The Vagabond – Readers respond to Temple Beth Israel article


By Danny Crownover

Last week The Vagabond wrote about America’s worst Jewish shooting or bombing (until recently in Pittsburg, Penn.) that happened here in Gadsden. It was also posted on Facebook on the “Welcome to Gadsden” group page. The response about the incident that happened at Temple Beth Israel in 1960 was unbelievable with over 600 reactions, 525 shares and more than 100 comments. This week The Vagabond would like to share some of those comments.

Jeff Cohn: “Danny Crownover, it is unreal, people living here all their life and not knowing. A lot of people. Thanks for sharing.”

Danny’s Response: “I agree, Jeff Cohn. That is why it’s important that history be preserved.”

Elizabeth Johnson Nolen: “Very interesting, before my time and I’ve never heard the story. Thank you, Danny, for posting History does need to be preserved.”

Barbara Miller Towbin: “I was at our Temple that night with my brother Steve and my parents. The bomb came through the stain glass window where we always sat; everyone knew that was the Miller’s pew. I remember shaking glass out of my hair. I think I have blocked the events of that night out of my mind for many years, but those memories came flooding back this past weekend.”

Judy Rubel: Thanks for the article, Danny. Our Temple was full that night. It was one of the nights all the Jewish families were there, and we had so many guests. I was 16 and I have never been so frightened before or since. Jeff, I think so many people don’t know about it is because we were so young then, and if you were not a member of the Jewish community, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone else talk about it after the first year.”

Jane Hicks: “Judy, as you know, we had many Jewish friends and never knew anti-Semitism existed in Gadsden. We were shocked to hear of the attack on the Temple and our friends attending the service that day. It was definitely something that didn’t happen in Gadsden, and we couldn’t believe that someone would do this horrible thing.”

Deborah Spielberg White: “Judy Rubel, my granddaddy attended the Temple, but my dad, David Spielberg, and our family were members at First Presbyterian. I remember our church was used for your services while repairs were made to the Temple.”

“Beth Steinberg Novick: My father, Dr. Ben Steinberg, was there that evening and later operated on Alan Cohn and thankfully helped save him.

Bo Saks: “Alan Cohn was all that you said, and more!”

Dawn Brock Peterson: “Thank you! I worked with Alan for several months when he was at Building Systems, and he told me the story. It sent chills down my body to know that he had survived that. I’d love to share your post if I may.”

Joanie Barclay Lee: “I never knew this about Alan! He was on the Board of Directors at SouthTrust Bank when I worked there, and I always looked up to him and admired him. He was a great community leader and businessman!”

Margaret Moon Adams: “My sister Mary and I are together tonight as we read this article, and we remember well the night this happened. Our daddy and his brother were the builders, and we were made very aware of the hurt to the community and the near-death of Mr. Cohn. We were raised next to Jack Saks and his family, and were familiar with other kids who were there that night. It has not been forgotten, and our hearts still grieve with you.”

Jayne Taber Llull: I did remember because it was so upsetting to me at the time. I had forgotten that it was a dedication. I could not understand that hatred then or now. I attended Brownie meetings at the Temple in third grade.”

Dewayne M. Ellington: “My mother always loved shopping at Rutenberg’s Guarantee Store. The people were all so helpful and nice. They were good people.”

Virginia Griffin Calhoun: They were talking about this incident on TV today. Thanks for more information about this. I was a student at Etowah High School at that time and remember when he came by our school and was shooting at the band that was practicing on the ball field. Sad day in Alabama.”

Laura Hightower: I remember when it happened and my father was upset and frightened. Our family was upset also. I went to school with Betty Lowi and remember Mrs. Lowi as being such a warm person.”

Tracy Payne Shortnacy:” I thank you, Danny, for sharing this. I was born in 1960, so didn’t experience this and never heard the story! We grew up shopping at their stores, and I knew Mr. Cohn from my first job at Bar B Q Bobs where he was a customer. The rabbi at that time was also a regular customer. I witnessed the love and friendship between my boss and owner Robert Bullock, his family and all the many people who patronized the restaurant with no regard to religion, race, politics, or even the ability to pay! I’m so glad I was raised without the hate!”

Pat Greathouse Holliday: “I love the stories of Jewish peddlers in the South prospering and opening stores. I think that is how Ike Saks, the Hagedorns and the Rut-enbergs got their start.”

Delores Abney: “The Jewish families of Gadsden are an integral part of our history which should never be forgotten. Their contributions to our community is immense. Downtown Gadsden would not have been as successful as it was without the hard work of the Jewish community.”

Kay Pugh: “These Jewish families had the best stores in Gadsden. I miss all of these wonderful people.”

Harriet Gee: “I grew up in Gadsden, and my parents were Ruth and Roy Hicks. They had many Jewish friends. I was so hurt when the temple was bombed; we had never heard of anything being bombed. The name of the Methodist minister was Dr. Denson Franklin, who led the community in a beautiful support to love and encourage and support our Jewish friends and neighbors! I left there in 1964 to go to Alabama. I got married and never came back, except to visit my family, but I was forever changed by that horrific tragedy! I still have many Jewish friends today whom I love dearly! God bless us all and help our country!”

