Being Jewish in Birmingham

Regions Bank in Birmingham at Christmas

“I’m Jewish.”

There, I said it.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but I’ve never actually said those words publicly to a broad audience.  (Please note I’ve never hidden my Judaism and most of my Christian friends know my religion.)

But when I began elementary school, my parents gave me one clear piece of advice.  “Don’t under any circumstance discuss religion or politics.”

I didn’t understand why at the time, but as I grew older, the reason became clear.  I was born in 1943, a period when the Nazis were in the process of murdering six million Jews including 1.5 million children.  If I had been born in Eastern Europe I likely would have died in a gas chamber.

No wonder my parents were paranoid about me discussing my religion.

Therefore, one of my life’s great blessings is that I was born in America.

Another one of my great blessings is that I live in Birmingham.

I have gotten my positive perspective on being Jewish in Birmingham from other Jews who don’t live here and from my life-long Birmingham experiences.

Jewish people from other parts of our country don’t think there are Jews here.  Admittedly, there aren’t many–about 5,000 out of a metro population of about 1.1 million.  (Less than ½%)

And Jews from elsewhere sometimes assume that because Birmingham was once known for church bombings and other civil rights atrocities that our neighbors might be hostile.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

It’s true our community is very Christian, but our Christian neighbors are helpful and generous to a fault.

I may be naive, but I’ve never openly experienced anti-Semitism here.

I’ve been given the opportunity to serve in major Birmingham community leadership positions and have always been made to feel appreciated and valued.

Though we are small in number, I’m also very proud of our local Jewish community.

All our synagogues take active roles in our broader community; our Levite Jewish Community Center serves many families who aren’t Jewish; our Collat Jewish Family Services is dedicated to meeting the needs of people in both the Jewish and general communities; and our Birmingham Jewish Federation brings different faith and ethnic groups together and is one of the first in line to help our greater community in times of need.

God Bless America.

God bless Birmingham.

David Sher’s goal is to create a conversation on how to fix our fragmented and dysfunctional local government.

David Sher is a partner in Buzz12 Content Marketing and co-CEO of AmSher Receivables Management. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (ONB), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

This entry was posted in David Sher posts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Being Jewish in Birmingham

  1. Don N. Levy says:

    *Good job David.  Keep up the good work.

    Don

  2. Mike Coffey says:

    *David: 

    It has been a gift of, over the years, to have many Jewish friends and acquaintances.  I grew up two doors from the Temple Beth El, enjoyed Irving Stern as a mentor at the Jewish Community center theater (where I was a minor player).

    I also count has a blessing that we had such a wonderful contribution of Jewish owned businesses in Birmingham.  Loveman’s, Pizitz, Alands, to name but a few.

    It has always been a wish of mine that our community had a more diverse base, but we are nonetheless, a great community.

    Mike Coffey

  3. Lynn Rathmell says:

    *David,

    Good article! Thanks for recognizing and publicizing the work of Collat Jewish Family Services. 

    Lynn

  4. Ira Levine says:

    *David,

    Thanks for all you do in the community. You speak for many of us. I’m very proud to know you.

    Ira

  5. Sim says:

    David,

    Great article about Birmingham and how lucky we are as Jews to live in this city with our community and the general community which I have found to be incredibly caring, philanthropic and committed to good!

    Todah,
    Simmy

  6. Dr Russ Fine says:

    *David:

    You are A Blessing. A mitzvah. It is a privilege to think of you as not only someone whom I know and admire, but as a friend.

    Russ

  7. Allison Blankenship says:

    *David, Kudos to you!  Thank you for a great article.

    As a Christian, I’ve experienced the amazing support and joy from the Jewish community by being a member the Women’s Cultural Alliance. I was concerned that my personal religious practice would be a deterent to the other members, and I could not have been more wrong. 

    My husband and I have great admiration and respect for the beautiful history and community of the Jewish faith.  The world is strengthened only when we embrace our similarities over differences. 

    • David Sher says:

      Allison, your note exemplifies why I wrote my blog. Christian and Jewish families have a great quality of life in Birmingham that is often taken for granted. Thanks for your note.

  8. Jerome Leader says:

    *Well said, David…and, thank you for  your many civic contributions! I like the name of your blog..BIRMINGHAM…THE COMEBACK TOWN. And, David, I’m sure many more good things can  happen if  enough  positive-minded men & women ,like you, ….in government & business….decide to  combine  their efforts to accomplish worthy common goals for the region.
    Helen Keller said:  “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”.

