for our visitors,” added Bruce. “Throughout the day, I was approached by countless people who had participated, who offered glowing feedback.”
“One adult participant told me that she had attended many JCC Cares days over the years, and this one stood out as the best she has witnessed so far.”
Bruce gave particular credit to JCC staff member Katie Hausman and the dedicated team of LJCC staff and community volunteers who made the day such a success.
REMEMBERING & REBUILDING
One of the participants in the Civil Rights experience was Alan Goldberg, Senior Vice President of Operations for JCC Association. Here are his reflections from the day:
How do 1000 Jewish teenagers from around the world learn the meaning of Tisha B’av, human rights and the importance of shared history while sitting in a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama?
That might be a strange question in most years but not when the JCC Maccabi Games come to Birmingham for the first time.
The JCC Maccabi Games is about more than athletic competition. Since 1982, the JCC Day of Caring program has been an opportunity for participants to enhance their experiences by taking part of a day out of their competition schedule to learn about Jewish values, by experiencing them first hand.
This year the JCC Maccabi’s Day of Caring coincided with Tisha B’av an annual fast day in Judaism, commemorating the destruction of both the First Temple by the Babylonians and the Second Temple by the Romans in Jerusalem. Described by Dr. David Ackerman, Director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Jewish Education at JCC Association, Tisha B’Av is about the loss of a place of worship and the resilience to continue.
In the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, teens had the opportunity to listen to a first hand account by survivor Carolyn Maull McKinstry of the attempted destruction of her place of worship in a racially motivated bombing on September 15, 1963, that killed four young girls.
Both speakers presented the importance of remembering, gaining strength to rebuild, overcoming adversity and “gimlut chasadim” — how acts of loving kindness strengthen each of us.
Participants spent the morning learning at the church and then touring the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Many of these 13-17 year olds learned about segregation and the struggle for Civil Rights for the first time.
Nearly 1000 Jewish teenagers — four little girls — a church — a museum — and a lesson in not just Jewish, but human values.
The Levite JCC and Birmingham community can be proud of the efforts they made to provide true Southern hospitality in a week of sports, new friendships and learning experiences.