Rabbi Shmuel Bowman, Operation Lifeshield
Meet an Israeli hero who is saving lives in the Holy Land! On this week’s broadcast, Chris speaks with Shmuel Bowman, executive director of Operation Lifeshield, about the amazing work Shmuel’s organization carries out in Israel. Operation Lifeshield places bomb shelters throughout Israel’s most threatened communities to protect Israelis from rocket strikes.
Steve Conover, executive vice president of The Friends of Israel and co-host of The Friends of Israel Today, steps in to share about his recent trip to northern Israel, where he witnessed the impact of Operation Lifeshield’s bomb shelters firsthand. Not only does Shmuel carry out this lifesaving mission; he also is a Torah scribe! Enjoy this interview with one of Israel’s most remarkable defenders and unsung heroes!
You can learn more about Operation Lifeshield at operationlifeshield.org.
To be a part of this life-saving effort, give today to our Israel Relief Fund.
Steve Conover: Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. With me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. We have one of our good friends on the program joining us by phone from Israel today.
Chris Katulka: That's right. We have Rabbi Shmuel Bowman. He was actually born in Toronto, Canada, but he lives in Israel now. He's an educator, a Sofer, and the Executive Director of Operation Lifeshield, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to build and deliver above ground air raid shelters to Israeli municipalities to help save Israeli lives from rockets coming from Hezbollah and Hamas.
Today we're going to have him on the program to talk about Operation Lifeshield and the amazing work that they're doing, and also that intersection that takes place between him being a Torah scribe and the work that he does to save Israeli lives.
Steve Conover: But first in the news, the Times of Israel reports that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked Israel first in a list of developed countries with the highest cost of living in 2022. The data revealed prices were 38% higher than the average in OECD-member countries. Following Israel was Switzerland in second, Iceland in third, and then the United States.
Chris Katulka: Well, here's my take, Steve. The cost of goods is up in Israel just like it is in America. We're all feeling the economic pinch when we go to the grocery store, and we go to the gas station, but Israel is a bit different. Everything is taxed in Israel. Israeli taxes can exceed 50% of an individual's income. So why is it so high? Security. They need to fund a massive defense budget to maintain their military protection. There are ways, though, for the Israeli government to step in to help. The Knesset needs to do more to alleviate the financial burden many Israelis are facing today.
Chris Katulka: Shmuel, it's great to have you with us today. Shmuel is coming to us, actually, from Israel, so it's a joy to have you, Shmuel. According to your website, Operation Lifeshield is an emergency campaign to save innocent lives by providing Israel's threatened communities with protected air raid shelters that they so desperately need.
Now, for our listeners who didn't get a chance to hear you the last time that you were on the program, can you share about the work that you have with Operation Lifeshield and what it does in Israel?
Shmuel Bowman: Sure. Absolutely. Well, first of all, we're first and foremost a response. We're a response to how to deal with terror, how to deal with the violence that is coming from our enemies around us. And with that in mind, our organization really comes as a grassroots or perhaps as a grass-tops response to the Second Lebanon War from 2006, where we had in a 30-day period, we had rockets, something in the area of about 100 rockets a day crashing into, firing into, Northern Israel. It was very clear that [inaudible] was going to change, the way people took shelter was going to change. No longer running into underground shelters alone, now we needed to do something a little different.
And actually, we were called upon by what's called HAGA, which is I guess the Home Front Command. I guess you would have a Home Front that you would have in the United States. The people dealing with civilians, and they said, "Listen, people are going to need to carry on with their day-to-day lives, except when there's a rocket attack, they need to take a break, run for shelter. We need something that's accessible, simple, and then after the 10 minutes have passed, we can then go back to our daily lives."
We took that on, my friend, we took that on. Chris, we stood in the gap there and we decided we were going to take this on as our thing. And that was, what, 17 years ago. And since the last 17 years, we have been saving lives, protecting lives, and bringing peace and comfort on a daily basis to thousands of Israelis. And when I mean Israelis, I'm not saying Jewish Israelis, I'm not saying Christian Israelis, I'm saying people.
