This timeline provided highlights of important events in B’nai B’rith history.
1800s | 1900s | 2000s
The first meeting of B’nai B’rith took place on Oct. 13, 1843, at Sinsheimer’s Café on New York City’s Lower East Side. Founded by Henry Jones and 11 other German Jewish immigrants, the fraternal society was dedicated to assisting new Jewish immigrants in adapting to their new community. All meetings were conducted in German. Isaac Dittenhoefer is selected the first president.
1843—B’nai B’rith establishes its first humanitarian project, an insurance policy benefitting families of deceased members.
1851—B’nai B’rith intercedes with U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster, Senator Henry Clay and other American leaders, to speak out against Switzerland’s discrimination against Jewish residents. This established the organization’s mission of advocacy for the rights of Jewish people worldwide.
1852—B’nai B’rith opens the Maimonides Library in New York City, the first Jewish public library in the United States, as well as the first public building erected by Jews in New York for secular purposes.
1860-1865 (U.S. Civil War)—Chicago’s Ramah Lodge equips a company of Jewish soldiers in response to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers.
1862—The Missouri Lodges write to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to halt General Ulysses S. Grant’s “General Orders No. 11” expelling Jews from the Southern Territories under his command. Lincoln cancels the order immediately after he is informed.
1865—B’nai B’rith’s first international humanitarian relief project provided $4,500 (roughly $67,000 in modern currency) for cholera victims in what was then Palestine.
1868—Baltimore, Md., lodges raise funds to help those affected by flooding near the city. This launches the organization’s famed program of disaster relief in the United States.
1868—B’nai B’rith extends its humanitarian relief to Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East through financial support for the Alliance Israélite Universelle. This was the organization’s first ongoing international project.
1869—After Washington, D.C.’s Elijah Lodge protests the pending expulsion of Russia’s Jews from the region of Bessarabia, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant intercedes to stop the plan.
1870s—Responding to Romania’s growing anti-Semitic policies, B’nai B’rith appeals to U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, who appoints one of the organization’s leaders—editor and attorney Benjamin Franklin Peixotto—to the non-salaried position of U.S. consul to Romania.
1871—B’nai B’rith raises funds to provide assistance for survivors of the Great Chicago Fire.
1873—In the wake of a yellow fever epidemic, affecting large numbers of Jewish residents in the mid South, B’nai B’rith lodges across the country send aid for the sick.
1876—B’nai B’rith commissions Moses Jacob Ezekiel, an American sculptor, to create the allegory of Religious Liberty to commemorate the American Centennial. Today the statue stands in front of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, Pa.
1888—B’nai B’rith founds the Jerusalem Lodge, the first public Hebrew speaking organization in what was to become the State of Israel.
1893—Instituting a tradition honored by all subsequent presidents, U.S. President Grover Cleveland sends B’nai B’rith a testimonial letter in recognition of its 50th anniversary.
1897—Sigmund Freud delivers one of his first lectures on dream interpretation and psychoanalysis to his Vienna Lodge brothers.
1899—B’nai B’rith opens the National Jewish Hospital for Treatment of Consumptives (Tuberculosis), in Denver, Colo. Today it is considered the leading respiratory hospital in the United States.
1900—After a hurricane devastates Galveston, Texas, B’nai B’rith raises funds for disaster relief. In 1906, B’nai B’rith will assist after the San Francisco earthquake.
1900-1920—American lodge members redefine B’nai B’rith’s mission through a hands-on approach to social service projects to assist recent immigrants.
1910—U.S. President William Howard Taft speaks at the B’nai B’rith convention, becoming the first of many U.S. presidents to participate in the organization’s national meetings.
1912—At B’nai B’rith’s urging, U.S. President William Howard Taft rescinds an important diplomatic treaty with Russia, after its government prohibits American Jews from travel in that country.
1913— After an outpouring of strident anti-Semitism at the Georgia murder trial of B’nai B’rith member and factory supervisor Leo Frank, B’nai B’rith organizes its Anti-Defamation League to combat derisive stereotypes in film, literature and on the stage.
