The following article was submitted to the Charleston Jewish Federation and written by Richard Friedman of Birmingham, AL. The original article was originally posted in the Southern Jewish Life Magazine.
Image: Charleston native Steven Brickman in front of the new Lenora Pate fitness facility in Israel.
When Lenora Pate died in 2021, the Birmingham and Charleston Jewish communities lost a friend.
A devout Christian, Pate was married to Steven Brickman, a longtime Birmingham Jewish community volunteer leader and member of a well-known Charleston family.
There was hardly a cause or congregation in Birmingham that wasn’t enriched by Pate’s passion, sense of purpose and love for the Jewish people. Among other things, she was the first Christian to serve on the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s board of directors and was an architect of Alabama’s anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) law.
Now, a year and a half after her passing, Pate has made a lasting impact in Israel, thanks in large part to the Brickman family. “Lenora loved Israel,” said her husband. “She understood Jewish history, believed deeply in the importance of the Jewish state, felt that as a Christian that it was her duty to bless the Jewish people, and recognized that a strong Israel benefits America. This is why my family and I chose to honor her this way.”
Pate also loved Charleston and would visit often with her husband. The connection between her and his Charleston family ran deep. “Lenora loved my parents and family and they loved her. When my parents, Fay and Jack, would send us a gift they would add a card just for her that said, ‘When we count our blessings, we count you twice.’”
Knowing she was passionate about the Jewish state and the Jewish people, her husband, his Charleston family and others contributed funds to construct and dedicate a much-needed fitness center for soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces. The project that now bears Pate’s name is a fitness facility for the Magav Unit in Ktziot Base in the Negev.
The organization Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, which worked with Brickman and his family to facilitate the donation, sees the new facility as crucial not only to the physical and mental health of soldiers but also to Israel’s security. In a statement, FIDF highlighted its importance:
“The soldiers of Magav Israel Border Police’s Undercover Counter-Terrorism Unit constantly lay their lives on the line protecting the Jewish Homeland and are in need of a fitness facility where they can train in preparation for their duties. The soldiers of the unit must always be in peak physical condition to successfully carry out the dangerous and integral missions they are tasked with. They are responsible for actively preventing terrorist attacks and often go undercover in enemy territory for months on end, risking their lives to ensure the safety of the citizens of Israel.”
Brickman traveled to Israel to speak at the recent dedication. Other members of the Brickman family were there. “The soldiers told me how important it is to be physically fit and how having such a center will be integral to their physical and mental health,” he told Southern Jewish Life. “When I heard that from them and their commanders, I had tears in my eyes.” Before the new facility was built, soldiers did their exercises outside under a makeshift canopy to shield them from the sun.
The appeal for funds was led by Alon Ben Gurion, grandson of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s legendary first prime minister. “I am so excited to be one of the committee members in the FIDF’s efforts to raise funds for this Magav recreational project in the Negev. Not only is the project essential to the soldiers of the Magav unit, but it also helps fulfill the dreams of my grandfather, David Ben Gurion, in building and securing the Negev as a critical part of Israel's growth,” he wrote.
Speaking at the dedication, Brickman recalled his wife’s devotion to the Jewish state. “I see Lenora’s light with us today as it shines on the men and women of the IDF. Today, I feel her presence, and see her beautiful face, and hear her reminding me how Israel and the men and women of the IDF have been our shield and sword, our protectors and inspirations. And she is reminding me how much Israel and the IDF have immeasurably blessed us in our lives,” he said.
Turning to the soldiers, he added, “My family hopes and prays that this gift serves as a blessing to each of you and that you see her light and feel the presence of a beautiful Proverbs 31 woman (“A Woman of Valor”) each time you enter the facility and in all that you do as you selflessly and bravely serve the people of Israel and all lovers of Zion, including my family.”
(Richard Friedman is associate editor of Southern Jewish Life, a Birmingham-based magazine covering Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and NW Florida.)