Raytheon and the Rabbi

Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz sent me this story written by Ted Roberts (“The Scribbler on the Roof”):

Here in Huntsville, Alabama – the buckle of the Bible Belt – one of our fanciest, blue ribbon eateries, 801 Franklin, has conducted a Kosher banquet.  Strictly Kosher.  Moshgiach (inspector/monitor) and all. Chabad Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz was in charge…

The restaurant, 801 Franklin – one of Huntsville’s finest – was the site of this feast – provoked by the need for Raytheon to host a group of Israeli service people for a program review.  Rather than limit the Israeli menu to an apple decorated by lemon slices – a simple solution – the Raytheon folks served a bountiful Parev meal centering on Salmon and fancy sides.  A banquet like Esther prepared for achashveros…

Raytheon went all out – with acceptable food sources, a ritually clean salmon and even a Moshgiach (kitchen inspector) to assure the religious cleanliness of the meal.  A mitzvah – a step beyond, as we say in Judaism.


Mazel Tov to Raytheon, 801 Franklin, and Monty Williams.  Monty moved to Huntsville to open Green Hills Grille and then 801 Franklin -  he is a blessing to Huntsville.

Jolly Old Saint Nick

“What would Santa drink” was published last year in All About Beer Magazine and tells another side of the story of Nicholas of Myra, patron saint and protector of children, patron saint of sailors, prisoners, travelers, Italians, Belgians, Russians, prostitutes (remind me to look up the etymological history of  ”Ho, Ho, Ho” sometime), students, firefighters, coopers, pawnbrokers, bankers, merchants, archers, judges, butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers… and BREWERS.

Saint Nicholas was born in what is now Turkey, which at the time was Greek (Lycia) and ruled by the Roman  emperor Diocletian, a naughty tyrant who persecuted Christians.  His successor (forget Maximian), Constantine legalized Christianity and called the Council of Nicaea which established the Nicene Creed (plus when to celebrate Easter).  St. Nick attended that first ecumenical council:

According to one account, when confronted by the unyielding Arias, Nicholas slapped him in the face. For such a breach of decorum, Nicholas was brought before Constantine, who stripped him of his office and had him thrown into prison.

Then there is the story of Saint Nicholas the Tea Partier:

The people of Myra begged Bishop Nicholas to ask the emperor for relief from the high taxes which were causing much hardship. Nicholas went to plead their cause with Constantine. The emperor granted a large reduction, giving Nicholas a copy of the order. The bishop immediately put the document on a stick and threw it into the sea. Soon afterwards it was found and taken to the authorities in Myra. The order was immediately put into effect, substantially lowering the taxes. Meanwhile Constantine, whose finance ministers had convinced him that this lost revenue would seriously harm the royal treasury, summoned Nicholas to return the document for revision. Nicholas reported that the order was already in effect in Myra. Doubting this, Constantine sent a runner to determine the truth. When Nicholas’ words were confirmed the emperor allowed the reduction to stand. A century later Myra still enjoyed low taxation which the people attributed to St. Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas was canonized by public acclamation:

In the Middle Ages Saint Nicholas, along with Martin of Tours, was celebrated as a true people’s saint because of the way he lived. This was unusual as most early saints were martyrs who had died for their faith. Nicholas was surely an early example of a saint who was honored for the witness of his life. Nicholas was a saint whose life bore witness to God’s work through a life of social value, lived carrying out God’s will. Both Nicholas and Martin lived to an old age and died peacefully. This may be one reason they were so very popular: They were examples of how to live, rather than how to die in times of persecution.

Therefore Nicholas does not have a date for formal canonization. Rather, the record shows a gradual spread of reverence until a widespread level of recognition and practice established him as a saint everywhere.


While children in the US leave Santa Claus milk and cookies, children in Belgium leave Santa a nice glass of beer.



Bentley keeps a promise

Governor-elect Dr. Robert Bentley partially fulfilled part of the Gas Tax Pledge by appointing John Cooper as Director of the Alabama Department of Transportation.  The Gas Tax Pledge promised to keep at least 80% of Madison County / Huntsville / Madison gas taxes in this area – plus – appoint an ALDOT Director from North Alabama.  Cooper lives near Guntersville, but worked as CEO of Avocent and CFO of Adtran in Huntsville.