1914—Leo N. Levi National Hospital opens it doors in Hot Springs, Ark., with B’nai B’rith support. The name will be changed later to the Levi Arthritis Hospital.
1918-1930s—B’nai B’rith continues to provide humanitarian aid to Jewish refugees through its European lodges.
1920—B’nai B’rith lodges initiate the “adoption” of 600 Jewish children in Europe living in poverty after World War I, subsidizing their school fees, necessities and shelter.
1924—Modeling its organization for young men after college fraternities, B’nai B’rith establishes the Jewish youth group AZA (Ahavah, Z’dakah, Achdut), later changed to Aleph Zadek Aleph and incorporated, with B’nai B’rith Girls—established in San Francisco in 1927—as the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.
1925—B’nai B’rith adopts the on-campus organization, Hillel, dedicated to imbuing college students with a sense of Jewish identity and community.
1933—After Hitler institutes laws which deny Jews civil rights and restricts them from the work place, B’nai B’rith sends emergency funds to its German district, distributed by its president, Leo Baeck. Baeck will continue to resist Nazi pressure to close lodges and maintains support of charity programs.
1936—B’nai B’rith designates $100,000 for donation to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for the purchase of 1,000 acres of land in what was then Palestine, the site for the colony known as Moledet B’nai B’rith for European refugees. An additional donation of $100,000 follows in 1941.
1937—In April, the Nazi government closes German lodges, takes over all headquarters and confiscates the organization’s assets.
1938—Supported in part by the American lodges, a home for Jewish children and adolescents who have left Germany without their parents is set up and run by B’nai B’rith women in London.
1938—B’nai B’rith creates its Vocational Service Bureau to assist young people facing workplace quotas and university restrictions.
1938—B’nai B’rith begins providing affidavits which sponsor Jews from Europe, in compliance with immigration regulations in England and the United States.
1941—The United States enters World War II. B’nai B’rith members serve in the armed forces and assist in the war effort on the home front. After the war, B’nai B’rith is recognized by the U.S. Navy and Army for its war efforts.
1945—In June, B’nai B’rith President Henry Monsky leads an international delegation of Jewish representatives at the San Francisco conference that creates the United Nations. Monsky underscores the need to protect Jewish rights in Palestine, as recognized by the Balfour Declaration and British Mandate for Palestine.
1947—At B’nai B’rith’s urging, Kansas City Lodge member Eddie Jacobson travels to Washington to convince his friend and former business partner, U.S. President Harry S. Truman, to meet with Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, resulting in the United States backing the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state.
1948—On May 14, Israel declares statehood and begins defending itself in its War of Independence. Increasing its support and commitment to the nascent Jewish state, B’nai B’rith sends shiploads of food, clothing, trucks, and other emergency aid and assistance.
1949—For the first time since the outbreak of World War II, B’nai B’rith Europe convenes in Paris to plan for the organization’s growth throughout the continent.
1953—B’nai B’rith acquires property for Camp B’nai B’rith in Pennsylvania, later named B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp. B’nai B’rith Beber Camp follows in Wisconsin. Both camps become models for Jewish camping.
1956—Under the leadership of President Philip M. Klutznick, B’nai B’rith provides extensive support to Israel during the Suez crisis.
1957—B’nai B’rith dedicates its International Headquarters in Washington, D.C., at 1640 Rhode Island Avenue, NW.
1958—B’nai B’rith appeals to the U.S. government, resulting in the passage of legislation prohibiting American businesses from participating in the Arab League boycott of Israel.
1959—B’nai B’rith becomes the first major American Jewish organization to hold a convention in Israel
1960—B’nai B’rith initiates a United Nations campaign for the rights of Soviet Jews, which, over time, would result in worldwide outcry for their freedom. B’nai B’rith would make its impact felt until Soviet Jews are finally allowed to emigrate after the advent of glasnost in the 1990s.
