American Friends of Magen David Adom Celebrates 20 Years of Leadership in Phoenix

The Phoenix chapter of American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) is honoring Jay Bycer and his wife, Karen, and Barbara Zemel and her husband, Barry, who together have helped raise $1 million over the last 20 years from the Phoenix community for Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s paramedic and Red Cross service organization.

The musical celebration will take place on Jan. 30, at Congregation Beth El Phoenix. Acoustic artist Todd Herzog will perform an array of soulful, spiritual songs in both Hebrew and English. Prof. Eilat Shinar, M.D., director of the Blood Services Division for Magen David Adom, will be the guest speaker.

“There would be no Arizona chapter today without the Bycers and Zemels,” says Catherine Reed, chief executive officer of AFMDA. “We are grateful for their dedicated and tireless efforts for 20 years on behalf of Magen David Adom and its 30,000 EMTs and paramedics. They are role models who practice the mitzvah of tzedakah on a daily basis and are so deserving of this honor.”

The Bycers and Zemels are longtime friends. In 2001, while Jay was serving as chair for a dinner honoring Irving and Frances Horn, z”l, parents of honoree Barbara Zemel, the Bycers became inspired by the Horns’ work to help Magen David Adom. Thus began Jay’s and Barbara’s journey to continue their efforts on behalf of MDA.

“On my many visits to Israel, I saw firsthand how important MDA is to the people of Israel,” says Jay Bycer. “I visited the blood center, the national dispatch center, and rode along in ambulances. How could you not be inspired to support their efforts? Magen David Adom is an example to the world in how to preserve life.”

Jay and Barbara led educational and fundraising events, creating award-winning programs, such as Partners for Life (Federation’s Belle Latchman Award), where more than 1,000 children in grades K-8 were taught what MDA does to help their Israeli brothers and sisters. They also created the Judaic Cultural Orchestra, and through six concerts raised some $250,000. In total, they raised $1 million, including sending four ambulances to Israel, one of them being the Murray and Sabina Zemel Ambulance.

One of Jay’s greatest pleasures was serving on AFMDA’s National Board of Directors for several years, where he was asked to travel the country to help other chapters create similar programs for their communities. “The things I am most proud of in my service to MDA have been creating two award-winning programs for our community,” he says.

“For the past 20 years, I have poured my heart and soul into Arizona friends of MDA,” says Barbara Zemel. “I think my greatest and proudest achievement was helping to create the Judaic Cultural Orchestra, which produced six amazing concerts with Jewish themes that were so well received by our Phoenix community and raised thousands of dollars for MDA.”

Barbara and Barry Zemel have been involved in the Jewish community their entire lives. Barbara assumed a number of leadership positions over the years with the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, Brandeis National Committee, and Arizona State University’s (ASU) Hillel. She was a teacher in Congregation Beth El’s pre-school, and a youth group advisor and board vice president. She left teaching to launch a successful 10-year career in retail, founding one of the first food and gift basket companies, The Basket Case. Barbara is currently on the board of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society, and Barry is on its committee for the New Hope and Humanity Building.

Barry was president of ASU’s Hillel and served on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, the Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Community Center, and was president of the Arizona Jewish Theater Company. He continues his long-term career as a real estate investor.

The Zemels are also proud of their philanthropic support for Jewish and non-Jewish causes, such as their sponsorship of a medical outreach van for Phoenix Children’s Hospital. In recognition of their many civic and philanthropic endeavors, they have been honored by the Jewish Federation, Jewish Free Loan, East Valley JCC and American Jewish Committee. They have two children and eight grandchildren.

Karen and Jay Bycer are also involved community leaders. Managing the Jewish community demographic study in 1983, and helping with the 2001 study, provided Jay with insight into the needs of the community. This prompted him to serve on numerous boards, including the Arizona Jewish Historical Society, Bureau of Jewish Education, Congregation Beth El, Jewish Free Loan, Jewish Tuition Organization, ASU Hillel and Israel Bonds. Jay founded and was president of Market Solutions Group before retiring in 1996. He also taught for many years at Rio Salado College.

Karen has spent her life volunteering for many Jewish organizations in the community, including Hadassah, ORT, National Council of Jewish Women and Brandies National Committee. The Bycer’s have two sons and four grandchildren.

For their philanthropic and civic commitment, the Bycers have been honored with the Jewish Free Loan’s Presidents Award, Jewish Educators Assembly’s Keter Torah Award, Jewish Arizonans on Campus Annual Leader Award, and were recognized on AFMDA’s 70th Anniversary Scroll of Distinguished Leaders. They have also endowed Holocaust collections of books, videos and other materials for the Prescott and Chino Valley Libraries.

“I am proud that I raised the community’s awareness of MDA and all its important work in Israel and around the world. I am so appreciative that MDA has recognized our efforts with this prestigious honor,” says Zemel.

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