Shelly Haskins of The Huntsville Times wrote “Gov.-elect Robert Bentley names retired Huntsville business executive John R. Cooper transportation director”:

“A first-class transportation system is a critical part of my plan for economic growth and bringing good-paying jobs to our citizens,” Bentley said in a news release. “John Cooper has the managerial experience and leadership qualities to ensure that Alabama has the right transportation infrastructure we need to succeed.”

Thanks Dr. Bentley – I hope this is the first of many posts saying “Bentley keeps a promise”!

I know why the caged bird sings

Northwoods Flyer

Northwoods Flyer








…a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage…

I attended Huntsville City Councilman Will Culver’s town hall meeting, where Culver presented the City’s plan to improve pedestrian safety while crossing University Drive (40,000 vehicles per day).  Three people have been killed crossing the street, and eighteen injured, over the past ten years.  City Traffic Engineer Richard Kramer says that it is one of the most dangerous pedestrian crossings in Huntsville (West Clinton Avenue and Memorial Parkway downtown round out the top three).

Regular readers know that I like Culver – I think he has grown as a Councilman.  Culver conducted the meeting professionally, asking the audience to hold their comments for the Q&A after the presentation. Culver brought relevant City leaders to the meeting, plus Councilman Dr. Richard Showers and HHA Director Michael Lundy. About 80 or so people attended the meeting – Steve Doyle of The Huntsville Times, Eric Sollman of WAFF 48, and Chase Gallimore of WAAY 31 reported on the meeting. 

Culver’s plan was to close Yukon and Glacier Street at University, improve pedestrian crossings at Arctic and Meadow, and build a nice-looking landscaped fence along University to channel pedestrians to the improved crossings.  Culver worked with the City, State, and Huntsville Housing Authority for months developing this plan – and presented the plan at “3 or 4″ previous town halls.  Culver’s plan would cost ~$70k, much less than the two pedestrian bridges desired by residents (bridges cost ~$800k each).

Culver doesn’t want pedestrian bridges due to the City’s experience with the bridge by UAH – people loitering, sleeping, and defecating on the ramps.

Culver’s plan sounds like a reasonable technocrat-approved solution.  However, the solution gets volatile when you add people.  

Steve Doyle of The Huntsville Times wrote “Northwoods public housing residents reject fence along University Drive to deter jaywalkers”:

It was clear from the outset of Tuesday’s meeting that Culver’s plan was in trouble. One Northwoods resident said a fence gives the appearance that the city is “trying to imprison us.”

Another woman distributed a flyer with a picture of jail bars and the caption, “Do you know what the City of Huntsville has in store for your neighborhood?”

The Rev. Al Garrett with Interfaith Mission Service suggested Huntsville police conduct a safety campaign to educate children in Northwoods about the dangers of jaywalking on University Drive.

The city should also encourage construction of a convenience store on the Northwoods side of University, Garrett said, so residents won’t have to cross the busy road to shop at Chevron or Jet-Pep.

An exasperated Culver replied to the flyer “we are not here to lock folks up” and addressed (with HPD Chief Hudson, Fire Chief Sublett, and HEMSI Chief Webster) each of the claims made on the flyer:

- Do you want to be FENCED in?
- There will ONLY be ONE way in and ONE way out!
- Do you want to be bothered by heavy traffic AND noise?
- Do you want to be DENIED access to University Drive?
- How will POLICE, FIRE, or AMBULANCE get to you?

The audience politely listended to Culver’s presentation, and the Q&A was spirited but at one point out of control.  Imagine a heated Chaffee or Blossomwood meeting and turn up the volume, add some colloquial expressions and some arm-waving, and you get the idea.  People care about schools, roads, and crime.

Many residents want AAA school moved out to reduce traffic, objecting to “people busing in children from other neighborhoods” – Cavalry Hill school should be for “our kids”.

Residents also brought up the revised FEMA Flood maps, noting that several residents are disabled and without transportation.  This is a great point – does the HHA have a plan to evacuate disabled residents?  Does the City have a plan for all residents?

A representative of the Bicycle Advisory Committee cited a Federal Transportation Authority Pedestrian Safety Report (link to PDF), which recommends several “treatments” to improve pedestrian (and bicycle) safety.  She suggested a median similar to Governors Drive (between the Parkway and Triana), which would give pedestrians a safe zone while crossing seven lanes of traffic.

One resident asked HPD to watch for little kids crossing University and “take them home and arrest the parents”. Sgt Mark Roberts said that the HPD does pick up kids, but often there are no parents at home.

The lack of convenient shopping in the neighborhood was mentioned as contributing to the need to cross University Drive, as well as students walking to Butler High School.  Culver and Lundy said that they are looking at ways to bring in shopping.

