By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
The Levite Jewish Community Center on Montclair Road has received three bomb threats this year, but that hasn’t deterred individuals who visit the facility.
Joshua Rutsky, 46, a Hoover High School English teacher whose son attends school at the center, said he will not be intimidated.
“I’m not going to stop sending my child to school because some bozo sends a threat in . . . there’s too much at stake to be intimidated by people who make threats; that’s how they get their power.”
Rutsky pointed out that the center has received an outpouring of support. “We’ve had local groups expressing solidarity with us,” he said. “The local Christian and Muslim communities have spoken out against what’s happening and we appreciate those gestures.”
The Jewish people are used to threats “in various ways,” but the recent bomb threats “have been frequent and aggressive enough to where it made a lot of people in the community feel very uncomfortable,” he said. “Anyone who is a minority – Jewish, black, Hispanic, Asian – is going to run into closeminded or thoughtless people.”
The LJCC offers various resources including workout rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, childcare, senior care, theater, a Kosher café and helps resettle and find housing for people from other countries who come to the United States.
The threats have left many people on edge because of the unpredictability, Rutsky said.
“The biggest fear we have is that this is someone who wants to keep doing this until we stop being responsive and we get complacent and God forbid they do something terrible. We just have to continue to be vigilant and not let this change the way we look at the world. One idiot doesn’t change the world,” he said.
The community center gives people from all sects of Judaism – Orthodox, Reform, secular and others – a place to gather, Rutsky said.
“Community is essential in Jewish life,” he said. “You have to have a place where you can come together and celebrate who you are and the things that you value. Especially in Alabama where there’s not a huge Jewish community and a place where you can go.”
According to the LJCC, about 75 percent of members of the center, are non-Jewish. Hearing from the non-Jewish community has been comforting, Rutsky said.
“There is a group of non-Jewish parents who have their children in daycare at the [center] and they call themselves the Friends of the JCC … they have started to organize and increase awareness that the [center] is not just for Jews . . . somebody who is targeting Jews is targeting a whole range of people. They stand with us because they’re part of our community and we’re part of theirs.”
Rutsky said he doesn’t see the Jewish community differently than others in the city.
“We’re part of Birmingham, we’re Alabamians, we’re Americans,” he said. “The way that we act in the city when faced with adversity really defines who we are and has defined who we are in Birmingham, and I think that the city is very good at not stooping to the level of the people who taunt it.”
Members of the Jewish community are resilient, he said.
“One thing the Jewish community is used to — and we have this in common with the African American community — we’re used to having people threaten us in various ways,” he said. “People will choose to pick on somebody when they get scared. When there is a problem in their community that they don’t want to face, they turn to attacking others to make themselves feel better. This is something that has happened in history. We’ve learned that that’s part of the price for believing what we believe. Our faith is stronger than their hate.”
Birmingham Mayor William Bell visited the LJCC on Tuesday.
“Our office is in daily contact with the Birmingham Police Department, FBI and ATF, a coordinated and aggressive effort is underway to stop these threats nationally and here locally and bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said. “We are doing everything that we can to stop these cruel and senseless acts. The city of Birmingham is the cradle of the Civil Rights movement and threats of any kind against any group will not be tolerated in any house of worship or any area whatsoever.”
If anyone has any information to help with the ongoing investigation, they are asked to call 254-7777, the mayor said. “We will not stop until the individuals are caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.