1962—B’nai B’rith attains observer status at meetings of the Organization of American States (OAS), including those groups promoting the social, cultural and economic growth of democratic nations in Latin America. It would become the first officially accredited Jewish OAS observer in 2000. The organization also attains observer status at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
1963—B’nai B’rith’s president, Label A. Katz, meets with Pope John XXIII and three years later with Pope Paul VI. These meetings represent a new dialogue between Jews and Catholics boosted by the Vatican II encyclical “In Our Time” (Nostra Aetate) absolving Jews of collective responsibility for Jesus’ death and declaring the immorality of anti-Semitism. B’nai B’rith leaders continue to further engagements in subsequent audiences with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
1967—B’nai B’rith mobilizes its resources to help Israel as it fights the Six Day War by purchasing a record $13 million in Israel Bonds, topping all other world organizations.
1971—The landmark Brussels Conference on Soviet Jewry is convened and sponsored by B’nai B’rith and other international organizations. B’nai B’rith, becomes a leading constituent organization of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry’s successful campaign for a million signatures on petitions to the United Nations calling for international censure of the Soviet Union.
1971—B’nai B’rith dedicates its first senior housing project, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., beginning a national program to build a network of housing facilities to serve the needs of older citizens without regard to race or religion. Today, B’nai B’rith is the largest national Jewish sponsor of affordable housing for seniors.
1972—B’nai B’rith dedicates the Scroll of Fire Monument by Nathan Rapoport in Jerusalem’s Martyrs’ Forest to commemorate the tragedy of the Holocaust and the triumphant birth of the Jewish state.
1972—After 11 Israeli athletes are murdered at the Munich Olympics in October, B’nai B’rith’s president, David M. Blumberg, meets with United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim to urge a response to the crimes.
1973—B’nai B’rith mobilizes aid and relief during the Yom Kippur War.
1975—After the United Nations General Assembly adopts an anti-Semitic resolution equating Zionism with racism, B’nai B’rith is called into action, beginning a 16-year campaign resulting in its nullification.
1977—Hanafi Muslim terrorists occupy B’nai B’rith headquarters and two other buildings in Washington, D.C., holding 123 people hostage for 39 hours. Diplomats from Pakistan, Egypt and Iran convince the terrorists to surrender.
1979—After the signing of the Camp David Accords, the peace settlement signed by Israel and Egypt, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat invites a B’nai B’rith delegation, led by President Jack J. Spitzer, to be the first Jewish group to travel to his country.
1980—B’nai B’rith dedicates its World Center in Jerusalem, formalizing its connection to a wide range of Israeli governmental, academic and cultural institutions.
1985—B’nai B’rith President Gerald Kraft advocates for assistance for Ethiopian Jews to the Reagan administration. Later that year, he flies to Geneva to provide expertise on the issue of Soviet Jewish rights for a meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev.
1988— During the leadership of B’nai B’rith President Seymour D. Reich, B’nai B’rith’s 40 years of advocacy culminates in the U.S. ratification of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. U.S. President Ronald Reagan invites B’nai B’rith leaders to the signing ceremony in Chicago.
1989—Yad Vashem (the official living memorial to the Holocaust) selects B’nai B’rith as its designated U.S. representative to oversee and conduct Holocaust remembrance observances (Unto Every Person There is a Name).
1993—President Kent E. Schiner heads the celebration of B’nai B’rith’s 150th anniversary. Programs are held in New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore, and culminate in Washington, D.C., where U.S. President Bill Clinton attends and addresses the Jewish community gathered for the B’nai B’rith Havdalah ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial.
1995—B’nai B’rith raises $500,000 in response to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla.
1995—B’nai B’rith President Tommy P. Baer, meets with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to secure the prosecution of Dinko Sakic, a Nazi commandant who would be convicted of war crimes in 1998. Tudjman appoints Baer as an official observer to ensure a fair trial.
