On Sept. 20, congregations throughout the region will usher in the High Holy Days with Selichot evening services, and in some cases, special programs in conjunction with the services.

Birmingham's Temple Emanu-El will host a Selichot program that comes back home. Filmmaker Judith Schaefer will be on hand for a screening of her documentary, ‘So Long Are You Young,” about former Emanu-El lay rabbi Samuel Ullman.

“So Long Are You Young: Samuel Ullman’s Poem and Passion,” the diligently researched documentary by Judith Schaefer, reaches back into the mists of history to introduce us to a pillar of two Jewish communities in the South in the decades following the Civil War.

Ullman’s influence transcended both his lifetime and his region. Incongruously, a poem he wrote in his late 70s, in 1917, became a beacon of inspiration 30 years later in postwar Japan. That ode, “Youth,” is still so widely revered that Japanese tourists make pilgrimages to Birmingham to visit the museum where its author’s contributions are commemorated.

“So Long” marks the directorial debut of Schaefer, a longtime San Francisco Jewish Film Festival board member.

In the course of the one-hour film, numerous Japanese — including the legendary industrialist Kounosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic Electronics — recite lines from the poem they committed to memory as children.

“Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years,” one passage goes. “People grow old only by deserting their ideals.”

More of a meditation or inspirational reading, strictly speaking, than a poem, “Youth” resonated with a nation shocked and depressed by its devastating defeat. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the respected provisional commander in postwar Japan, kept a framed copy displayed in his office, and it spread from there.

The phenomenon of a German Jew in the American South speaking so directly to Japanese children two generations later is as unexpected in its own way as Bronx Jewish schoolteacher Abel Meeropol’s ability to capture the horror of lynching in his lyrics to “Strange Fruit,” the song that Billie Holiday immortalized.

While the bond the Japanese feel toward Ullman is amazing, “So Long Are You Young” really finds its groove in its recounting of the merchant’s life.

Ullman was born in Germany in 1840, and was 10 when his family immigrated to the United States. They settled near an uncle in Mississippi, and when the Civil War erupted Ullman fought for the Confederacy.

Afterward, he married, opened a dry-goods store in Natchez, and raised six children. While no great success as a businessman, he was a respected conciliator who co-founded a Reform synagogue and served as alderman.

In 1884, Ullman moved the family to Birmingham, where he spent 16 years as a member and eventual head of the school board. He was instrumental in pushing through the first all-black public high school in the city in 1900.

He also served as lay rabbi at Emanu-El in the mid-1890s before the congregation hired Rabbi Morris Newfield, who later became Ullman’s son-in-law.

The film was released in 2006. The evening at Emanu-El will begin at 7 p.m. with a reception,
followed by the program and Selichot at 7:30 p.m.

(Michael Fox of j. the Jewish news weekly contributed to this report).

Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El will feature “With all Your Soul: The Story of Roi Klein.” Major Roi Klein was killed in the battle at Bint Jbeil in the Second Lebanon War. He died sacrificing himself to save his soldiers, as he leapt onto a hand grenade and cried out “Shma Yisrael.”

The film follows his sister, Yifat, as she traces his life and final days.

The program will conclude with a discussion and casual Selichot service followed by the sounding of the Shofar.

The program will begin at 7:30 p.m.

At Pensacola’s Temple Beth El, there will be a performance of music from the High Holy Days. The concert will be presented by Leonid Yanovskiy, Victoria Ademenko and Susie Griffith.

Yanovskiy is concertmaster of the Pensacola Symphony and is married to Ademenko, who is the congregation’s Shabbat pianist. She will play the organ at the Selichot event.
Griffith is Beth El’s High Holy Days choir director.

The evening will begin at 8 p.m. A dessert reception will follow the performance, which in turn will be followed by the Selichot service at 10:30 p.m.

In Montgomery, Temple Beth Or will join with Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem at Agudath Israel for a 7:30 p.m. community play, led by Roy Goldfinger. There will be a discussion following the play, and then a brief Selichot service. Institute of Southern Jewish Life Fellow Amanda Rainey will be visiting during the weekend.

In Baton Rouge, B’nai Israel will have a viewing of “Snow in August” at 8 p.m., followed by a discussion of High Holy Day themes in the movie. The 2001 film is set in 1947 in New York, where a young Irish boy is paralyzed with fear after witnessing the savage beating of a Jewish shopkeeper. He turns to a rabbi who helps him to release the spirit of Golem, a legendary monster, which helps him to confront his tormentors and restore law and order.

Temple Sinai in New Orleans will have a program with Steve Brand, producer, writer and editor of “Praying With My Legs,” a film about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The quote used as the title came from Heschel’s description of marching with Dr. Martin Luther King in Alabama in 1965.

Brand is an Emmy Award-winning film and television producer, having produced newsmagazine segments and long-form work for the three major television networks, as well as for PBS and cable outlets. His independent work has been shown theatrically throughout the United States and abroad, as well as on home video.

While working for 20/20, he did an Emmy-winning segment on Viola Liuzzo, who was killed after participating in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery civil rights march.

Heschel is regarded as one of the great Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. One of his major works was “God In Search of Man.” He was also known for his activism on behalf of civil rights.
The program will begin at 7 p.m., followed by a reception and Selichot at 9 p.m.

At Metairie's Shir Chadash, there will be a Selichot service and program at 8 p.m. The weekend will be the first visit for Andy Shugerman, a rabbinic Fellow from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Shugerman and Steven Rein will be serving the congregation this year as it searches for a full-time rabbi.

Touro Synagogue will have Selichot Under the Stars in New Orleans. At 8 p.m., there will be a Moonpies and Stardust dessert reception in the courtyard, followed by a candlelight Selichot at 8:30 p.m. The program is for adults and post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah teens. Pillows, blankets and lawn chairs are welcome.

Congregation Beth Israel and Congregation Gates of Prayer will have a “Selichot Havdallah Concert” at 8 p.m. at Gates of Prayer in Metairie. Rabbi Uri Topolosky and Rabbi Robert Loewy will lead the evening musically, with assistance from Dahlia Topolosky and Tory May. Everyone is invited to join the evening with their own instruments. Separate Selichot services will follow at 10 p.m.

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