Organization Celebrates 170 Years of Service to the Jewish Community and the World
B’nai B’rith International will celebrate its German Jewish founders at a 170th-anniversary event honoring Dr. Ruth Westheimer on Oct. 22. The event, sponsored by Lufthansa German Airlines, will be held at the German consulate in New York City and will recognize B’nai B’rith’s 17-decades of service to the Jewish community and the world.
The 12 German Jewish immigrants who founded B’nai B’rith on Oct. 13, 1843, at Sinsheimer’s Café on New York City’s Lower East Side were dedicated to positive Jewish contributions in their new home. Now 170 years later, B’nai B’rith International continues this mission as the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. B’nai B’rith is dedicated to fighting for human rights, combating anti-Semitism, providing disaster relief, advocating for Israel and supporting seniors.
Westheimer, best known as “Dr. Ruth,” was sent by her German Orthodox family to safety in Switzerland at the age of 10 to escape the Nazi genocide against the Jews. Her family, left behind in Germany, perished in the Holocaust. After years in an orphanage in Switzerland, Westheimer immigrated to Palestine at the age of 17, where she joined the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces and fought in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.
B’nai B’rith will present Westheimer with an award entitled: “For a Life’s Career of the Betterment of Humanity Throughout the World.”
B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs noted: “On our 170th anniversary, we pay tribute to our founders’ commitment to the betterment of humanity by recognizing Dr. Ruth and her enduring spirit.”
The event includes both Israel and Germany’s consuls general in New York, Ido Aharoni and Busso von Alvensleben respectively.
“After 17 decades, we are still following the noble vision that the Jewish immigrant founders set out for this organization—working to make the world a better place,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International is cautiously optimistic that a temporary budget and debt ceiling deal, announced by the Senate leadership, will be passed on the House floor and then expeditiously moved through the Senate, avoiding the first ever U.S. debt default and ending the government shutdown.
As the country teeters at the brink of default at the 11th hour, if this deal should fall apart, it could have traumatic impacts on both the domestic and international economies, and severely impact seniors and other vulnerable people.
The immediate impact of a default on the country’s debt would mean the drying up of Social Security payments possibly within the first few weeks. This is an outcome that is entirely possible and also entirely unacceptable.
Of elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 23 percent of married couples and about 46 percent of unmarried recipients rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. For millions more, Social Security is more than half their income. This would put many seniors in dire straits when it comes to paying their bills, for food and for medical treatment. This is not to mention the multitude of other services that are in serious jeopardy should the government default on its loans, such as meal programs, personal care services and other things on which they rely. These same services have already been threatened and even limited by the government shutdown.
Time has simply run out. We urge Congress to do two things: pass an immediate fix to open the government and raise the debt ceiling, and avoid a similar debacle when these short-term fixes end. Defaulting would be an unprecedented disaster, one that is sure to hurt millions of Americans, especially seniors, and should not be treated as political football.
UNESCO Vote Disregards Killion’s Appeal Against Politicized, “One-Sided” Motions on Middle East
B’nai B’rith International salutes Ambassador David T. Killion, permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as he delivered his ninth and final address to the body’s Executive Board.
Killion, a recipient of the B’nai B’rith Excellence in Diplomacy award, gave his final statement on Oct. 1, touching on several themes which he championed with the firm backing of B’nai B’rith. Killion noted efforts by the United States to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, while pointedly warning of the delicacy of the peace process and the need to avoid politicizing UNESCO through one-sided motions on the Middle East.
“Politicizing the agenda of UNESCO, particularly through one-sided, non-consensus-based resolutions, will undermine this process,” Killion said. “At this moment in history, it should be self-evident to the international community, including UNESCO’s Executive Board, that we should strive to create a positive climate conducive to negotiations between the parties.”
Killion also reiterated the United States’ commitment to UNESCO’s Holocaust education and remembrance program. He praised the organization for being a leader at the United Nations in this regard.