Reverend Garrett made some good points, saying that it’s “important for the Police and the Council to exhaust all approaches”, suggesting a safety campaign and outreach to the two churches and AAA school.

The residents voted on Culver’s plan, and soundly rejected it (50 to 7).  Culver closed the meeting, saying: “You have spoken, I have heard, there is no fence”

…for the caged bird sings of freedom.
- Maya Angelou

Madison County Commission and Coroner-elect

Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison beclowned himself this morning at the Madison County Commission meeting, saying that “there are funeral homes that won’t handle African American bodies”.  I couldn’t believe that statement to be true, so I called all ten funeral homes in Madison County to be sure (it’s not true).  The representative at Nelms Memorial Funeral Home summed it up best: “I know that all of the funeral homes in the county handle everyone”.   It won’t surprise anyone to know that Bob Harrison misspoke while insulting funeral home operators in Madison County.


I attended the Madison County Commission meeting this morning since Coroner-elect Craig Whisenant was on the agenda.  After County Attorney Julian Butler reviewed the applicable laws for Coroner (legislative action is necessary for more than a vehicle and the existing salary / expenses),  Whisenant said he is “absolutely, positively ready to take office, there will be no disruption in service”.  Whisenant also said that he is “trying to make the Coroner’s office a legitimate office”.

Whisenant has a copy of his Report to the Madison County Commission presented December 6, 2010 available on PDF:

While it is evident that the Madison County Coroner’s Office is severely underfunded based on the operating expenses of neighboring counties, I cannot accurately determine budgetary needs until I receive the outgoing coroner’s books and have the results of an audit.  The outgoing coroner is on record stating that he does not know how much it costs to operate the Maadison County Coroner’s Office. 

Whisenant said that he will attend the continuing education course (as required by law); he plans to develop a mutual aid agreement with neighboring counties in case of a mass casualty disaster; and he will implement the State Department of Public Health information / automation system.

Whisenant asked for a vehicle to transport human remains and asked for “prior approval” of three Deputy Coroners.


Former Madison County Coroner and Spry Funeral Home owner Sam Spry rose to support Whisenant, as did John Purdy of Laughlin Service Funeral Home.  Spry began with remembrances of how ambulance services used to be run out of funeral homes and then noted to the Commission that he “never asked for anything except space to bury indigents”.

Spry said “when Berryhill says he takes money out of his pocket [to fund the Coroner's office], he is well compensated”.  Spry said “I know that there are families he [Berryhill] has solicited” and “don’t think for a minute that his presence doesn’t have an influence on people [making funeral decisions]“.

Spry said “Whisenant is trying to do this ethically… There is an advantage to this office for those who run funeral homes… For twenty years Berryhill hasn’t transported a body to Spry”.

County Attorney Butler asked Spry to stop discussing Berryhill, under the rationale that Berryhill wasn’t there to respond.


The Huntsville Times reported on the first couple of minutes of the Coroner’s office discussion in their article “Coroner must go to Legislature, not Madison County Commission for more money”.  I’m certain that they’ll report about Harrison’s race-baiting and Spry’s comments later…

Pirsumei nissa


Mayor Battle and Rabbi Berkowitz

Mayor Battle and Rabbi Berkowitz












If there’s a Jewish holiday more suited to Southerners than Hanukkah, someone please let me know.  Hanukkah is fried-food centric and child-friendly, plus “Rock of Ages” is the theme song.  Thanks to ‘zenjenn’ for the heads up.

Our new Rocket Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz invited Mayor Tommy Battle to help light the Public Menorah at Bridge Street Sunday night.  Glenn Clayton of Appleton Learning (and Right On Huntsville) was one of the sponsors, along with Buffalo Rock Beverages.  Rebecca Shlien of WAAY 31 and Venton Blandin of WHNT 19 reported on the event.

Rabbi Berkowitz leads the Chabad Jewish Center of North Alabama:

Chabad Lubavitch of North Alabama is dedicated to strengthening the Huntsville Jewish community by promoting Jewish pride, study and celebration. 

- To serving individuals and families looking for a non-judgmental, accepting, personalized Jewish experience and to establish a warm and traditional community center where everyone is made to feel welcome and comfortable.

- To providing for the spiritual & material needs of all Jews living in and visiting Huntsville – regardless of their background or affiliation.

