Previous temple attack in Gadsden remembered after Pittsburgh shooting

Previous temple attack in Gadsden remembered after Pittsburgh shooting
Congregation Beth Israel (Source: WBRC Fox6 News)

GADSDEN, AL (WBRC) - Alvin Lowi went through World War I and World War II without a single bullet wound, only to get shot in the hand outside his temple on a Friday night in Gadsden.

His granddaughter, Leslie Cosby, recalls the role her grandfather played, trying to help the other man shot, Alan Cohn, a man who survived a bullet to his heart.

The two men had been shot just after Molotov cocktails were thrown through stained glass windows of Congregation Beth Israel on Gadsden’s Chestnut Street. That was the most violent attack on a Jewish temple in American history until Saturday’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

No one was injured after the cocktails were thrown, with several people saying the fuse burned out or failed to stay lit.

March 26, 1960 was expected to be a monumental day in the Temple's history for another reason: the members were dedicating a new wing for classrooms. Rabbi Saul Rubin had begun the service, with two Methodist ministers, Dr. Franklin Denson and Rev. John Speaks, taking part as well.

Denson had delivered the benediction when the congregation heard a window shattering. A Molotov cocktail, which had failed to stay lit, landed on the floor.

Local historian Danny Crownover says Rabbi Rubin urged the panicked congregation to stay inside as Lowi and Cohn ran outside to catch the assailant. They found themselves face to face with Hubert Jackson Jr. who also went by the name Jerry Hunt.

Hunt had been at a political rally earlier that day for a Nazi candidate for governor of Alabama, and by multiple accounts left the rally agitated. Several people say he had been seen at Gadsden High School wearing a red Nazi armband and a hat with the insignia as well.

Hunt opened fire, wounding both Cohn and Lowhi. Cohn, whose family founded and still runs the Marvin’s Home Improvement store chain, required 20 pints of blood to survive the bullet that ruptured his aorta.

Merlin "Bunny" Hagedorn was one of the people who gave a pint of blood for his friend Alan Cohn.

"I'm just amazed no one inside the temple was injured," the soon-to-be-89 Hagedorn recalls.

Jerry Hunt, 16 at the time, died weeks later in a one car accident. His death meant there was never a trial in the case.

The Congregation Beth Israel, built in 1922, would close in 2010 as fewer Jewish families chose to live in Gadsden. Many of those who did chose to go to temple in Birmingham. In 2012, the Etowah Youth Orchestra made the former temple its permanent home.

To this day, however, the signage of the old temple remains in place, and a historic marker recalls the 1960 firebombing.

Congregation Beth Israel
Congregation Beth Israel (Source: WBRC Fox6 News)

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