B'NAI B'RITH IN YOUR COMMUNITY AND AROUND THE GLOBE
FROM THE PRESIDENT
United Nations Visits: Sweet, Prickly and Vital to Our Community
From Intifadas I and II and continuing with the recently paused rain of 4,000 Hamas rockets, Palestinian leaders use the world stage to demonize Israeli leaders, comparing them to Nazis and the evil associated with Eichmann, Mengele, even Hitler himself. The comments are shameful, shocking, truly horrifying and just ridiculous. They would even be more horrifying if they were true, but they’re not. And the countries that vote with their emotions know the claims are wrong and outrageous. But they appease the Palestinians and their proxies by voting in favor of the anti-Israel measures.
B’nai B’rith hosts officials from the U.N. and international embassies for an immersive experience in Israel that includes meetings with government officials and residents, and visits to historic sites. Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels (far left) accompanied the group to the Knesset. A participant remarked: “I have benefitted from getting to understand the country, its people and surroundings through presentations with direct relevance...to the situation…my understanding has been completely reshaped.”
A story in the Fall 2020 issue of IMPACT focused on the
Speak Out for Israel grant awarded to the program.
Rarely do they acknowledge how the Arab world led the Palestinians away from the U.N. partition plan of 1947. Rarely do they acknowledge that Hamas, Hezbollah and others use children as human shields, and that Israeli retaliation strikes are called off when children appear in radar crosshairs. And when innocent victims are placed in peril and then perish, the Palestinian propaganda machine kicks in to demonize Israel and revive the blood libels of centuries past.
This spring, before the recent Hamas conflagration, B’nai B’rith conducted another round of meaningful conversations with ambassadors. Because of the pandemic, we met online with even more missions over an extended period of time. This year, indeed, was different in many ways. World developments offered fresh context to recurring issues. In the past 12 months or so, however, about a dozen countries either signed “normalization agreements” with Israel or announced they are moving their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Perhaps these events would trigger a response as fresh and welcome as those realized by the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. They and more than 150 other countries around the world are experiencing the prowess of Israel as “the Startup Nation.” The language of trade, water, medical advancement and digital security is more persuasive than lies.
In the midst of defending itself, Israel is exporting goodwill, friendship and real goods and services, and the leaders of the Palestinians are exporting political fiction, hate and “misguided” missiles. Bilateral relations with Israel are acceptable; multilateral relations transparent to all... not so much. On its face, the inflammatory language sounds horrible enough to sully anyone’s reputation and alter perception, especially for people who truly know little about the Nazi era or the Holocaust. These nations effectively adopt and digest these lies as an accepted world view. Why? Because this is how propaganda works. Repeat a lie often enough and people begin to believe it, and you will believe it yourself.
We scratch our heads over the way gatekeepers manage such falsehoods in the name of free speech. They know “words have consequences” but justify usage. Perhaps they see this as “eye for an eye” justice. Since we’re dealing with revisionist falsehoods, this is really “eye for a tooth” justice. Even busy intersections have traffic lights to manage vehicles and pedestrians. Today, social media represent those intersections without lights or much effective enforcement.
Our B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem hosts U.N. leaders to learn about Israel, and visits to Yad Vashem occur as part of these missions. Many leaders making their first visit to Israel are shocked and moved beyond belief by what they learn. “For all of these years, this is not what we’ve been told,” they commonly tell us, or “we had no idea.” For 73 years, Israel has faced three generations of enemies feeding children with fantasy.
As to that elusive impact, we implored many missions during our recent meetings to pay attention to the harm created by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) schools in indoctrinating young minds with anti-Semitic examples and the teaching of hate and violence against Israel and Jews. The European Union Parliament voted at the end of April to censure UNRWA for using harmful and hateful content and textbooks in its curriculum. Over time, messages and circumstances converge to influence outcomes.
The United Nations General Assembly. President Charles O. Kaufman writes: “As diplomats move in and out of offices, our unwavering commitment to the security and sovereignty of Israel remains. This work is vital to Jewish people around the world . . . and to Judaism.” Photo credit: Spiff/Wikipedia.org
B’nai B’rith volunteers and staff, in dialogues with mission staff and directors at the UNHRC and UNESCO, will continue to flag resolutions that attempt to rewrite history, demean and deny Jews their history and their identity. As diplomats move in and out of offices, our unwavering commitment to the security and sovereignty of Israel remains. This work is vital to Jewish people around the world and to Judaism.