Hanukkah – The Festival of Lights – commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the Miracle of the Oil:

Chanukah celebrates two miracles:

a) The 2nd century BCE victory of a small, greatly outnumbered and out-armed army of Jews, known as the “Maccabees,” over the mighty Greek army that occupied the Holy Land. The rebellion was in response to the Greek attempt to force a Hellenistic G‑dless lifestyle on the Jewish inhabitants of Israel.

b) The kindling of a seven-branched Menorah (candelabra) was an important component of the daily service in the Holy Temple. When the Maccabees liberated the Temple from the hands of the Greek invaders, they found only a small cruse of pure and undefiled olive oil fit for fueling the Menorah. The problem was, it was sufficient to light the Menorah only for one day, and it would take eight days to produce new pure oil. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days and nights.

…Originally, the sages who established Chanukah instituted that the menorah be lit at the entranceway to one’s home. The concept of pirsumei nissa, “the publicizing of the miracle,” is, and always was, part and parcel of Chanukah.

Fried foods like potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts are traditionally served at Hanukkah to remember the Miracle of the Oil.

What was the reason that G-d made the miracle in the oil? The reason was to show that generation and all succeeding generations that the need for spiritual purity is a cornerstone in the Jewish religion and thought.

Shalom y’all.

Huntsville breweries in Draft Magazine

Huntsville got a mention in the Draft Magazine feature story “12 breweries to watch in 2011″ (thanks to Damon for the tip):

Three new breweries in this tony Southern town bring Alabama’s brewery count to nine. The trio—Straight to Ale, Yellowhammer and Blue Pants—plans to keep the competition friendly in favor of elevating the city’s palate. “All I’m interested in is getting people to drink craft beer in general,” says Yellowhammer brewer Keith Yager. “The worst that could happen is that any one of us is bad, because then it turns everyone off.” Here’s what each outfit’s working on:

Straight to Ale
Launched in spring, this devil-themed brewery brews four regulars—Monkeynaught IPA, Lily Flagg Milk Stout, Wernher von Brown Ale and Brother Joseph’s Belgian Dubbel—plus several “occasionals” like a raspberry wheat. And it has already introduced a limited-edition lineup: the Right to Brew Series, a line of brews crafted in collaboration with guest homebrewers. The first, a Belgian quad, debuted in September. straighttoale.com

Yellowhammer Brewery
Named after Alabama’s state bird, Yellowhammer introduced an IPA and a ginger-and-lime-leaf-spiked Belgian White in October; Yager will expand the lineup with a German altbier, a tripel and a kolsch next year. yellowhammerbrewery.com

Blue Pants Brewery

This quirky nanobrewery launched in October with Knickerbocker Red, a keg-conditioned, Cascade-hopped American red. Next up: Pinstripe Stout, an imperial version loaded with chocolate, coffee and vanilla. bluepantsbrew.com

These beers are available at The Nook, Mason’s, and 1892 East at Five Points.  Perhaps surprisingly, many of these beers are also available from Liquor Express (University / Pratt and Church), where you can buy half gallon and quart plastic jugs (tony Southern ‘growlers’) of draft beer to go.


Free the Hops (known around here as ‘Dan’) wrote a couple of articles about the next legislative session and the political climate for advancing beer laws in Alabama.  “The next term” addresses Governor Bentley:

The next Governor consistently voted against Free the Hops legislation as a state representative…

Free the Hops has never given endorsements in state elections – we’ll work with the members the people choose for us to work with…

For Governor-elect Robert Bentley, being a No vote in the legislature is a lot different than being a veto as Governor. During a radio interview in north Alabama during the primary, Bentley indicated to the listening audience that he would not have vetoed the Gourmet Beer Bill had it been sent to his desk as Governor. [Even better, Bentley actually said he would sign the Gourmet Beer Bill - Reactionary]

“The new legislative leaders, on beer” addresses presumptive Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh and Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard:

Senate President Pro Tempore
Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston)

Senator Marsh has been on the Tourism and Marketing Committee, which has consistently voted in favor of our bills, since we first introduced the Gourmet Beer Bill. He has voted in favor of the Gourmet Beer Bill and Homebrew Legalization, and FTH members in his district report that he is responsive to their communication.

Speaker of the House
Representative Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn)

Since 2007, FTH members have relayed to us that Representative Hubbard supports our legislation, and he has consistently voted in favor of the Gourmet Beer Bill. Hubbard also completed the 2010 FTH Candidate Survey and reported that he supported raising the container size restriction, homebrew legalization, and the Brewery Modernization Act.