Merry Monsky Bodziner Finds Shelter In Israel; Richard Friedman's Perfect Day


The Jerusalem Post had a story today on comments Israel's President Shimon Peres made to European leaders defending Israel and challenging the European countries to better understand Israel's ongoing difficulties and dilemmas. The story is important because Peres has long been considered a leader of Israel's "peace camp."

Educating people about Israel's unique predicaments, which are often overlooked in news coverage and conversation about the Jewish state, remains an important priority of The Birmingham Jewish Federation. Here's are excerpts from today's story:

No other country has faced the dangers and paid the price for its existence as Israel has, President Shimon Peres said Wednesday in Brussels. He then asked a rhetorical question of the country's legion of European critics: "How would you behave were you in our place?"

Peres's remarks came during a meeting with parliamentarians from Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland who are friendly to Israel, as he attended the opening at the European Parliament of a traveling exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jewry from the Nazis' clutches.

"Israel was established 65 years ago, and since then has gone through seven wars -- I don't know another country that has withstood that degree of danger and paid such a high price in life," he said.



Rabbi Shmuel Bowman, Executive Director of Operation Lifeshield, will speak to our community Monday, March 11 at 7:30 am in the Levite Jewish Community Center board room. Rabbi Bowman, a dynamic and engaging speaker who lives in Israel, will discuss the efforts of Operation Lifeshield.

He also will provide an analysis of the security needs in southern Israel in the wake of the recent conflict in that region and Gaza, and talk about the need to prepare for any future hostilities.

Operation Lifeshield receives funding through The Birmingham Jewish Federation's Israel-World Jewry Bureau. Since 2006, this agency has provided above-ground shelters that protect Israelis from incoming rocket attacks. Unfortunately, such attacks are a reality that still exists and tortures the people of Israel who live and work near her hostile borders.

Without the shelters that Operation Lifeshield has provided, Update readers could be reading about a greater number of fatalities stemming from these attacks. During times of conflict, these structures protect and preserve the lives of our brothers and sisters who are in harm's way.

Last year, The BJF realized that Birmingham native Margaret Kartus Duvdevani, who lives with her family in southern Israel just a few miles from the Gaza border, needed a protective shelter in her community. Through funding provided the Israel-World Jewry Bureau by The BJF Annual Campaign and The Birmingham Jewish Foundation's John A. Williamson Israel Fund, we were able to provide Margaret's farming community, Talmei Yosef, with a shelter.

This structure, which cost $13,000, was in place for the recent conflict. It not only provided piece of mind for the 70 families who live there, but also provided a place for the families to be protected when they heard the warning sirens.

Lex Williamson, the son of the late John Williamson, who was a strong Christian supporter of Israel, wrote us the following upon reading about the shelter in Update: "The use of these funds is EXACTLY what Dad would have wanted. Thank you for being a good steward of those funds." John left us a bequest in his will to help Israel.

Merry Monsky Bodziner, a Jewish community leader who grew up in Birmingham and lives in Savannah, GA, visited Margaret recently in Israel. Pictured here are Merry, left, and Margaret at the shelter that The BJF donated. Affixed to the shelter is a plaque noting The BJF's donation. "Great to see the shelter The Birmingham Jewish Federation provided," Merry wrote in an email to The BJF. "Apparently, I am the first person from Birmingham to see it."

Please come join us to hear Rabbi Bowman speak about his organization which is so important to the safety of Israelis. Please RSVP to The BJF's Amanda Sokol at or 205-803-1512.



By Richard Friedman, BJF Executive Director

There are some Federation days that are perfect -- yes perfect. One occurred this week.

My day started with a visit to Glen Iris Elementary School where every other week I volunteer through The Birmingham Jewish Federation's Literacy Project to help two second graders improve their reading skills. This is an important new project started several years ago.

Later, right after I got to the office, I had a phone appointment with a longstanding friend who is a major donor to The BJF Campaign. This person gave $10,000 last year and will do at least that much for this year's campaign and possibly more. Her children, now young adults, have moved back to Birmingham recently and we talked about ways to involve them in BJF activities. The call reminded me of why our efforts to connect with young people in their 20s and 30s is so important and how much success we've had in this area over the past five years.

At lunchtime, one of our new staff members, Amanda Sokol, and I met with a young man who has become an outstanding donor to our community since moving here recently. He and his wife contribute $5000 and he has become involved in The BJF, serving on our board.

Our conversation ranged from recounting the role that The BJF played in the 1990s helping more than 1,000,000 Jews leave the former Soviet Union to brainstorming about our fundraising and allocations strategies.

At 1:30 pm, Amanda and I visited with the executive director and president of a local agency we fund. It was a great meeting. The purpose was to explore new ways that The BJF could help their agency expand its fundraising. The meeting was full of creativity and positive energy.

Shortly after that, Amanda and I met with one of our longstanding donors to discuss Our Next 100 Years. This is a historic community effort, led by our Federation and The Birmingham Jewish Foundation. It has provided donors with opportunities to make long-term, lasting financial commitments that will benefit our community for generations to come.

Our interaction with this donor, who contributes approximately $8,000 annually, was delightful and uplifting. He promised to consider all of the suggestions that we made. Our Foundation Executive Director, Sally Friedman, joined the conversation as we began focusing on specific giving techniques and she offered some ideas that seemed to resonate with this donor.

At 4:30 pm, I attended a meeting of our BJF Executive Committee. At the meeting, we dialogued about a range of important Federation items including new ideas regarding our fundraising and allocations processes.

As the day ended, Harry Brown, a member of our Executive Committee, stopped by my office to visit. Harry, who is a senior VP for United Way of Central Alabama, reiterated how impressed he is by The BJF's success in engaging capable, passionate young people at both the professional and volunteer levels.

As I listened to Harry's comments, I found myself thinking about what it was that had made the entire day so special. It was that each experience reflected The BJF's ability to change, innovate, engage new people, and make a continued impact on the future -- through an ongoing flow of new ideas and outreach strategies.

I also thought how lucky I am to be at the professional helm of an organization that empowers its staff to think creatively, promotes a culture of innovation, and enriches so many lives, everyday in so many ways.