Beeson student making the speaking rounds as Christian defender of Israel

Caroline Bass speaks at event in Fayette. Photo courtesy John Killian

by Richard Friedman

Shortly after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack against Israel, Birmingham Jewish community members Susan Greene and Caryn Corenblum were walking on Overton Road near the building that had housed Knesseth Israel synagogue. They noticed a tall young woman walking toward the building carrying a bouquet of white roses.

They told her that the synagogue was closed and asked if they could help her. The woman introduced herself, explaining that she was Caroline Bass, a graduate student at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. She told them that she was affiliated with Passages, a national organization of young Christians who have allied themselves with the Jewish people and Israel.

The white roses were significant. They were the symbol of a young group of Christians in Germany in the 1930s who spoke out against Nazism as Hitler was rising to power, often paying for their disobedience with their lives. Bass and others involved with Passages have adopted the white rose in the wake of the horrific massacre of Oct. 7 to affirm their support for Israel, and had committed themselves to hand deliver bouquets to Jewish institutions where they live.

The meeting with these two Birmingham Jewish women would lead to Bass becoming involved with the Jewish community’s post-Oct. 7 efforts to educate the broader population, especially the Christian community, about Israel and the antisemitic assault on the right of Jews to express their faith and support for Israel openly.

Bass has been a huge asset in this effort. Though just 23, she has an impressive presence, speaks with authenticity and knowledge, and in a soft spoken yet forthright way, commands the attention of her audiences, often made up of people two to three times her age.

Speaking about Israel at Birmingham’s Highlands United Methodist Church to an adult Sunday school class recently, Bass seamlessly juxtaposed her Christian faith with an analysis of the current conflict between Israel and Hamas. As she shared words of Scripture, she referenced the civilian casualties in Gaza that have largely been caused by Hamas planting itself in and under civilian installations.

She challenged her fellow Christians to think beyond the daily news coverage, contending that at times there is evil afoot in the world — in this case, Hamas. And yes, while Christians should never shrink from love for their fellow human beings, which, she said, is one of the most important commandments that Jesus taught, Christians also must acknowledge that such evil exists and they must stand against it.

Trusting Faith

Bass’ knowledge of Israel is grounded in the experience she had spending a semester studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Once she finishes her master’s degree at the Beeson school, she would like to pursue her doctorate in Israel.

Spending time with this determined young woman provides deeper insight into her thinking about her faith, her life and the ways she views the world in general.

At the center of her life is her family and her Christianity. She speaks passionately about her family with love, reverence and gratitude, particularly when it comes to her grandparents in Murfreesboro, Tenn., with whom she is very close. She speaks inspiringly about her trusting faith in God. Yet, she is intensely curious and respectful regarding how other people, including Jews, think about God.

She’s not hesitant to dive into a deep conversation about faith, spirituality, life’s journey and purpose, wanting to learn how the other person thinks. “Tell me about your relationship with God. What has led you to it?” she asks, listening intently. One comes away from a conversation with this graduate divinity student sensing that she is on a journey, destined to make an impact, poised for achievement.

None of this is surprising to those who know her father.

Bass is the daughter of Samford University history professor Jonathan Bass, who wrote “Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” a well-received book on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which King addressed to eight white clergymen, including Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi Milton Grafman. Grafman believed the “Letter” painted an unfair portrait of his Civil Rights work in the Birmingham community.

Bass herself first developed an interest in the Jewish experience and Israel during her undergraduate years at Samford University in a course on leadership, when she did a paper on Henrietta Szold, a transformative Jewish leader who founded Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

“You Are Blessed”

Today, in addition to carrying an intensive graduate school course load, Bass continues to make herself available to assist the Jewish community’s outreach and education efforts on behalf of Israel and combating antisemitism.

Recently, she journeyed to Fayette, Ala., to co-present a program on Israel at a gathering convened by the Fayette County Baptist Association. Invoking Scripture and fielding questions, this white rose ally made an impact.

One person who was there — an older member of the audience — wrote this in an email afterward to Bass: “What an honor to have met you. Like you, Caroline, my heart is with Israel and her people. You are blessed to be so involved, so young, and to have your level of knowledge.”

More recently, as it was starting to become increasingly difficult to do Israel programming on college campuses — due to fears of anti-Israel demonstrations that often implicitly or explicitly express support for the terror group Hamas, and many colleges unable or unwilling to provide adequate security for Israel-related speakers — Bass stepped forward, determined to make a difference.

She arranged an excellent program at Samford’s Beeson school for students and faculty, highlighted by her conducting a question and answer session with Anat Sultan-Dadon, Israel’s Consul General to the Southeast.

Impressed by her, the Consul General later said “It was inspiring to meet and witness a student who is choosing to play an active role in supporting Israel and the Jewish people, especially at this time. Caroline is a reminder of the difference that a single person can make, and of the fact that Israel and the Jewish people are not alone.”

That evening, Bass and a fellow Beeson divinity student attended a Birmingham Jewish Federation program at the Birmingham Museum of Art that focused on the sexual violence committed by Hamas on Oct. 7 and since then against Israelis the terror group is holding hostage.

Watching her sitting rapt in the front row, her anguish and compassion were apparent as she gently nodded her head, absorbing every word, bearing witness as an ally, and — with a gentle touch of her hand — comforting a Jewish friend seated next to her.