Leadership and solidarity an emphasis of Bonds, Federation event in Birmingham

Honorees Richard Pizitz Jr., Raymond and Cynthia Tobias, Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar, General Charles Krulak and Rabbi Eytan Yammer (Photo by Rabbi Barry Altmark)

In being recognized by Israel Bonds, General Charles Krulak told the Birmingham Jewish community that his status as being outside the community means he can see the selfless way the community helps Israel.

In the process, “the signal you send to the Christian community is so positive, you should be proud of yourself.”

Krulak was one of the honorees at the joint awards ceremony among Israel Bonds, the Birmingham Jewish Federation and Birmingham Jewish Foundation, held at the Levite Jewish Community Center on Oct. 28.

During the event, local Israel Bonds chairman Jimmy Filler stated that Birmingham is the only community where Israel Bonds and the local Federation share an awards evening.

The program made history in a second way, as an award was presented to someone from outside Birmingham. Knesseth Israel Rabbi Eytan Yammer and Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar from Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville were presented the Federation’s Joanie Plous Bayer Young Leadership Award.

In March, Yammer and Bahar were both named to the Forward’s 33 most inspirational rabbis list, and it was noted that Alabama is the only state to have two rabbis who are each under 40 on the list.

Daniel Odrezin, Federation assistant executive director, said the two rabbis have a lot in common, starting with “they ain’t from around here.”

Both are passionate supporters of Israel, with Yammer having served in the Israel Defense Forces and Bahar meeting with Presbyterian churches in north Alabama to persuade them to oppose anti-Israel resolutions at their biennial national conferences.

Yammer is “a stellar advocate for the Jewish people” and Bahar “is the face of the Jewish community” in Huntsville to the general community, Odrezin said. “Both rabbis have made their congregations more welcoming and more open to diversity.”

Acknowledging several Huntsville congregants who traveled to Birmingham for the ceremony, Bahar said hers is “an amazing congregation.”

A Pittsburgh native, she said “the richness of Southern Jewish life is not well understood in other parts of the country, and I have been blessed to take part in this rich heritage.

Yammer said “a leader can only do so much without a community that is open.” While he may have ideas, “without the Knesseth Israel mishpocha and without the greater Birmingham community, they would stay in my head.”

Richard Friedman presented Richard Pizitz Jr. with the Susan J. Goldberg Distinguished Volunteer Award. Calling him “one of the nicest, most sincere people I have met,” Friedman said “he is able to digest an issue dispassionately, but always with compassion.”

Pizitz noted how he absorbed lessons on volunteerism and giving back from his family. The auditorium where the event took place is named for his great-grandfather, who was president of what was then the Young Men’s Hebrew Association over 100 years ago, and he was LJCC president in 2008 and 2009.

“The importance of civic and charitable involvement became ingrained in me,” he said.

Ginger Held presented Cynthia and Raymond Tobias with the N.E. Miles Lifetime Achievement Award, which is presented by the Birmingham Jewish Foundation. “Many of our institutions were fortunate to have a Tobias presence,” she said.

Cynthia Tobias said when they were looking for a new home in 1982, they had three criteria — whether the new position at the University of Alabama at Birmingham was what they wanted, a viable Jewish community and synagogue, and a Jewish preschool and Day School. “Birmingham satisfied all our requests… we are so thankful we came to Birmingham.”

Raymond Tobias said they have been active in the community for the long-term “so other will be able to settle in Birmingham as it will satisfy their needs as it did for us.”

Ripps said the Krulaks “enriched us all when they decided to move to Birmingham.” His role in turning around a fiscally-ailing Birmingham-Southern College was explained.

Since retiring from the college, the Krulaks have remained in Birmingham, and Krulak has worked on Israel advocacy for the Federation.

Ripps said “in fact, I’d never had a Christian solicit me for the Jewish Federation.”

Krulak retired from the U.S. Marine Corps after 35 years of service, culminating as Commandant of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After his military career he was chairman and chief executive officer of MBNA Europe Bank.

Krulak told the audience to imagine being a few feet outside the Harbert Center downtown when someone with a knife attacks, or having a daughter or daughter-in-law pushing a stroller on a Mountain Brook sidewalk, then a car comes careening onto the sidewalk.

This is the reality Israel lives with, living “in a state where your neighbors hate you, where your neighbors want you dead.”

Not only that, it is a state “where people tell lies about you — your culture, your religion and your history. And those lies are spread around the world, and people believe them.”

That is why it is important for the community to remain engaged, even from thousands of miles away, he said. Advocacy, prayers, writing and visiting all send a signal.

“You are in the fight, and you will remain in the fight, selflessly,” Krulak concluded.

Donald Hess said “we are their brothers and sisters, and we can join them in being leaders and being a light to the nations.”

As the evening was an Israel Bonds event, Filler urged the crowd to “Invest in the Jewish future… By doing so, you make a bold statement to our enemies.”