Forging Ahead: B’ham weekend explores civil rights and the Jewish community

Over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the Birmingham Jewish community will host two events to explore, in story and song, how the civil rights movement affected Birmingham, with special focus on Jewish involvement.

“Forging Ahead: Civil Rights Stories and Song” will begin on Jan. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El, with “The Context: Circa 1950s Civil Rights and the Jewish Community.” There will be an appetizer reception, a Shabbat service and presentations by community members, including author T.K. Thorne, Rabbi Douglas Kohn, Cantor Jessica Roskin, Ellen Cooper Erdreich, Sol Kimerling, Cantor Jessica Roskin, Sarah Metzger and others.

In addition to writing two award-winning historical novels, Thorne is author of “Last Chance for Justice,” detailing behind-the-scenes investigations of the Sept. 15, 1963 Klan bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which killed four girls. She will relate stories about the Jewish community from her forthcoming book, “Behind the Magic Curtain: Secrets, Spies and Unsung White Allies of Birmingham’s Civil Rights Days.”

On Jan. 13, “Soul Daughter” musician Neshama Carlebach will headline a 6:30 p.m. event at Temple Beth-El. “From Seeds of Discord to Seeds of Change: The Attempted Bombing of Temple Beth-El and the Murder of 4 Little Girls” will feature University of Alabama at Birmingham Professor Pamela King, former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, current Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Rabbi Barry Leff.

On Jan. 3, it was announced that newly-elected Senator Doug Jones and former Lieutenant Governor Bill Baxley, who both prosecuted Klansmen for the 1963 bombing, will also be part of the Jan. 13 program.

King was the first historic preservationist for Birmingham, serving that role for 20 years. Arrington was the first African-American mayor in Birmingham’s history, first elected in 1977.

The daughter of Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, one of the most influential Jewish musicians of recent times, Carlebach began performing after her father died suddenly in 1994 with a year of shows booked. She stepped in to keep his music alive, then started to follow her own musical path.

In 2013 she found a home in the Reform movement, and often performs with a gospel group, the Glory to God Singers.

The program will start with Havdalah, then feature the speakers and a performance by Carlebach, followed by a dessert reception. Tickets are required for the Jan. 13 event, but are free.

In April 1958, a bomb with 54 sticks of dynamite was placed outside Beth-El but failed to detonate. The bombing was never officially solved. Through the civil rights era, there were dozens of bombings at African-American homes and churches, culminating in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.

The weekend is presented by Beth-El, Emanu-El and the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, and is open to the community.