1997—B’nai B’rith’s committee on Cuban Affairs activates its Cuban Jewish Relief Project, an ongoing mission which brings essential medical supplies, humanitarian assistance, Jewish books and ceremonial items to the community in Cuba.
2001—B’nai B’rith President Richard D. Heideman heads a delegation to the United Nations’ World Conference Against Racism in September in Durban, South Africa. B’nai B’rith leads the Jewish Caucus in walking out to protest the ostracism of Israel and the use of anti-Semitism as a political device.
2001—B’nai B’rith donates $150,000 to benefit the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks.
2002—To send and distribute vital medical supplies to combat poverty in Latin America, B’nai B’rith partners with The Brother’s Brother Foundation in Pittsburgh, Pa., to create the Communities in Crisis Project, funding the shipping costs to send medical supplies to Argentina. The Communities in Crisis Project later expanded to other Latin American countries bringing tens of millions of dollars of supplies and equipment.
2003—B’nai B’rith expands its mission to enhance the quality of life for older Americans through the Seniors’ Advocacy Program, advancing the development of affordable housing, better healthcare, safeguards for income protection and successful aging programs.
2004—B’nai B’rith raises nearly $900,000 to assist those impacted by the South Asian Tsunami. IsraAID—The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid—of which B’nai B’rith is a founder and partner, delivers emergency and rebuilding projects.
2005—B’nai B’rith raises $1.1 million for Gulf Coast hurricane survivors in the United States.
2005—B’nai B’rith works on behalf of the passage of a United Nations resolution officially condemning Holocaust denial. Today, B’nai B’rith partners with the United Nations for its worldwide observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.
2006—B’nai B’rith President Joel S. Kaplan brings the International Policy Conference to New Orleans, La., to support the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Attendees get a firsthand look at the rebuilding and recovery projects sponsored by B’nai B’rith.
2006—B’nai B’rith creates the Diverse Minds Youth Writing Challenge, a book writing competition in which teens convey the meaning and value of tolerance to younger children. Supported by corporate sponsors, the Challenge continues to expand.
2008—B’nai B’rith formalizes a partnership between B’nai B’rith and Alpha Epislon Pi (AEPi), a national Jewish fraternity, dedicated to community service and heritage. Together, the organizations co-sponsor service and educational events, and Holocaust remembrance ceremonies.
2009—B’nai B’rith President Moishe Smith calls on members of the Organization of American States to adopt the Inter-American Convention Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance to include a specific reference to anti-Semitism, and to provide reparation to the victims of the 1994 Argentine Israelite Mutual Association Jewish center bombing.
2010—Following the earthquake in Haiti in January, B’nai B’rith raises $250,000 for relief efforts. IsraAID delivers emergency medical teams as well as initiating projects for recovery and rebuilding.
2010—B’nai B’rith President Dennis W. Glick and other B’nai B’rith leaders meet with international representatives at the United Nations for one-on-one dialogues underscoring the organization’s advocacy of Israel, a peaceful solution in the Middle East and global human rights.
2011—After the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan occurs in March, B’nai B’rith reaches out to survivors in displacement camps with supplies to create child friendly spaces and assists with post trauma training for teachers and community leaders.
2012—Transferring B’nai B’rith’s extensive archival collections to Cincinnati’s American Jewish Archives, B’nai B’rith President Allan J. Jacobs ensures their ongoing preservation and access by scholars and historians worldwide.
2013—B’nai B’rith International attends the installation of Pope Francis and an audience with the new pope for interreligious leaders. In November of 2012, then-Cardinal Bergoglio spoke at B’nai B’rith’s Kristallnacht commemoration in Buenos Aires, lighting a candle in remembrance of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.
2013—B’nai B’rith contributes donations made to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund to One Fund Boston, the relief effort for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
2013—Nearly a decade of B’nai B’rith diligence paid off when the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, and the Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance were approved by the Organization of American States’ (OAS) General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala. These conventions will be extremely important tools in fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in the Americas.
B'nai B'rith Around the World
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