Giving back is in Barbara Dudley’s DNA

May 26, 2020

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Growing up in Martinsville, Virginia, Barbara Dudley knew Judaism was an integral part of her life—and that her parents’ strong sense of Zionism guided their involvement in Jewish philanthropy. As a young girl, each year she attended Kol Nidre services with her father at their synagogue, Ohev Zion, and helped him distribute small cards to congregants. She had no idea what these cards were or why people took them, but she loved the one-on-one time with her father. Dudley later learned that her father was responsible for their synagogue’s Israel Bond campaign in 1967 following Israel’s Six-Day War.

Three months after the Yom Kippur War in 1974, when she was a junior at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Dudley’s mother took her to Israel. This first trip was a United Jewish Appeal Women’s Mission and Dudley, the youngest participant, was naturally impressed by the high level meetings with Knesset members and commanders of the Israel Defense Forces.

Dudley returned to Israel that summer as a volunteer on Kibbutz Kfar Menahem. For three months she worked in the cotton fields, orange groves, and the children’s homes (gans). Bomb shelters were the only place to watch television on the kibbutz, so free time was spent there watching the news coverage of President Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings. Asked by kibbutzniks about America’s judicial system and impeachment process, Dudley, a political science major, readily contrasted the differences between the United States’ constitution, the three branches of government, the system of checks and balances, and what impeachment means—with Israel’s social democracy and constitution. Before returning home, Dudley and her sister, who was on another kibbutz, hitchhiked across Israel. Her parents never knew. While her friends today might find this free-spirited behavior to be out of character, the experience helped secure Israel in the forefront of her mind as the homeland for the Jewish people—her people.

In late September 1972, Dudley first met her future husband, Noel Dudley, when he was a senior at Lehigh University and she was an incoming college freshman. Dudley was attending an all-girls’ college and she and a friend were sitting atop a rock on Dead Man’s Curve, watching “the comings and goings to the parties.” A station wagon “full of guys hanging out the windows and onto the luggage rack came down the mountain, went around the curve, and came back up,” recalls Dudley. The carload of college seniors invited them to a party and Noel was one of the guys. He had thick curly hair and “cupid hit her heart.” She says she just knew. They dated briefly before Noel graduated and left for Kenya to serve in the Peace Corps. They corresponded, but there was nothing particularly serious, or so she thought. One evening after he completed his Peace Corps service, Noel appeared unannounced at her dorm during her senior year. They picked up where they had left off and the rest, as they say, is history.

In August 1976, they were married by a rabbi and agreed to keep a Jewish home, but Noel chose not to convert to Judaism. Two daughters—Amelia and Elizabeth (Liz), followed the union. In 1995, the year of Liz’s bat mitzvah, the family traveled to Israel with their rabbi and congregation, Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland. Dudley was thrilled to share her love of the Jewish nation with her family and was overwhelmed by the incredible ways Israel had flourished since her trip 21 years earlier. Noel paid close attention. Upon their return, they registered for a two-year course, “Why Be Jewish,” taught by one of their rabbis. Dudley stopped attending, but Noel continued and decided to convert to Judaism at the course’s conclusion. He wanted to be able to stand under the chuppah when his daughters were married and realized that Jewish values had been the same core values by which he had led his life.

Noel was a nuclear engineer and served in the U. S. Navy as a submarine officer aboard the U.S.S. Simon Bolivar and the U.S.S. Ray. Around the time Amelia was preparing to go to college, Noel took her to see Top Gun. Amelia fell in love with the aviator glasses and the leather jacket and wanted to be a U.S. Navy pilot, hoping this would help her realize her dream of becoming an astronaut. A Naval recruiting officer explained the requirements to become a Naval aviator, and the conversation guided her to pursue a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) course of study upon entering Cornell University. Amelia earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and her master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. Now living in Manassas, Virginia, she is Lieutenant Commander at the National Reconnaissance Office, an agency of the U. S. Department of Defense.

Like her mother and grandparents before her, Liz was drawn to Israel. During her high school summers, she attended the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Harlam in the foothills of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. She was active in her youth group at Temple Beth Ami and in the summer after her junior year in high school, participated in “l’dor vador,” a program of NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement. After graduating from Duke University, Liz participated in Project Utzmah, a program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington D.C. to bring young Jewish adults to Israel. In Israel, Liz worked with three different non-profit organizations: an absorption center for Ethiopian immigrants; Israel’s version of Planned Parenthood; and a center which served as a gathering place for Israeli soldiers recently discharged from the IDF that provided social support, counseling services, and assistance with education and testing to go to university. At the center she met Lior Dovrat, her future husband. During that year, Liz applied to and was accepted to Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, with thoughts of becoming a rabbi. A strong sense of Zionism had drawn Liz to Israel and a desire to make a difference played a large role in her making aliyah in December 2006. She attended an ulpan course to learn to speak Hebrew, utilized the services of Nefesh B’Nefesh, a non-profit organization that promotes, encourages, and facilitates aliyah, and completed a master’s degree at Tel Aviv University. Liz now teaches English at Tel Hai College in Kiryat Shimona. She and her husband have twin girls, Lia and Nofar, four years old, and a son, Noam, given Noel’s Hebrew name, just celebrated his first birthday.

In 2005, Noel started making retirement plans. He knew about his wife’s fond childhood memories of spending summers in Virginia Beach with her family on 87th Street, so they purchased a little “run-down” cottage on that same street. This generational street, where houses were passed from one family member to the next, became home to Barbara, Noel, and their children. The Dudleys tore down that little cottage, built a new house, looked for a Reform congregation to join, found Ohef Sholom Temple, quickly became involved, and knew they had found their home.

Dudley joined United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Women’s Cabinet and she and Noel found UJFT’s programs and the Community Relations Council’s speakers to be appealing and interesting. Her involvement grew—she served as co-president of Ohef Sholom’s Sisterhood with Sharon Nusbaum, 2010 through 2013; is a member of the advisory team for the temple’s 175th Anniversary Campaign; became an active member of CRC; was chair of UJFT’s Israel and Overseas Committee from 2017 until 2019; and is now vice chair of UJFT’s Women’s Cabinet. Dudley was particularly proud to receive the Kurt Rosenbach Award in 2016, which honors an Ohef Sholom Temple board member who shows exemplary service to the temple. “To be given an award that bears the name of this wonderful person was such a meaningful tribute,” she says. Today, she serves on the temple’s executive committee as secretary.

Dudley was intrigued by a UJFT Mission to Budapest and Prague—places she’d always wanted to visit. Noel was just beginning to exhibit symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s, so, not knowing what their future held, she decided to join her new Jewish community on the trip. During the caucus, Dudley shared Noel’s diagnosis, in an effort to remove the shame and uncertainty associated with Alzheimer’s and show others that life continues. Dudley credits both UJFT and Ohef Sholom with playing supportive roles in providing normalcy in her life as she dealt with this devastating illness, helping her to function and be a better caregiver to Noel, until his passing in 2018.

Dudley says her decision to participate in the Life & Legacy Program is her way of giving back, of helping another individual, couple, or family who may be suffering with a loss or crisis.

“It all started with what I saw modeled at home,” Dudley says. “I’m hoping by leaving a legacy of involvement, that my children and grandchildren will find something to be passionate about, get involved, and give freely. The rewards are great.”

– Ronnie Jacobs Cohen

Letter to the Editor