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‘All hands on deck’

By Richard Friedman

“It’s all hands on deck.”

That’s what Birmingham Jewish Federation CEO Danny Cohn told me in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attack on Israel, when I contacted him to volunteer to help the BJF respond.

Danny asked me, because of my previous work reaching out to the Christian/non-Jewish communities, if I would take the lead in that area. I’m glad I did.

Since then, working in coordination with the BJF and the Levite Jewish Community Center, others and I have spent considerable time speaking to Christian groups, civic clubs, and business organizations.

Richard Friedman and LJCC Executive Director Brooke Bowles have been teaming up with LJCC Director of Jewish Life Tzlil McDonald (not pictured) to inform area organizations about the Israel-Hamas war and the alarming rise of antisemitism across the United States.

Our focus has been on October 7, its aftermath, and the current Israel-Hamas war — as well as the growing antisemitism in our own country. We have provided education, suggested action strategies, and encouraged people to donate to the BJF’s Israel Emergency Fund.

A team effort

Two of the most effective members of our speaker team have been LJCC Executive Director Brooke Bowles and Director of Jewish Life Tzlil McDonald.

As a non-Jewish director of a major Jewish institution, Brooke brings a unique perspective. She provides insight into the post-October 7 trauma that she has observed in the Jewish community, the dangers of increasing antisemitism, and how important it is right now for non-Jews to stand up for the Jewish community.

Tzlil, who is Israeli, offers poignant insight into Israel’s current state of mind and the impact of events on the lives of her friends and family. Plus, she is effective at providing details and historical context about the conflict.

Together, the three of us have spoken to a wide range of churches and civic clubs, and in business settings. Three programs have already been scheduled for January. 

Feedback has been great.

“Thanks for updating us on the Israel-Hamas situation,” wrote one attendee. “It was very informative and also troubling. I do think it is very important that we hear the situation as it really is both in Israel and here at home.”

“As you know, this is my second time to hear y’all speak,” wrote another audience member. “It doesn’t get any easier or less emotional hearing about how some hateful and uninformed people in this nation and world are regarding the Jewish people.”

I am grateful to Brooke, Tzlil, and the LJCC for their availability as we help Danny and his team at the BJF respond to daunting challenges, multiple demands, and difficult pressures.

What can you do?

If you are involved in any church groups, civic clubs, or business or social organizations that you think would benefit from such a presentation, please simply email me.

Richard Friedman is retired executive director of the Birmingham Jewish Federation and also served for three years as executive director of the LJCC.