We've got shelters in Jewish communities in Kibbutzim and Mushabim. We've got them in Arab villages, in Bedouin villages. We've got them at churches, we've got them at pilgrim sites. I just came yesterday from Southern Israel, right at a place at the bottom of the country, where Israel meets Gaza and the Egyptian border, and we're placing shelters for Thai workers, workers from Thailand who are coming here as agricultural, as farmers. We've got shelters for them. All lives are sacred.
And that's what we've been doing for the last 17 years. We've been placing bomb shelters because at the end of the day, that's what's going to save your life.
Chris Katulka: Shmuel, 17 years is a long time to be invested in one thing, to be doing one thing. What's the one thing that the Lord has taught you in these 17 years? Did you think about when you started 17 years ago, where you'd be today?
Shmuel Bowman: Chris, God has a sense of humor. So I come from the world of... I'm a Torah scholar, I'm a teacher, I'm an educator. And to go from that, to pivot... God comes... I'm sure you and your listeners can understand this, you think you're going in a certain direction in your life and then God comes along and taps you on the shoulder and says, "Hey, Chris. Hey, Shmuel. Hey, Tom. Hey, Mary. Hey, Doug, almost, but a little bit this way. I'm just going to adjust you a little bit this way." You go, "Oh, that's where you want me right now. That's the walk that you want me to do."
And for me, it became very, very clear. Chris, the bottom line is keep people alive. Keep people alive. I get chills just even telling this just now, because we can have all the conversations we want, but if we're not alive in this world, we're not going to have them. And it became very, very clear to me that we need to, first and foremost... I don't care who you are. I don't don't care. I don't care what side of the political spectrum you are. I don't care. I don't care what faith you... I don't care. I care that you're alive. You're created in the image of God.
God says [speaking in Hebrew] in the , and you should live by them. God said, "Live in this world." And that's what we're trying to do. So why do I keep doing the same thing over and over again? Listen, my friend, I would love very, very much if our enemies said, "You know what? You're right. You're right, Israel. You really do have a right to live in peace in the land of Israel. We're going to stop shooting rockets at you."
I would love for that day to come, my friend. We would have a lot of other interesting projects that we could work on, but that's not the reality. And the reality is that we need to respond, and our response is to save and protect lives.
Chris Katulka: Can I say that it's interesting you brought up the idea of "I hope that there is peace, I want there to be peace." But when our American friends turn on the news, all they're hearing on the news is all about how Israel is making peace with Arab nations through the Abraham Accords. So it can be confusing to hear in one moment we hear on the news all this peace that's being made, but then all of a sudden we hear that Israel is still being attacked.
So, what's going on there? Can you define that? And why is there a need for bomb shelters? If there's Abraham Accords, what's Abraham Accords? What's going on there?
Shmuel Bowman: So the Abraham Accords is absolutely fantastic, and we have friends, some old friends, some recent friends, here in the Middle East, and we are developing and we are nurturing those new relationships-Bahrain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and we're going to see what else is around the bend, maybe Saudi Arabia we don't know. But in the meantime, there are definite possibilities for the children of Abraham to be able to come around that table.
However, there are, I would say this straight out, there are evil forces. There are radical, twisted, demented violent leaders, and their followers, who don't see it in the same way as our partners in the Abraham Accord. And yes, they also happen to be Muslim Arabs or Muslims, not Arabs, in the case of Iran. And they are bent on destroying Israel, and they are not buying into the Abraham Accords. As a matter of fact, you could even say that the Abraham Accords is a wall against these forces, against Iran, against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, against the Muslim Brotherhood against ISIS. So there is this complexity that is out there.
And so why do we still need bomb shelters? We need bomb shelters because it's getting ever more violent. It's getting ever more technical. For example, we did not have this problem 17 years ago of armed drones. We have drones coming out of Gaza that have grenades attached to them. Guess what? 17 years ago we did not have that. We have issues today that we're trying to protect Israelis from. In other words, the types of shelters that we're placing along the Gaza border today are actually for a form of an anti-tank rocket, which, and I'm oversimplifying the term here for purposes of our listeners, but basically it is a rocket that has an accuracy, a sight accuracy, of three miles. Three miles.
Which means you can pick, lock your target, press a button, and shoot. And what we're doing is we're building barriers. We didn't even have this issue, what, five years ago? The type of shelters we need to build today. I know for example, that we're putting shelters up in Northern Israel, that have to be 40 centimeters. Oh boy, what's that non center...
