Lifelong friends lend hands and hearts to Israel
Photo: Courtesy Nicole Brodsky
While in Israel, Dallas residents Abbey Cumnock (left) and Nicole Brodsky saw an ambulance donated to the Magen David Adom by FIDF in North Texas.

By Deb Silverthorn

Nicole Brodsky and Abbey Cumnock have been friends for most of their lives. After participating in Taglit Birthright Israel’s Onward Volunteer Program from Feb. 20 to March 4, they have new memories to last them the rest of their lives.

At a dinner date out with their moms, Lisa Brodsky and Jill (Jacobs) Cumnock, friends of more than 30 years, the young women realized they both felt called to go to Israel. Shortly, the two became part of 2,800 volunteers, ages 18 to 40, who have participated in Onward Volunteer since the program launched in mid-November.

“I mentioned I was thinking about going to Israel and had just seen a post on Instagram from Birthright Israel. Abbey said she’d just seen the same thing and was also considering going. As soon as we realized we were both interested, we applied. In a few weeks, we were there,” said Brodsky.

The Plano Senior High School graduate is the sister of Daniel. An alumna of the University of Oklahoma, she had made previous trips to Israel: in 2018 with BBYO’s March of The Living and in 2022 with Birthright Israel through Hillel International. A FASTSIGNS international senior marketing services manager, Brodsky was raised at Temple Shalom and now participates in programs of Olami Dallas, a branch of Dallas Area Torah Association.

Cumnock, the daughter of Jill and Kris Cumnock, and sister of Brett, also raised at Temple Shalom, now enjoys the connections and leadership opportunities she’s found through Chabad at Legacy West. A member of BBYO’s Sally Blum BBG, she is a graduate of Frisco’s Centennial High School and the University of Missouri.

Cumnock is the charitable contributions coordinator at Sewell, a career that allows her to exercise mitzvah magic every day. She is also a former participant of the National Charity League who worked at Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas earlier in her career. As she grew up, volunteerism and community service were always a priority.

Both young women used vacation days to make the trip.

“Being Jewish on a deep level is who I am, and I just had to be there,” said Cumnock. “I’ve never taken two weeks away from everything, but my office was very supportive.

“Nicole and I have known each other forever but this brought us a different level of friendship,” Cumnock added.

Volunteer assignments included working at an agricultural farm near the southern Israeli border where much of this year’s crop of cherry tomatoes — first engineered there — failed after the farmer and his family were evacuated for nearly a month following the Oct. 7 crisis. With the evacuation and with workers called to the Israel Defense Forces, there was a great need for hands-on help.

“We helped clear the damaged plants, so the next crop can be successful; it was a very time-sensitive project,” said Brodsky. “It was all a reminder that life goes on. In everything we did, we felt the base of Israeli culture focusing on strength and prosperity.”

The women, who were joined by 16 volunteers from Australia, Canada, France and the United Kingdom, also harvested avocados and cooked meals for families who six months later are still displaced and also for those of fallen soldiers.

When not working, Brodsky and Cumnock joined others in visiting Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, saw bomb shelters painted with murals representing Oct. 7 and went to the site of the Nova Music Festival in Re’im. Cumnock also spent an afternoon at Save A Child’s Heart, which provides medical care to pediatric cardiac patients and training to medical professionals from around the world. She was introduced to the organization while on Birthright in 2019.

Photo: Courtesy Abbey Cumnock
While in Israel, Abbey Cumnock spent an afternoon at Save A Child’s Heart.

Registration is open now for eight- and 14-day programs running from May through August. The program is open to anyone who identifies as Jewish and has a valid passport (with six months of eligibility after the program end date), regardless of whether or not a prospective volunteer has visited Israel on any program. Participation in the Onward Volunteer Program does not affect future eligibility for Birthright Israel programs.

“It’s amazing the requests, then the response, we’ve had from people who wanted to come to Israel and to help,” said Noa Bauer, vice-president of global marketing at Taglit Birthright Israel. “That people will leave their homes, their work and their families and to come here — not to play — is remarkable. We can’t say enough how much we appreciate it.

“We Israelis are seeing a different side of American support, of hands-on care. People coming to this program are saying how safe they feel here, even more so than in some of their communities where they are experiencing significant antisemitism,” said Bauer. “They are coming to help us and going home empowered. We welcome you; we thank you and we appreciate you all.”

Photo: Courtesy Abbey Cumnock
Abbey Cumnock, right, with Nicole Brodsky.

Out-of-pocket costs are a $50 nonrefundable application fee, some meals, personal extras and travel insurance as well as a $250 security deposit. Airfare — up to $700 from North America — will be refunded along with the security deposit at the successful completion of the program. It is sponsored in partnership with the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism and with Mosaic United.

Provided are: a $100/week partial food subsidy; accommodations in major cities with safe rooms; transportation from and to the airport and to volunteer placements; health insurance for the term of the program; educational and social programs and events; the opportunity to connect with Israeli peers and onsite support staff.

“We’d absolutely recommend that others go on this trip and then come home and share it,” said Brodsky, “I’m telling anyone who will listen, people at home and those I meet on the road for work, about my experience so people will care.

“The country is in mourning, more than 200 days have passed and the sense of ‘how can this be’ is prominent but there is a need to unite,” she added. “Every day we saw some form of resilience and how this is just the new normal. I tried to breathe in that strength every day and now that I’m back, I just want everyone to know and feel it.”

For more information and applications, visit

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