B’nai B’rith International—widely considered by scholars and historians to be the most important Jewish membership organization in American Jewish history—has announced that the contents of its archives and its Holocaust and Related Materials Archives will be relocated to The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio (AJA). The AJA is located on the historic Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
The expansive collection showcases not only B’nai B’rith’s history but also momentous occasions in Jewish history dating back to 1700.
“These extensive archives reflect the evolution of B’nai B’rith which, in many ways, parallels the evolution of the American Jewish experience and its connection to Jewish communities around the world,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin. “We are pleased with our decision to partner with the American Jewish Archives, a respected research center whose scholars carry out crucial primary research on American Jewry. We are confident that as a premier repository of such documents they will be an outstanding custodian of our archives.”
Rare images of the men who founded B'nai B'rith at Sinsheimer's Café in New York City on October 13, 1843.
The archive's thousands of manuscripts, charters, medals, letters, memorabilia and other artifacts demonstrate changing societal needs from the needs of orphans to those of the elderly, from assistance to immigrants to the preservation of Jewish identity in an open society. These archives represent a treasured primary resource for researchers and extend from former mining towns in the American West to the Jewish presence on the Island of Rhodes.
“Once we moved from our former headquarters building it was regrettable this treasure trove of material was not as accessible as we would have liked and we are delighted that this is no longer the case,” said B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs. “We are confident that through this important agreement to relocate the archives, the collection will continue to serve as a valuable historical resource. We look forward to ongoing cooperative programming between the two organizations to enhance a better understanding of American Jewish heritage. This partnership is also fitting as the B’nai B’rith headquarters were once housed in Cincinnati.”
Before the 1940s the B’nai B’rith headquarters were housed in the president's home city. From 1925 to 1938, when Alfred M. Cohen—a prominent Ohio lawyer and civic leader—was serving as the International President of B'nai B'rith, the organization's headquarters were located in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Noted historian Jonathan D. Sarna has called B’nai B’rith, established in New York in 1843, “the most important Jewish fraternal organization in American Jewish history.” With a continued presence in more than 50 countries, B’nai B’rith International works on behalf of the global Jewish community by advocating for Israel, combating anti-Semitism, protecting seniors, promoting community service and aiding in disaster relief.
“B'nai B'rith has played a shaping role in American Jewish life for more than 150 years,” said Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and Chief Historian, National Museum of American Jewish History. “Its massive collection of papers sheds light on everything from national crises to local philanthropic initiatives; they mirror the American Jewish experience as a whole. How fitting that this invaluable collection will now be housed at the American Jewish Archives, where the papers of so many of B'nai B'rith’s leaders and members are already reposited.”
“Our center is deeply honored by B'nai B’rith's decision to entrust its archival treasure trove to the American Jewish Archives,” said Dr. Gary P. Zola, Executive Director of the AJA and Professor of the American Jewish Experience at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “We are fully cognizant of B'nai B’rith's tremendous historical significance. Not only will we preserve these remarkable records in perpetuity, but we are firmly committed to making these records accessible to all those who are interested in making use of them."
"The American Jewish Archives is heaven for researchers like me,” added Dr. Sarna. “Treasures are brought to our desk and the staff caters to our every need. The B'nai B'rith papers could not have found a happier home."
The collection includes:
> Correspondence between and photos of B’nai B’rith leaders and U.S. presidents including Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton
> Rare newsletters and books published by B’nai B’rith’s European lodges, 1886-1937
> Internal correspondence and confidential reports illuminating B’nai B’rith’s relationship with Vatican leaders before and during the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council, 1961-1966
> Original minutes, charters, memorabilia and other items from American lodges spanning the 1870s-1980s
> Telegrams, internal memos and eyewitness accounts documenting the response of B’nai B’rith and other Jewish organizations to the rise of Nazism
Professor Dr. Cornelia Wilhelm, DAAD Professor at Emory University’s Department of History/Jewish Studies Department noted that, “The order's record keeping was extremely thorough and has produced enlightening vital statistics of early 19th century American Jewry (age, occupation, birthplace, marriage status, number of children, death rate and reason, etc.), which are otherwise barely available.”
Historians widely agree that few organizations shaped modern American Jewish history more profoundly than B’nai B’rith. “Scholars have long hoped to cull its historical records to shed light on the workings and impact of this very significant institution,” added Dr. Hasia R. Diner, the Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History at New York University.
"This collection is invaluable not only for what it reveals of B'nai B'rith's operation, but also for the display of its links with other facets of American Jewry," noted Dr. Michael A. Meyer, Adolph S. Ochs Professor of Jewish History at HUC-JIR Cincinnati. "The American Jewish Archives is to be congratulated for obtaining this large collection."