Chris Katulka: I know you're making my brain think now, too.
Shmuel Bowman: Oh, boy. So a lot. Very thick. Very thick. But why? Because the type of rockets that are being fired are becoming more sophisticated.
Once upon a time, Hamas would come along, and sneak into Israel, and steal a street sign. It was round poles, saw it off, run back to Gaza and pick that one little pole and fashion it into a makeshift little rocket, and it, boom, fired into Israel, and that was it. By the way, the media, especially the western media, is still hung up on that as if those are still the current present day rockets. They're not.
The rockets that are being manufactured from Iran, being smuggled into Gaza, are being manufactured in very sophisticated underground, rocket-manufacturing facilities, are sophisticated. You don't need a human being to light the fuse anymore. They're all being set off by a cell phone and they're sending them off in multiple shots. So the type of shelters we need to have today has become ever more sophisticated and advanced because the weapons are being fired at us are more advanced.
Chris Katulka: Shmuel, in the 17 years that you've been doing this, how many bomb shelters have you placed throughout Israel, throughout the Holy Land?
Shmuel Bowman: We've done over 400, but the bigger question is how many lives have been protected, and that's in the thousands and thousands.
Chris Katulka: Amazing. Well, listen, if you're just joining us, we're speaking with Rabbi Shmuel Bowman, Rabbi. That's right. He's a Torah scribe, and that's why you need to come back at our next segment to hear more about the not only Operation Lifeshield and the amazing work that they do, but also we're going to be talking about the intersection of him being a Torah scribe and his position as the Executive Director of Operation Lifeshield.
And on top of that, we're going to have our very own executive producer, Steve Conover, join us as well. So be sure to stick around.
Chris Katulka: Steve, for almost nine years, I've had the privilege of hosting The Friends of Israel Today radio show and serving with you.
Steve Conover: Chris, I love getting to create these programs with you and Tom. And to think that this radio program has been around since 1991.
Chris Katulka: I know. Almost 32 years the Friends of Israel has been producing radio content, and that's why it's an honor for us to both ask you, our listeners, today, to join us on the ground level to help broadcast biblical truth all around the globe.
Whether The Friends of Israel Today is airing on a local radio station or through our online podcast, never before has it been so needed to have the truth of God's Word running over the airwaves.
Steve Conover: It's what I love about radio, that we have an opportunity for people to hear God's word. In fact, Romans 10:17 says, "So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." Friends, we need your help to continue to produce and broadcast the good news of our Savior on the radio program and through our podcasts.
Chris Katulka: The Friends of Israel Today radio program is actually supported by donors, listeners, and friends like you, which is why we need your help to share biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, Jesus, to the world.
Now, our goal is to raise $25,000 to produce and broadcast the program that you're listening to right now. So with your financial gift today, you'll be taking the gospel to the ends of the earth with trustworthy, uncompromising Bible teaching.
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Chris Katulka: Welcome back, everybody. We are with Rabbi Shmuel Bowman, and I've welcomed, of course, our executive producer, Steve Conover in the studio as well. Because recently our executive director, Jim Showers and Steve Conover, went over and actually toured a town on the northern border of Israel called Shlomi with Shmuel. And so that's why Steve is here to join us in this segment.
Now, Shmuel, normally when we talk about bomb shelters, normally I always hear us talking about the ones along the Gaza border, but Shlomi is on the Lebanese border. Can you share why Shlomi and other Israeli communities in the north are in need of the bomb shelters that you provide?
Shmuel Bowman: Sure. Northern Israel has been relatively quiet, but it's a different dynamic. You're talking about two sovereign countries, Lebanon and Syria. So it's a very, very sensitive area. You're talking about literally sovereign nations. Now it's true, Hezbollah, which is a terrorist organization, which is a proxy of Iran, is sitting with approximately 200,000 rockets.
Chris Katulka: Wow.
Shmuel Bowman: 200,000 rockets in South Lebanon. We're now talking, not about what happened in 2006, during the second Lebanon war where you had about 100 rockets a day falling on Northern Israel, we're talking about the next war, we're talking about a thousand rockets a day striking Israel, and not just Northern Israel, but throughout Israel. But Northern Israel is really going to be the punching bag. That's closest up. It's easiest for the rockets to get up there. It's also where the shrapnel is going to be falling as they get exploded out of the sky.
