By Emily Williams
Each year, the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center celebrates life with its L’Chaim fundraising event, blending live entertainment with a program to highlight its mission to provide Holocaust education while preserving the stories of local Holocaust survivors.
This year’s event, themed “Now More Than Ever,” will take place virtually on Aug. 23, featuring performances that have been arranged by Keith Cromwell of Red Mountain Theatre Company. Guest speakers will include former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Auburn University head men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl.
Honorees for this year’s event will be longtime BHEC supporters Susan and David Silverstein.
David Silverstein, president of the FiveStone Group and former principal at Bayer Properties, noted that his relationship with the BHEC has spanned more than a decade, having lent the center office space in one of his properties on Arlington Avenue.
When asked to serve as the honorees for this year’s event, Silverstein said, he and his wife were humbled.
“I’ve always been somewhat reluctant to be the honoree,” he said. “I’d rather do the work behind the scenes … but I believe in the program and I believe in the mission.”
Though the Silversteins have lent their names and faces to the event this year, he has still put in that behind-the-scenes effort to help nail down one of this year’s speakers.
It Was Worth a Try
Silverstein has been spending a decent amount of time at his lake house during the pandemic and spent some of the down time reading Albright’s new book “Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st Century Memoir.”
“I thought, I’ll just go and send her an email and see if she would be willing to participate virtually with L’Chaim,” Silverstein said.
He reached out to her consulting firm in Washington, D.C., on a whim, believing it to be a longshot.
“So, I drafted an email to the former secretary of state,” he said with a chuckle. “I think I worked on it for about a day and a half, making sure every word was the right word.
“I drafted the email, hit the send button and didn’t know what response, if any, I would get.”
About one week later, Albright’s director of communications called and spoke with Silverstein for about 45 minutes about the organization and event, leaving the call with the promise that she would speak to Albright about the opportunity.
“The very next day, she called me and let me know that (Albright) would make the opening remarks,” he said. “I just about fell out of the chair.”
Though he has enjoyed attending L’Chaim in years past, when it mostly has been held at the Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, Silverstein hopes that going virtual will allow more people to participate who haven’t previously been able to attend.
“(The center) is one of these behind-the-scenes organizations that people still may not know much about, yet the center does such important work – not just in Birmingham, but across the state,” Silverstein said.
Education regarding the Holocaust is a serious subject that requires the correct approach, but it holds so many important lessons that can be connected to the world today, he said.
Charlottesville Was a Wake-Up Call
Silverstein noted that the Charlottesville rallies conducted by neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups in August 2017 were a wake-up call for many, including himself.
“Seeing those individuals carrying torches and walking around synagogues,” he said. “It really was so evil. It was so scary, and I can only imagine what it must have been like in 1941 in Europe, having someone knock on your door and take your family away and put them on cattle cars for extermination,” he said.
The rallies were just one instance that, for Silverstein, reinforced the work that the BHEC does in the state of Alabama and how important education is in promoting tolerance.
“The atrocities that occurred during the Holocaust have not been forgotten, and we are doing what we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “I think one of the key elements to ensuring that something like that doesn’t happen again is education.”
According to organization officials, both guest speakers at the L’Chaim event will, “share words of hope, empowerment and why Holocaust education is critical today.”
“Now more than ever, the BHEC is dedicated to preserving and sharing our Alabama Holocaust Survivors’ stories, which are powerful reminders to us all, of the consequences of hate, and silence in the face of hate. Even during this challenging COVID-19 pandemic, we are empowering teachers and our greater community through Holocaust education online workshops,” said the Rev. Melissa Self Patrick, executive director of Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.
The event will take place Aug. 23 online at 2 p.m. It is presented by Medical Properties Trust and is co-chaired by Kate Cotton, Cathy O. Friedman and Jim Richardson.
For more information, visit bheclchaim.swell.gives or call 205-795-4176.