FROM THE CEO
B’nai B’rith’s History: Integral to American Life
From revolutionary times to the present, the American Jewish community has contributed greatly to American civilization. In our independence year of 1776, the Jewish population in America numbered some 2,500 persons. And just a few years later in 1790, when George Washington wrote his reassuring and prophetic letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, stating that the United States “would give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” we were just 0.62% of the total American population.
Early heroes, like Haim Solomon, whose financial acumen and support were essential to the success of the Continental Congress, and Uriah P. Levy, who served with distinction as a commodore in the U.S. Navy, were followed by so many in every field of life who contributed to the building and success of this country. They were inventors, doctors, scientists, educators, judges, bankers, entertainers, statesmen, businessmen, astronauts and sports legends. Amongst them are dozens of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, and others who excelled in their chosen disciplines.
By the time B’nai B’rith was established in 1843, the Jewish population had grown to about 50,000 (out of a total population of 17 million). It was 12 German Jewish immigrants who founded our organization, on the Lower East Side of New York. Their interest in assisting an indigent widow led to the creation in America of what we now call civil society: Volunteer and privately funded efforts to assist the underprivileged, and to create orphanages and hospitals.
Caring for the poor and sick, the orphaned and the aged, B’nai B’rith built public facilities across the country during the 19th and 20th centuries to benefit people of all faiths. Credit for all photos: B’nai B’rith Archives at the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio
In World War II, American Jews fought bravely on every front and in every theater and assisted greatly on the home front. B’nai B’rith was recognized by both the U.S. Army and Navy for our efforts. The June 1946 cover of The National Jewish Monthly featured a letter from President Harry Truman praising our wartime achievements.
B’nai B’rith’s commitment to helping those in need in many arenas continues. We became a pioneer in developing and sponsoring affordable housing for seniors. Working together with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), we have, over the past 50 years, created a network of 38 properties, housing more than 5,000 residents on a non-sectarian basis around the country, insuring dignity and safety for seniors in their golden years.
B’nai B’rith at the U.N. in 2021
On March 1, B’nai B’rith leaders and staff addressed pertinent issues with Ambassador Gian Lorenzo Cornado, Italian representative to the U.N. in Geneva (bottom row, center). Participants included (top row, l-r): President Charles O. Kaufman; Program Officer for U.N. Affairs Oren Drori; CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin; (middle row, l-r): B’nai B’rith Milan (Italy) member David Calo; Director of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Alan Schneider; Executive Board of Directors member Paolo Foa. (bottom row, l-r): Chair for U.N. Affairs Millie Magid; Cornado; First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of Italy Angela Zanca.
As part of its mission to support and defend Israel and combat global anti-Semitism, B’nai B’rith regularly engages with the United Nations at its various locations around the world.
In the spring, B’nai B’rith conducted its annual advocacy meetings with U.N. ambassadors, hosted a webinar featuring Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, and participated in a United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) meeting on combating anti-Semitism.
B’nai B’rith representatives met with ambassadors from Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, Senegal, Togo, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and many more nations.
In these private meetings, B’nai B’rith representatives urged diplomats to promote coexistence and reject bias against Israel at the U.N. and to help expand the partnerships between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which have been formed by an increasing number of normalization treaties and the historic Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
At the UNHRC, B’nai B’rith representatives also delivered several public video interventions.
Topics addressed included Israel’s distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the International Criminal Court decision opening an investigation into supposed “war crimes” by Israel, combating racism and anti-Semitism and the notorious 2001 U.N. conference in Durban, South Africa.
“Delegitimization, demonization and double standards do not amount to criticism, they amount to bigotry, and they must not be allowed to stand,” Michaels said in his video statement, addressing UNHRC Agenda Item 9, the item dedicated to the Durban process.
Following the UNHRC vote, B’nai B’rith condemned the passage of four anti-Israel resolutions, three of which fell under Agenda Item 7, the only item that singles out one country—Israel—for criticism.
Magid said that the Office of U.N. Affairs hopes to, through these meetings, “roll back the unjust resolutions and stop the bias. We expect that the U.N. will fulfill its fundamental charter and real mission by serving potentially as a force for the global good of ALL nations.”
Also in April, CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin and Michaels spoke with Ambassador Gilad Erdan, the permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, during B’nai B’rith’s regular Extra series about issues of mutual concern such as anti-Israel bias at the U.N., ways to combat this bias, the U.N. approach to Iran and the ambassador’s proposed initiatives to fight global anti-Semitism.
In March, Mariaschin spoke at the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations’ (UNAOC) virtual meeting to discuss holistic approaches to combating anti-Semitism.
The meeting was convened by UNAOC High Representative Miguel Moratinos, who is designated as the U.N. focal point to monitor anti-Semitism.