    Jerry Leader

    Birmingham

  9. Jerome Leader says:

    *

  10. Jerome Leader says:

    *Thanks, David…..believe they are enjoying Jacksonville + Paige + grandchildren!

    JSL

  11. Jon Lewis says:

    Good post David.  I couldn’t agree more.

    Jon

  12. Jeb Stewart says:

    David — A few years ago I learned the word Mensch, and that’s how I think of you.

    Best regards and I love getting your emails!

    Jeb

  13. GB says:

    Well said David. Even though a negative reputation still haunts this city, Birmingham is one of the Best Keep Secrets in America as far as quality of life and the involvement of its citizens, especially if you are open minded to the positive possibilities of humanity . The Jewish community has made MAJOR contributions to Birmingham’s healing from the past, and to the current surge of economic growth and world recognition. As a Christian American Women of Color, I am proud to know my Jewish associates in Birmingham and feel blessed to have them in my life.

    GB

  14. David Sher says:

    Jeb, you are so kind.  Hope you’re doing well.

  15. *David,

    I have grown up in Birmingham, my parents moved us here from Montgomery when I was five. We lived in Mountain Brook and I was in one of the first classes at Brookwood Forest elementary school. Ironically both my children also went to B. Forest. As you know many Jews also went to school there as well. Looking back, I’m really glad that myself and my kids had the opportunity to be exposed to the Jewish faith in our young years. Both children now 26 & 28 still have many Jewish friends that they have had since the days of elementary & junior high school.

    I also remember going to my first Bar Mitzvah, I was blown away. What the kids and the family go thru during the service is not only very detailed and hard but also very emotional. It was an event that I’ll never forget.

    Thanks David!

  16. Jordan says:

    *It has been good knowing and working with you over the years to make Bham a better community for us to live in. You truely have done your part and for that I say Thank You. Have a Blessed Day.

    Jordan Frazier

    • David Sher says:

      Jordan, I am so appreciative of your note. You and I have known each other for a long time. You are a respected business leader who always makes that extra effort to help others. Thanks for your service.

  17. Maurice L. Shevin says:

    *David, so well said.  And, I agree that Birmingham has been a great place for Jews to live and prosper.  In return, the Jewish community has been great for Birmingham.  I take such pride that many Jews have been among the leaders in the historic struggles for social justice in our City.  I hope that we always will continue to understand that is a part of being “the chosen people.”

    • David Sher says:

      Maury, us Jews in Birmingham have a lot to be proud of, but we are so fortunate to have such welcoming and accepting Christian friends. I watch with great admiration as you live your live as you describe in your comments.

  18. TK Thorne says:

    *David, 

    I have to consciously think about saying “I am Jewish,” which I do often when talking about my book (because of the title-Noah’s Wife-many assume  I am Christian and that it is Christian literature).  When I first came to Birmingham, I worked in the police department (the first Jewish person on the force) and had to work Friday nights, so I never got involved in the Jewish community until the last decade.  At least that was my excuse.  What I have learned since is how wonderful that community is, and I am glad to be part of it.  I am also proud to say, “I am Jewish,” but it never comes out of my mouth without a bit of trepidation.  It is like marking yourself with a big yellow star that you can’t pull off and that you fear will identify you sometime in the future… when the veil of civilization might be (yet again) ripped asunder.  As warm and welcoming as our wonderful city/country is, I think it is always an act of bravery to say those words.  Shalom

  19. David Sher says:

    Gilda (GB), You are so kind.  We are fortunate to have you as an important face of ONB/Marketstreet.  You care a great deal about Birmingham and you make a difference every day.

  20. David, you are what you are and have never to my knowledge tried to be anything but.  The fact you are Jewish is not held out.  You are a man of integrity that happens to be Jewish.  I have never considered anything about you other than you are an outstanding citizen of our community and a successful businessman. Someone I admire. I was raised on the old Sunday School song, “Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his site”.Plus the blessing of a grandfather and aunt who never indicated anyone was different in any way from us. So unknowingly, I was raised on tolerance and love for others. That is what you have, as does the rest of your family that I know. I am proud you said you are Jewish as I guess you felt you must say it.  I am a white christian catholic raised by an aunt and grandfather. 

    • David Sher says:

      Trudy, thank you so much for your note. It is so reaffirming to hear from you. Your continued efforts to help others is a testament to what a good person you are. Thanks for all you do for the business community of Birmingham.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <br> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <dd> <dl> <dt> <em> <i> <img alt="" align="" border="" class="" height="" hspace="" longdesc="" vspace="" src="" style="" width=""> <ins datetime="" cite=""> <li> <ol> <p> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> <sub> <sup> <u> <ul>