Women’s Cabinet Spring event offers unexpected inspiration

by | May 27, 2021 | Other News

United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Women’s Cabinet held its first ever virtual Spring Lunch and Installation on May 13.

Mona Flax, Cabinet chair, having completed a two-year term in office, made the unusual announcement that she would not be stepping down as planned, but rather stepping “to the side,” as she spends the coming year co-chairing the Cabinet with new chair, Barbara Dudley.

In her opening remarks, Flax said, “Despite all we were able to accomplish together as a Cabinet, including a full year of meetings, virtual missions, and an out-standing campaign, I felt, quite frankly, like I had missed a year. So, rather than stepping down this year, I’ll be stepping over just a bit to make room for Barbara Dudley. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that she has graciously agreed to make room for me!”

Flax and Dudley will co-chair the Cabinet for the 2022 campaign year, as it emerges from the pandemic and transitions back to in-person meetings, programs, and events.

“And I feel very lucky to have this extra year to continue to strengthen one another and this amazing Jewish community that we share,” said Flax.

In announcing the members of the 2022/2023 executive committee, Flax explained that since she is staying on as a co-chair, the Cabinet will wait until next spring to name a chair-elect. Flax then installed executive committee members:

Barbara Dudley—co-chair
Mona Flax—co-chair
Robin Mancoll—education committee chair
Janet Mercadante—leadership and nominating committee chair
Kim Fink, Amy Lefcoe, and Deb Casey—at-large members
Stephanie Calliott, past chair, will move onto the Women’s Cabinet Honorary Board, where she will serve alongside her fellow, past Women’s Cabinet chairs.

In her first action as Cabinet co-chair, Barbara Dudley thanked those members of Cabinet whose terms were ending for their years of dedicated service to the campaign and the community. These women served a combined 48 years on Cabinet: Elyse Cardon (6 years); Shira Itzhak (6 years); Lynn Sher-Cohen (6 years); Charlene Cohen (15 years); and Ilana Benson (15 years).

Dudley then installed the new and returning Cabinet members. Returning to Cabinet for an additional term:

Susan Alper
Leora Drory
Kim Fink
Alicia Friedman
Cindy Kramer
Stacie Moss
Stacey Neuman
Judy Rosenblatt
Sara Jo Rubin

New Cabinet members, installed for their first term:

Carol Brum
Susan Cohen
Faith Jacobson

In laying out her vision for the next two years, Dudley shared stories of her personal Jewish journey, recounting her experiences—good and bad—growing up in a committed Jewish and Zionist family, in the small town of Martinsville, Virginia (where hers was one of 40 Jewish families). Her parents were deeply com-mitted to Judaism, the Jewish people, and to Israel. She recalled painful memories of feeling excluded and “other” because of her Jewish faith. She spoke of having to sit in the hallway with a handful of other Jewish kids while the other students took part in her public school-mandated Christian Bible study class. “When you’re sent to the hallway,” said Dudley, “It usually means you’ve done something bad.” It was one stigmatizing experience among several, that stayed with Dudley through-out her youth and into adulthood.

But not all of her early memories were bad ones. She recalled her father’s leadership with the local United Jewish Appeal and remembered distributing white pledge cards with him each year on Kol Nidre. And she remembered her parents’ first Federation Mission trip to Israel; how they came back inspired and energized by the magical quality of the young Jewish state. In 1974, Dudley joined her mother on a UJA women’s mission. She fell instantly in love with Israel and has remained so all her life. In fact, she went back to Israel the following summer and worked on a kibbutz. She must have passed that love along to her daughter Liz, who now lives with her family in Israel, including Dudley’s three adorable grandchildren!

Dudley talked about the values that her parents imparted to her—through their words and deeds. They instilled in her a “sense of humanity and a need to protect all people and to demand equality and fairness for all.”

And so “in August of 2017,” recalled Dudley, “I watched with horror, the ugliness and bigotry taking place at a so-called rally in Charlottesville. My visceral reaction was one of anger…but also fear. The same anti-Semitism that I experienced as a child in Martinsville, Virginia—which I had thought was well behind me—was on full display in Charlottesville…just as it was on January 6 in Washington DC.”

Dudley went on to say that these events “reminded me once again about our ever-present vulnerability as Jews, even in America in 2021. And the rockets falling in the suburbs of Jerusalem reminded me that Israel too, despite its amazing advances in science, technology, medicine, and agriculture…and despite its generosity in sharing those advances with the world…is still incredibly vulnerable. Our support for Israel and for the Jewish people remains a priority.”

In closing her remarks, Dudley reminded the Cabinet members: “There’s a reason we do what we do. Our work through Federation and its partner organizations is a bulwark against those who would see our destruction. But it’s also a fulfillment of our shared values to take care of one another and to repair a broken world.”

Guest speaker Michal Barkai Brody is a ‘Super Woman.’ Barkai Brody was in Tidewater about six years ago, discussing the ALMA Women’s Pre-Army Leadership Academy that she had founded in Israel (which was subsequently taken over by the Jewish Agency for Israel). The last time she was in Tidewater, Barkai Brody was newly engaged and looking forward to marrying the love of her life. Today she is married to that love, and they have a beautiful, energetic, and inquisitive daughter. Barkai Brody is a self-described ‘Women’s Leadership Master’ and ‘serial Social Femtrepreneur.’ After leaving ALMA, she embarked on a variety of Women’s Empowerment programs, and today she is speaking all over Israel to groups and politicians, alike, to address the scourge of domestic violence and to seek solutions at every level in society.

Barkai Brody appeared on Zoom screens (three days post-op from larynx surgery) with her trademark smile and a level of passion and energy that could be felt in every pixel. Her passion for her cause was palpable. But she touched on that only briefly. This day she wanted to show a photo of her daughter (who she sincerely hopes will one day be Prime Minister of Israel), and to talk about the rockets from Gaza and the violence in the streets of mixed Arab-Jewish cities throughout the country.

“Heartbreaking” is how she described the situation. The rockets from Gaza were far less shocking, she said (despite their number and ferocity) than to see Arab and Jewish neighbors turn against each other like street gangs, and set fire to their own neighborhoods.

Hearkening back to Barbara Dudley’s personal story, Barki Brody said that growing up in Israel she had no concept of anti-Semitism. She’s lived through clashes with Gaza and other military operations on Israel’s borders. But she’d never known a sense of threat in her own home in her own neighborhood. This time was different. Between the rockets from Gaza and the violence in the streets, Barkai Brody was feeling for the first time ever—hatred directed toward Jews—not Israelis, but Jews.

And with real emotion in her eyes and her now-hoarse voice, Barkai Brody said that being with the Jewish women leaders in Tidewater (even via Zoom), was like a lifeline for her—keeping her hopes afloat, for a better tomorrow for herself, her daughter, and for all Israel.

For more information about UJFT Women’s Cabinet or how to get involved in volunteer fundraising for the Federation, contact Amy Zelenka, UJFT Campaign director at azelenka@ujft.org.