Collat Jewish Family Services holds celebration honoring Jimmie Hess

The new theater at the Alabama School of Fine Arts made its public debut in an impressive evening, as Collat Jewish Family Services of Birmingham announced it had raised $110,000 in the May 3 “Hands Up Together” benefit concert.

The venue was almost filled for the concert featuring Tony-nominated actor Euan Morton, and honoring Jimmie Hess.

Cathy O. Friedman, who chaired the evening, said the “entire evening has been beshert,” the term for something that is destined, mentioning that even the stage the concert was held on was named for Jimmie and the late Emil Hess.

Jimmie Hess’ history of support for the arts locally and philanthropy in the Jewish and general communities was highlighted in the presentation. She spoke of her children, “20 grandchildren” – 10 couples – and “I have great hopes for my 24 great-grandchildren.”

Hess said “many people have been helped by this wonderful organization. They’ve been helped quietly and effectively.”

This year she celebrated her 90th birthday, and told the crowd that “tonight you make me feel so young… and 90 inches tall.”

The evening also highlighted the work CJFS does in the community, with an emphasis on showing it goes beyond just the Jewish community. A video presentation told the story of an older non-Jewish woman from a small town in Tennessee who moved to Birmingham to be closer to family, and who has maintained her independence through the assistance of CJFS.

Morton, who moved to New York from Great Britain in 2003 to take the role of Boy George in “Taboo,” said despite his suit, he performs informally and invited the crowd to sing along when they liked, though he added “Jimmie, I’ve heard that if you join in, you’ll put me to shame.”