Humility is the overarching impression you get when you meet Joel Rotenstreich.
Every year, the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center honors a person whose actions have helped not only the center, but life for the Jewish people of Birmingham as well as people from other faiths. This year, Rotenstreich is the honoree.
It would take columns to list the accomplishments and selfless actions of Rotenstreich. His work in education, social justice and interfaith only begin the list.
“My passions throughout the adult part of my life have been education and bringing people together. The third is social justice. Treating everyone equally, equal opportunity, doing the right thing,” Rotenstreich said.
Rotenstreich headed fundraising for the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center in 2016 and again in 2017. His face-to-face strategy worked wonders.
“Fundraising for the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center is essential. The place teaches courage, integrity, cooperation, endurance, self-respect, respect for others. We’re training teachers to teach the lessons of the Holocaust, and this is happening all over Alabama,” Rotenstreich said. “Close to 1,500 teachers across Alabama have been trained by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.”
Rotenstreich sees connections among historical events that tie human consciousness together. Things like the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing during the civil rights struggle and other world-changing events. He notices these connections especially when he travels to Israel. Introducing others to Israel and its history and culture is another passion for Rotenstreich and his wife, Bunny. They have led 22 trips to that country.
“We’re connected; we are all in this world together,” he said. “The four little girls who were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 — there is a connection, and we are trying to teach everyone about the history and lessons of the past.”
Rotenstreich has served on boards of numerous organizations and led the Anne Frank Tree project in which a horse chestnut tree like one she mentioned in her diary was planted in Kelly Ingram Park and dedicated to the “victims of intolerance and discrimination.” Rotenstreich was campaign chair and president of the Jewish Federation, served three five-year-terms on the Mountain Brook Board of Education and was its president from 2000 until 2002.
Kendall Chew, outreach coordinator at the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, may know more about what Rotenstreich has achieved than Rotenstreich himself.
“L’Chaim means ‘to life.’ The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center adapted that phrase as the title for their annual fundraiser. L’Chaim honors someone every year who has brought life to the community and the mission we serve,” Chew said. “This year we are fortunate to be honoring someone that speaks and walks our mission every day in his life, and that’s Joel Rotenstreich.”
L’Chaim will take place at the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19.
“I am extremely grateful to be honored by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center,” Rotenstreich said. “Getting recognition for what I stand for means something I’m doing might be working.”
Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected]ail.com.