Then we have something called Iron Dome, which is a rocket interceptor system. I'm sure people know about it. Basically, it's a wonderful Israeli invention that knocks the rockets coming at us out of the sky. It has approximately an 85 to 90% success rate, but let's look at those numbers. And a thousand rockets a day coming in, that's 100 rockets slipping through the Iron Dome net, landing in Northern Israel, plus all the shrapnel as well. So that's what's going on in Northern Israel.
It's true that right now it's quiet, but let me give you an example. If you happen to be sitting... Your next door neighbor is a known mass murderer who, oh, less than 20 years ago, committed mass murder against your family, but now he's sitting quietly. But you know what he's doing? He's loading his weapons, he's sharpening his knives, and he's pointing at you saying, "Chris, I'm coming after you."
So I've got news to you, you're going to build your defense system, you're going to create your safe room. You're going to make sure that your Colt. 45 is armed and locked and ready to go. So that's the idea. That's what we're doing. We hope it doesn't come to that. But listen, they are rattling their sabers and we're getting ready. Plus, it brings comfort knowing that they're ready. Children, for example, are more comforted. The parents are more comforted knowing that there's a shelter at their kindergarten in case that day happens. And when it happens, do you know how much notice they get? Zero. Zero seconds. The first warning is the first rocket.
Chris Katulka: Shmuel, I want to bring Steve in here because, Steve, you were just with Shmuel in that northern border. Do you want to share about your experience and what it was like seeing those bomb shelters that were placed in Shlomi by Operation Lifeshield?
Steve Conover: To be on the border of Lebanon with Shmuel was just an incredible opportunity. I really got a sense for how close the Hezbollah outposts are, and they're looking down on the town of Shlomi. And they're building homes, families are building homes less than 500 feet from the border wall.
And then at Passover, there was a rocket that landed right in the center of town, and we got to stand there. And I think what was so powerful for me was to stand in the place where they fixed the road where the rocket had landed, and then to look not far on one side of the street is a synagogue, and to turn 30 degrees and see where one of the Operation Lifeshield shelters was, and then another one on the other side of that circle.
So, what Operation Lifeshield is doing, as Shmuel said, to keep people alive is just an incredible work and worthy of our support. And we then went over to a soccer field where children are known to play, and we're going to soon have two bomb shelters on either side of that soccer field. So it was an incredible thing to see firsthand.
Chris Katulka: That's a partnership with Friends of Israel as well.
Steve Conover: Yes.
Chris Katulka: Shmuel, Steve's over here, and he's telling me about Israelis who are up in Shlomi. They're up on the border, they are celebrating Passover, they're living their normal lives.
I think most Americans might go, "Why don't you just move? Why don't you just get out of there? Why do you need a bomb shelter? Go somewhere else, can't you? Why right there on the border."
Why would Israelis plant themselves on Shlomi right on the border? Can you maybe share about the Israeli chutzpah, maybe, if you will, to stay?
Shmuel Bowman: I got news to you, my friend. It's not just the Israeli chutzpah, it's the Friends of Israel chutzpah.
If you take a look at your own logo, look at the logo of Friends..I'm looking at it right now. The Friends of Israel logo is the map of Israel, and the map of Israel, which is the expression of the words of our prophets come alive in our day. This is what it is to return to Zion. Zion is Israel, and our Zionism is defined by the land that it's on.
So if the moment we get up and leave Shlomi, and leave Beirut, and what else? Leave Jerusalem and leave Tel Aviv, and where do you want to wind up? Some little place? Or as the Israeli ambassador to the UN Abba Eban said, he talked about Auschwitz lines. That's what we're talking about. That's what we're back to.
And the idea, the Zionist idea, is to say, "This land, given to us by God, is for us to live on, and that means up every inch of it." Where we live, not just where there's an army base. That's the difference. Listen, we could have just had an army base in Metula, and in Shlomi, and Kiryat Shmona, and everywhere. The idea is where are children playing in the playground? Where are the elderly going to the community center to be together and listen to music? Where are parents working in their offices and in their factories? That defines our land. And so to get up and move means to say, "You know what? This land isn't important to me." And that is absolutely contradictory to the Zionist idea.