“This program consistently produces results that stretch well beyond its budget, working to prevent genocide and mass atrocities around the world by transmitting the hard lessons learned from the Holocaust,” Killion said. “This is an area of UNESCO leadership, and it deserves our strong support.”
Sadly, UNESCO’s Executive Board chose to disregard Killion’s message about politicizing the agenda of the agency by passing six resolutions condemning Israel on Oct. 4. They included five recurring resolutions on topics such as the Cave of the Patriarchs, Rachel’s Tomb and the Mughrabi Bridge abutting the Temple Mount. The sixth resolution condemned Israel for scrapping a UNESCO delegation visit to assess the preservation of the Old City of Jerusalem after Palestinian authorities tried to transform the previously agreed-upon professional visit into a political event. The United States was the only country on the 58-member board to vote against all six resolutions.
In response to Killion’s final address, B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said, “B’nai B’rith is extremely proud to have worked with Ambassador Killion, a consummate professional and a true friend, on issues of vital importance to the United States and B’nai B’rith. We are indebted to him for his service.”
B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin added: “We wish Ambassador Killion the very best as he concludes his service at UNESCO. The ambassador has proven himself to be an extraordinary diplomat and public servant—a man not only of commitment, but of skill and, no less important, of principle. His tenure at UNESCO was marked by a series of very important accomplishments and the United States will be fortunate to again be able to count on Ambassador Killion in vital future roles.”
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International mourns, along with millions of Jews around the world, the loss of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the preeminent Sephardic spiritual leader, who passed away on Oct. 7 at the age of 93.
Yosef was one of the most brilliant and storied Jewish figures—an unsurpassed spiritual and scholarly leader to the world’s Sephardic Jews and one of very significant influence beyond the Sephardic community. He actively participated in the public life of, and service to, the State of Israel. No less, he contributed immensely to Jewish learning, the preservation of Jewish practice and the rich culture of Sephardim. He was truly an irreplaceable, once-in-a-generation figure.
The rabbi held a series of prominent rabbinical positions, serving as chief rabbi of Egypt from 1947-1950, then as chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1968 until he was elected Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel from 1972-1983.
Yosef also repeatedly signaled his support for peace between Arabs and Israelis, Muslims and Jews, and lent religious authority to a flexible, moderate approach in peace negotiations, despite a frequently bitter history.
B’nai B’rith International mourns the rabbi’s passing with Jews all over the world. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Yosef’s family and all those who looked to him as a teacher and guide.
When B’nai B’rith’s founders gathered at Sinsheimer’s Café on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the fall of 1843, their initial mission was simple: To help recently arrived Jewish immigrants adapt to their new community and country. They carried this simple, yet, essential mission and got the ball rolling on what has turned into 170 years of assisting the global community.
This month, B’nai B’rith International is celebrating its 170th birthday, a remarkable milestone when both the longevity and the impact of the organization are considered. B’nai B’rith has evolved to meet the changing needs of the three different centuries we have touched.
Our name is older than many major institutions still around today. The New York Times, Major League Baseball, Coke and the Red Cross are all B’nai B’rith’s junior.
B’nai B’rith has made an indelible impact across the globe. We are a steadfast advocate for Israel, we assist victims of natural and man-made disasters, we support seniors through advocacy on vital health issues, we are the largest national Jewish sponsor of low-income housing for the elderly, we fight for the rights of Jews worldwide. With a presence at the United Nations from the world body’s inception, B’nai B’rith’s enduring commitment to human rights continues. Through our vast scope of issues, our work is rarely matched.
B’nai B’rith International condemns the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for passing a resolution that declares ritual circumcision a “violation of children’s physical integrity.” This resolution, while non-binding, could encourage a frightening infringement upon basic religious freedoms and on the ability of Jewish and other faith communities in Europe to exist.
The resolution calls upon member states to “adopt specific legal provisions to ensure that certain operations and practices will not be carried out before a child is old enough to be consulted.”
