As Steven Brickman addressed a gathering of Birmingham’s Jewish community on Tuesday night, he did not know the fate of two family members in Israel near the border with Gaza.
Brickman said his relatives, who live in a kibbutz, have not been heard from since the weekend, when Hamas militants launched a surprise attack against Israel, killing more than 1,000 people and taking dozens of civilian hostages, including Americans.
Brickman, a former president of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, which hosted Tuesday night’s event at the Levite Jewish Community Center, said the weekend attack was “reminiscent of the horrors deep in our Jewish souls,” referring to the pogroms of Russia and Eastern Europe and the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.
“We as Jews and Christians who love Israel understand this weekend was the worst day in the history of the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” he said. “We’re in pain, we’re angry and feeling a sense of incomprehension at the magnitude of these barbaric acts.”
Without naming anyone specifically, Brickman said he was appalled that some in Birmingham and around the country “would seek to condone and justify and even celebrate this violence and terrorism,” which he pointed out reportedly included the beheadings of Israeli babies.
“This is disgusting and hurtful and anyone who engages in this behavior is not our friend or ally,” he said. “Indiscriminately murdering, abducting and raping civilians is pure and evil terrorism and not resistance.”
Danny Cohn, CEO of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, said the attack “has shaken us all.” But he said it also strengthened the Jewish community in Birmingham and beyond.
“Today’s sentiments reverberate through the streets of Birmingham and indeed the world,” Cohn siad. “We are here for Israel .. for our brothers and sisters that face terrorism and fear, reminding them that they are not alone. Terror seeks to divide, to create chasms and to sow the seeds of discord. Yet in its wake we witness the very opposite.”
He urged attendees of the event to go to the federation’s website, where donations are being collected to help Israeli victims rebuild.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who has made several trips to Israel, said the attacks became personal to him.
He said he stood with Alabama’s Jewish community.
“We cannot be unequivical when it comes to naming what we witnessed this weekend, and that is evil,” he said. “I’m proud to stand with this comm, I’m proud to stand with the ppl of Israel, the people that I have grown to love.”
Denise Gilmore, senior director of social justice and racial equity for the Birmingham mayor’s office, delivered a message from Mayor Randall Woodfin. Her statement appeared to allude to Woodfin reportedly deleting a tweet that showed support for Israel after criticism from the mayor’s social media followers.
“I want to make my position very clear: The attack on Israel was an act of terrorism by Hamas. The killing and kidnapping of innocent people should be unacceptable to everyone,” Gilmore said on Woodfin’s behalf. “I support Israel protecting the lives of its innocent citizens, including its children.”
Gilmore said the city “is heartbroken over the senseless attacks” in Israel.
“In Birmingham, we stand in solidarity with our Jewish community and pray that your hearts will be lifted,” she said.
Gen. Charles Krulak, former president of Birmingham Southern College, told the crowd he comes from a mixed Jewish background and stands with the community.
“I’m also here because I’m pissed, with all due respect to the ladies in the audience,” he said.
“I’ve been to war three times, I’ve been shot twice, I used to be 6-foot-2. This wasn’t war. I’ve never seen anything like this. This [the attack on Israel] was barbaric. This was disgusting. This was one that raises an anger in me that my wife has now got me sleeping on the couch. It knows no bounds.”
But Krulak said his feelings about the attack “pales to insignificance to what’s felt by the [Israeli Defense Forces] and the Israeli people sitting there under the cone of fire.”
He then referenced the lesson of the Holocaust.
“We have to say ‘never again,’” he said.
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