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A Shining Star of David in the Deep South

Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar of Huntsville’s Temple B’nai Sholom is a shining light of compassion and inclusion in a region where there are few examples to light our way. I first met Rabbi Bahar after I founded the region’s only organization serving the LGBTQ community. She was one of the first community leaders to reach out to me to give encouragement and support during a period when I was struggling to keep my dream of helping LGBTQ people in the Deep South from faltering due to the lack of support from our larger communities. She is also the first and only Rabbi that I have had the honor of knowing. I consider her a friend.

While her own journey representing the Jewish faith and community has not been easy in North Alabama this has never kept her from reaching out and providing support to those of us who were also struggling. Rabbi Bahar has exhibited true courage on many occasions as she stepped forward to publicly advocate for underserved and underrepresented populations in Huntsville. As a fellow Human/Civil Rights activist in the South I know doing this is not something we do without a certain amount of fear and caution. I am proud to say that I have never seen these concerns keep Rabbi Bahar from coming forward publicly even though I know they must exist for her as they do for me.

I would like to share three significant examples of her service to the people of Huntsville as the Rabbi of our historic Temple B’nai Sholom.

Several years ago I received one of many reports that I have received of students being bullied in our local schools because of their perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity. As I talked with Rabbi Bahar I learned that the same school had a history of anit-Semetic harassment of students. Rabbi Bahar and I immediately joined together to advocate for all of these students. She was able to schedule meetings at the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education because of her leadership position in the community. I would not have been able to accomplish this at the time. She included me and provided me with the opportunity to represent LGBTQ youth. Together we worked with the Huntsville City Schools and the Anti-Defamation League to provide faculty training to the staff at this particular school. She was able to secure financial support from the local Jewish Federation and I was able to provide support from our agency. This effort eventually lead to the implementation of the “No Place for Hate” program throughout the Huntsville City Schools. This amazing accomplishment would not have happened without the leadership of Rabbi Bahar. Her leadership would not have been recognized if not for her excellent reputation in our city.

On another occasion when Louis Farrakan was preparing to speak at Alabama A&M University Rabbi Bahar was able to use her influence to raise awareness of the potential negative impact of this event on our community. Once again she reached out and included me in her efforts as a representative for the LGBTQ community. Together with leaders from Huntsville’s Interfaith Mission Service we met with the President of the University. This meeting lead to the development of a community panel discussion known and “Faces Before Stereotypes”. Rabbi Bahar opened Temple B’nai Sholom to a diverse group of religious and secular leaders to organize this important event. I am proud to say that due to Rabbi Bahar’s initial influence our agency, Free2Be, has been able to continue these discussions as part of our community service. We now organize and present at least one “Faces Before Stereotypes” panel annually.

Recently, as Alabama became the 37th state in the nation where LGBTQ people were given the legal recognition of their Civil Right to be legally married Rabbi Bahar once again opened Temple B’nai Sholom to help our community. When the weather was predicted to be too cold to provide marriage ceremonies in a local park she immediately came forward and provided a safe and comfortable location where the community was able to hold these important ceremonies.

I will never be able to personally thank Rabbi Bahar or the Jewish community that supports her in Huntsville for all the help she has provided to me as an individual and to our agency as we provide support and services to thousands of LGBTQ people and others that need our help. Her love and actions of kindness to support social justice and equality will always serve to provide encouragement and hope to the people of Huntsville and Alabama long after she and I both have moved beyond our current places in this community.

James Robinson, Free2Be

Read more about Rabbi Bahar on The Jewish Daily Forward