“By advancing this resolution, the Council of Europe has not proposed the advancement of human rights, but rather the denial of rights,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “It is an extremely slippery slope—one which inexcusably misreads and oversimplifies scientific understandings, and seeks to impose certain societies’ cultural norms on others. This resolution transparently aims to marginalize and exclude specific minority communities.”
“Circumcision is not discretionary, but rather central, in Jewish life and practice throughout history,” added B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin. “It must be made clear what those who support the criminalizing of circumcision in Europe are proposing: Discrimination against the Jewish community in Europe."
We urge all European leaders, governments and societies to decisively reject a path of government coercion and imposition in religious life.
B’nai B’rith International is deeply concerned about the current government shutdown, the looming showdown over the “debt ceiling,” and the potential impact on both older Americans and other vulnerable people.
“While Social Security checks will continue to be distributed during the shutdown, some programs that serve older adults are shuttered. Moreover, if Congress doesn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling and allow the treasury to pay for the spending Congress has already approved, Social Security checks could simply stop,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “The shutdown itself will limit funding for so-called discretionary programs for older adults, impacting things like meals and transportation. Failure to raise the debt ceiling could put the treasury out of the business of writing the checks—which could be catastrophic.”
Under the terms of the current federal shutdown, mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare are mostly functioning, but, for instance, people who need replacement Medicare or Social Security cards cannot get them. At the same time, spending on discretionary programs already cut by the sequester will dwindle to a stop as the shutdown lingers and reserves run out. This could leave vulnerable elderly without meal programs, personal care services and other things on which they rely.
“What’s making us very uneasy is that in the midst of a shutdown, which makes things challenging enough for vulnerable populations, we are also facing the ‘debt ceiling’ date. Voting on the debt ceiling used to be routine, but now, it has become part of the battle between parties in Congress,” B’nai B’rith International Associate Executive Vice President Mark D. Olshan said. “If the stalemate spreads to the debt ceiling, people could stop getting their Social Security checks for the first time ever. For millions of elderly and disabled Americans, Social Security is their only income.”
B’nai B’rith urges that both the funding of the government and the vote on the debt ceiling be dealt with expeditiously and independent of policy debates between parties over other issues. We recognize the right of all involved to contest any law or policy, but keeping public services available and preserving the credit and value of the U.S. dollar should not be mixed into partisan squabbles. Attending to these urgent matters will help prevent further damage to our elders.
Finally, we also ask Congress to resolve this situation without further penalizing federal workers who dedicate their careers to working for the good of the American people. We need an end to the shutdown, seamless action on the debt ceiling and to treat the federal work force with the respect, and back pay, it deserves.
Shutting down the government is an ineffectual way to provide for the needs of citizens and an inappropriate way for Congress to conduct ordinary legislative business. It is a no-win for all Americans and especially for those most vulnerable in society, including seniors, the disabled and others who rely on federal programs for important and necessary services. B’nai B’rith hopes bipartisan efforts to end this quickly and move forward with a continuing resolution will prevail.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International is outraged after member states of the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee elected Iran to the position of rapporteur of the Disarmament and International Security Committee. Iran’s brazen and cynical efforts to secure a leadership role on the committee have proven successful, as are its efforts in turning this committee into a farce. This is yet another example of the United Nations continuing to reward and legitimize a dangerous regime that has no regard for international security and nuclear disarmament.
Recently-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been on a “charm offensive” during his trip to the U.N. General Assembly, while back in Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei has shown no sign of slowing Iran’s nuclear development. Iran has continuously stonewalled international attempts to deal with its illegal nuclear weapons program.
In addition to Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program—for which the regime has been repeatedly sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council—Iran is the world’s most active state-sponsor of international terror, supplying funding and arms to a number of terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah.
Iran’s actions are antithetical to the objectives of this committee. The credibility of this committee has been undermined by Iran’s election as rapporteur and it will be difficult to take the committee’s actions seriously until Iran is removed from the position.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
At the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged vigilance in protecting the world from Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Netanyahu noted: “The Jewish people's odyssey through time has taught us two things: Never give up hope. Always remain vigilant. Hope charts the future. Vigilance protects it. Today, our hope for the future is challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction.”
