Holocaust Program Ignites Appreciation, Determination
By Richard Friedman,
BJF-LJCC Executive Director
Sunday afternoon there was a great program sponsored by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center. This organization, which receives funding from the Birmingham Jewish Federation Annual Campaign, educates people about the Holocaust and this tragic chapter in Jewish and human history.
Community volunteer Cathy Friedman, who has spent decades strengthening our Jewish community and making life better for all of Birmingham’s citizens, was the honoree. It was a wonderful and well-conceived tribute to the impact Cathy’s had on so many lives.
Sitting at the program, I found myself thinking about our Levite Jewish Community Center, Birmingham Jewish Federation, our other local Jewish institutions and how every day, as the doors to our agencies open, we are responding to and defying Hitler’s attempt 75 years ago to annihilate all Jews.
Our Jewish community institutions are like candles that burn against anti-Semitism and, equally important, hatred of any kind. Our LJCC especially, with members from different faiths, races, ethnicities, economic levels, areas of town and political views, is a beacon of diversity in an era of divisiveness.
I also thought about the more than 50 relatives of mine who were murdered by the Nazis, family members who stayed behind in Poland after my grandfather and grandmother left for America in the early 1900s.
I often hear their collective voice telling me how important it is that we as Jews be strong and live proudly as Jews — treasuring our faith and protecting our peoplehood every single day. Build strong institutions and a strong Israel, I hear them say, and strong friendships with people who aren’t Jewish, people we care about and who care about us.
As a six-year-old boy, I remember meeting my father’s first cousin who survived the Holocaust and had come to America. I asked her why she had numbers tattooed on her arm? Everyone in the room froze and my father quickly ushered me into another room. “Don’t ever ask that again,” he said sternly. I was confused and didn’t know what I had done wrong. What I came to understand later was that people didn’t talk about those things in those days.
What I do know is that I still remember it 61 years later, even though my cousin died several years ago. What I also know is how proud I would be to tell those relatives I never knew, and even the cousin I did know, about the things we do every day at the LJCC, BJF, Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, and throughout the rest of our Jewish community. We care about principles and not only our well-being but also the well-being of our friends and neighbors who are not Jewish.
As the inspiring and moving BHEC program concluded Sunday, these were the thoughts that were on my mind. I also looked around at the audience — a large crowd of Jewish community families and friends of our community — and reflected on 2017 vs. 1943. Buoyed by our strength, organizational skill and commitment to one another, I left the program ready to begin the new week.