Chris Katulka: And part of the land being important to you is that you are also a rabbi. And I want you to share about this, because not only do you oversee Operation Lifeshield, but you're also a Torah scribe, which I just love this about you.
And I'm interested to know how your passion for Operation Lifeshield, and your passion for God as a Torah scribe, how do those intersect with one another? We have about two minutes left.
Shmuel Bowman: So being a Torah scribe is a phenomenal opportunity, and it's a tremendous gift, really, from God to be able to literally transcribe the Word of God. We're talking about Torah scrolls, Mezuzah, Tefillin, and other sacred scrolls. And being able to do that as we've been doing from generation to generation, going all the way back to Moses.
And so to continue and to be able to write a Torah scroll, to fix a Torah scroll, in the same ways as we've been doing for centuries is a tremendous honor. Gives me that humility. Understand that I'm just a player in all this. I'm a Shaliah. I'm a messenger just like I'm transcribing the Word of God, so that's the same thing with Operation Lifeshield. It doesn't take great heroes. For any of your listeners right now, it doesn't take some... Doesn't take a great bravery. It just takes a little bit of action and to understand that we are part of something, that God is commanding us to do something.
So when I look, for example, I look at Psalm 91, and Psalm 91 really guides me on this. When it says, [speaking in Hebrew] when it says, "Do not fear the terror an imperative. "Do not fear. Do not fear." I can understand a commandment that says, "don't eat pork," as we Jews don't eat pork, or keep the Sabbath or whatever. Don't kill people. I understand this is an imperative. But, don't fear? Do not fear? That doesn't make sense.
And when I started working in Operat…, and I used to write this all the time as a Torah scribe, you're writing Psalms as well. And then when I started working for Operational Lifeshield, I realized, wait a second, I suddenly understood what King David was talking about. I think what he meant was, and God obviously teaching King David, is that when you take away the fear, when you take away the fear, when you place bomb shelters, when you place ATV fire trucks, when you do these things and you take away the fear, you are fulfilling the commandment in Psalm 91.
So the intersection between being a Torah scribe and working for Operation Lifeshield is literally understanding that this work is written into the ancient, ancient verses that we've been given, all the way back to Moses.
Chris Katulka: I want to thank you so much, Rabbi Shmuel Bowman, Executive Director of Operation Lifeshield, for being with us. Hey, listen, if this is the first time you're hearing about Operation Lifeshield, I want to encourage you to go to operationlifeshield.org. Again, that's operationlifeshield.org.
You can find out more information about ways that you can connect with Shmuel through that website. Also, through our Israel Relief Fund here with The Friends of Israel, you can connect and give so that you can help plant a bomb shelter to help save Israeli lives, as you've been hearing from Rabbi Shmuel Bowman.
Shmuel, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.
Shmuel Bowman: Thank you.
Steve Conover: Thank you so much for joining us for The Friends of Israel Today. And a reminder, if this program is a blessing to you all month, we're asking for you to consider giving a gift to produce and broadcast the program. Again, if you want to do that, it's at foi.org/radiosupport. And thanks to Shmuel Bowman for being with us on the program.
Chris, where are we headed next week?
Chris Katulka: We're actually going to start a five part series on the book of Romans. We're going to dedicate five episodes to walking through Romans to give a big picture of what the Apostle Paul was trying to communicate, to bring Jewish people and Gentiles together in Christ, to share about the importance of the gospel, and the importance of a savior, and also the importance of supporting Israel and the Jewish people. All of that is wrapped up in the book of Romans and so much more.
Steve Conover: Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, edited by Jeremy Strong, who also composed and performs our theme music. And I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio, PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. And one last quick reminder to visit us at foiradio.org.
The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
The Friends of Israel Today radio program is supported by donors, listeners, and friends like you. We need your help to share biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, Jesus, to the world! With your financial gift, right now, you will be taking the gospel to the ends of the earth with trustworthy, uncompromising Bible teaching and timely interviews. We need your help to continue to produce and share the Good News of our Savior on the radio, podcasts, and our website. Visit foi.org/radiosupport or click the button below to show your support.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
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