In the wake of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent campaign to present a moderate face, Netanyahu reminded the world body that the new Iranian president has a long history in his country’s nuclear weapons program.
“Rouhani was also Iran's chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. He masterminded the strategy which enabled Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program behind a smokescreen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric. Now I know Rouhani does not sound like Ahmadinejad. But when it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf's clothing and Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing—a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community. Like everyone else, I wish we could believe Rouhani's words. But we must focus on Iran's actions. And it’s the brazen contrast, this extraordinary contradiction between Rouhani's words and Iran's actions that is so startling.”
B’nai B’rith would very much like to see the issue of Iran’s nuclear program resolved in a way that puts Iran out of the nuclear weapons business. At the same time, we can’t dismiss 20 years of deception by Iran.
Iran’s centrifuges continue to spin. Tehran has made several feints before while negotiating the nuclear issue, and has continued to hide and build its nuclear program. This is why we must remain skeptical of Iran’s intentions this time.
Iran, Syria, Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks Among Issues Discussed
A B’nai B’rith International delegation met with presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other senior officials attending the opening of the 68th United Nations General Assembly session. International President Allan J. Jacobs, Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin and Chairman of the Executive Committee Gary P. Saltzman led the delegation of nearly 20 B’nai B’rith members, supporters and staff.
Among the various topics discussed throughout the week of meetings, B’nai B’rith raised the urgent challenge posed by Iran and its ongoing attempt to acquire nuclear weapons capability, the civil war in Syria, a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and continued bias against Israel within agencies of the United Nations, not least its Human Rights Council (UNHRC). While B’nai B’rith leaders were meeting government officials in New York, a representative of the organization delivered a formal statement at the council in Geneva condemning the body for its unabated fixation on Israel, even as Arab civilians suffer grievously in Syria and other countries in the Middle East.
“B’nai B’rith’s meetings at the United Nations are always intensive and wide-ranging. They afford us the opportunity to speak with many world leaders on a number of important issues,” Jacobs said. “Iran is always a major topic of discussion. We were also able to get our message out on other issues, such as Syria, Israel’s mistreatment within the U.N. system and attempts to bring the Palestinians to the negotiation table.”
B’nai B’rith—which coordinated meetings on behalf of a broad coalition of international and American Jewish organizations—met with leaders of countries including Russia, France, India, Greece, Jordan, Spain, Hungary, Norway, Georgia, Paraguay, Italy, Palau, the Czech Republic, Azerbaijan and Honduras, among others.
“B’nai B’rith has been active at the United Nations since its founding. Our longstanding record of involvement at the world body is a vital component of our ability to hold high-level meetings with a wide range of delegations,” Mariaschin said. “We welcome the opportunity to meet with so many key countries and to be able to express our policy positions on a multitude of vital issues.”
B’nai B’rith included one of its largest-ever groups of young leaders in an array of high-level meetings. This new generation of involved Jews is dedicated to the goals and mission of B’nai B’rith, including a strong commitment to communal advocacy.
Joining Jacobs, Saltzman and Mariaschin in the delegation were: Seymour Reich, honorary president; Ira Bartfield, senior vice president; Charles Kaufman, senior vice president; Board of Governors Members Steven Horowitz, Mike Gellman, Jacob Reckess and Dan Tartakovski; Andy Borans, board of governors member and executive director of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity; Eric Sumberg, chair of B’nai B’rith’s New York Young Leadership Network; Brian Kaufman, B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Network; Jonathan Kamel, Alpha Epsilon Pi civic leadership chairman at Northwestern University; Aaron Leiner, Alpha Epsilon Pi Jewish identity chair at the University of Texas at Austin; Aaron Baskin, Alpha Epsilon Pi director of civic engagement; Eduardo Kohn, B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American Affairs; and Sienna Girgenti, assistant director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy. The meetings were coordinated and attended by David Michaels, director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs, and Program Officer for U.N. Affairs Oren Drori.