Dee Agricola: Thanks for posting this. I was 11, lived two blocks away and attended the Episcopal Church where John Speaks was the rector. I walked by the synagogue twice a week to go to piano lessons and have no memory of this incident. I worked at Hagedorn’s when I was 14. I played with Jewish children, especially the Rutenbergs, who were closest to my age during most of my childhood. They lived across the street from my aunt. The Rutenbergs were in my parents’ bridge club. I think I was in college or late high school before I learned that anti-Semitism still existed post World War II. I believed it was as absurd then as I do today.

Delores Abney: “Hatred has no place in our community or country. Let’s work to end this hatred and educate people of the consequences of hatred and violence. When we hear people making statements about hurting others or come across websites espousing violence to minorities or religious groups, don’t stand back but speak up and fight back against violence and intolerance and injustice.”

Joe Pruett: “Thanks very much, Danny. This should serve as a reminder today that we need more understanding of each other and our differences without so much negative emotion. I remember how very important our Jewish neighbors have been to Gadsden and to our lives.”

Kara Leatha Naylor: “Thank you for sharing this. I think when we don’t like something, we bury it. These things should be taught in schools.”

Mike Jones: “A great reminder of a terrible event in our history. Thanks.”

Dewayne M. Ellington: “I remember going to the football games at Murphree Stadium back in the 1950’s and 60’s, and there was always prayer before the game. Sometimes it was a Protestant minister, a Catholic priest or the local Jewish rabbi. People seemed to get along so well back then. There was respect. I miss those days.”

Claudia Starkey Kramer: “I remember the attack well. My family was close to the Lowi family. It is so sad that there are still people with hate in their hearts for other human beings just because of their religion or the color of their skin.”

Joe Andrews: “I was 12 years old and vividly remember the “We interrupt this program” special announcement that was broadcast over the national TV network. We were shocked. Growing up in Gadsden, I remember puzzling over why some people didn’t like Jewish people. Every Jew I knew I liked.”

Dewayne M. Ellington: “I remember this incident very well. The disturbed young man also drove by where the Etowah High School band was playing and fired into the crowd.”

Melenda Campbell Blackwell: “I went to high school with Jerry Hunt. He was a very misguided young man. Perhaps he even had emotional problems.”

June Hinton Shirey: “I remember his swastika emblems on his notebooks!”

Jeff Cohn: “He was chased by police and ran into a light pole and died.”

Sherry Townsel Reed: “I remember being in the front yard listening and watching the Etowah band practice when he came through Case Avenue and hit the tree. I can’t forget the sound.”

Janet H. Hinton: “I remember when it happened. I lived in Attalla and was in elementary school. Jerry Hunt’s parents were ashamed and horrified. His father helped the police find him. They owned a taxi company.”

Rhonda Fleming Willett: “I know Jerry Hunt is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Attalla. His headstone had an eternal light that shined on it. I think his mom was the one that wanted it that way. For a few years now the light has been out.”

Shelia Grigsby Irby: “How very sad that the Jewish community has shrunk. They played a vital role in the development of Gadsden. My mother was a merchant on Broad Street and friends with these families. My mother and daddy taught us to love and accept our friends of different faiths. I grew up hearing stories of Daddy freeing our Jewish friends’ families from the Nazi concentration camps. We knew no prejudice in our home. It was a sad day for the Temple, the families, and their many friends when they were attacked by hate. I pray that the love of their family and friends gave them comfort and courage. I pray that the day will come when hate will be overcome with the power of love.”

Mary Anderson: I didn’t know the synagogue was closed. Is the Jewish cemetery up in north Gadsden still there?”

Vagabond response: “It is still there.”

Pat Greathouse Holliday: “I remember when this happened, but didn’t know the synagogue had been closed and sold. So sad.”

Joan Davis Ford: “I remember part of the story. I lived in Southside in the 1960’s after the terrible inhuman attack on an Israel Temple. I bought most of my dresses at a nice bouquet on Noble. I took the tours of Jewish homes and learned a lot from the Jewish families. My heart has always been for God’s chosen people. I visited Israel and Jordan on a 17-day tour. I will hold those beautiful memories forever. May God bless the Jewish people and America in the dark days to come.”

In Remembrance of:

Temple Beth Israel,

Gadsden, Ala.


Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh, Penn.


Latest News

Rotary Club welcomes Commissioner Pate to recent club meeting in Gadsden
City of Gadsden and Gadsden State continue partnership
Free events planned for Poetry Month
Pinwheel Ceremony brings awareness to child abuse advocacy
Downtown Walking tours now underway

Latest Sports News

Panthers clinch playoff berth with OT win over Springville
Lady Titans win area soccer title
Hokes Bluff to host area softball tournament
Panthers tops in 5A, Titans No. 2 in 6A in latest AHSAA coaches soccer rankings
Southside shows out at Oneonta meet