Mariaschin spoke on ways global governments and leaders can combat the resurgence of anti-Semitism such as adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) universal definition to recognize it in all its forms, comprehensively documenting instances of anti-Semitic hate crimes and collaboration between governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
“Much work remains to be done in the struggle against anti-Semitism. It is an effort that requires the participation of all of us. The need is more pressing than ever,” Mariaschin said.
B’nai B’rith has had a presence at the U.N. since its founding in 1945 and continues to advocate for Jewish people and Israel at the world body.
B’nai B’rith Senior Housing: 50 Years of Caring for Our Communities
From its beginning, the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network has been about community and partnership.
In the late 1960s, when B’nai B’rith members saw a need for quality, affordable senior housing in their communities, they took it upon themselves to make it a reality.
Working in conjunction with a team at B’nai B’rith’s international headquarters, local lodge members in Pennsylvania applied for federal funding and then supervised the planning and construction of a building to serve the local community. In 1971 B’nai B’rith opened its first affordable senior housing building—the B’nai B’rith Apartments in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania—and the Senior Housing Network was born.
Now—50 years after that first building welcomed its first residents—B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network operates 38 affordable housing locations across the country, as well as several buildings internationally, and serves some 5,000 residents, making it the largest national Jewish sponsor of subsidized, nonsectarian housing in the United States.
And just like it was in 1971, each B’nai B’rith housing location is supported by individuals working at a local level to meet local needs.
A board of directors oversees each community, responding to needs at a local level while, at a national level, the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services (CSS) offers training, guidelines and oversight.
Annie Deiber has been on the board of directors of Schenectady B’nai B’rith House in Schenectady, New York, since 2012. In 2014, she also became president of the location. “Helping the residents is rewarding in the friendships I have developed and learning of the problems of the older generation; It has given me a new perspective on the elderly,” Deiber said of her work with B’nai B’rith Senior Housing.
Carol Trombino is what CSS calls an original resident—a resident who has lived in a B’nai B’rith senior housing building since it opened. Trombino has been a resident of the Gerd & Inge Strauss Manor since its opening in 2006. In an interview with CSS, published in its special edition of the Seniority Report newsletter marking the 50th anniversary, Trombino said, “I would like people to know, where else could they go and live the way they live here, where everything is taken care of? It’s not just the affordable rent, but I feel so safe and secure.”
Madeline Maxwell, turning 96 in December, is another original resident. She has lived in the B’nai B’rith Chesilhurst House in Chesilhurst, New Jersey, since it opened in 2002. She said she is grateful for all the ways staff have helped her during her time at Chesilhurst House, and especially during the pandemic, such as making sure she receives her groceries and her medication from her daughter.
Outside of providing an environment where seniors can age in place, CSS has developed many programs to enrich the lives of housing residents over the years.
One of these programs is the bi-annual Resident Leadership Retreat, where resident leaders from B’nai B’rith housing properties across the country come together to connect with one another and develop leadership skills to strengthen their communities back home.
The program began in 1987, when Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president of B’nai B’rith and director of CSS, organized a trip to Perlman Camp in Starlight, Pennsylvania, as a way for residents to experience a summer camp environment and get out of the city for a few days. While there, they took the opportunity to discuss the buildings and the concept of resident associations—a group of residents who work together to benefit their community and serve as the go-between for residents and management—of which there were few at the time.
What began as a three-day summer camp experience gradually expanded in size and scope and became more focused on training for residents to become leaders in their communities.
Dedication and Innovation. B’nai B’rith Apartments in Allentown, Pa. opened in 1979; connections have been sustained online during the pandemic. During a recent meeting, the building’s first board president, Neil Forgash (lower left); Bob Sipos, who has been employed in various management positions for nearly four decades (upper left); and staff member Barbara Butz consulted with Center for Senior Services Director Mark D. Olshan.
Now, the program is a week-long retreat where resident leaders participate in workshops covering topics including how to start a resident association, the most effective ways to communicate with management, dealing with language and culture barriers and more.
Resident leaders then take these lessons home, using their new skills to enhance the lives of fellow residents, all with the goal of fostering a greater sense of community.
“This is their home and so we want everyone to feel that sense of community,” Janel Doughten, associate director of CSS, said. Doughten is now one of the main organizers of the retreats.
Even in the face of unprecedented challenges from COVID-19, CSS and the Senior Housing Network found ways to bring local communities together to enhance the quality of life for residents.
CSS launched a weekly virtual meeting with on-site building staff to allow them to share issues employees have faced and the solutions they created. This enabled administrators from buildings across the country to learn and share best practices to keep residents safe, active and happy during the pandemic.
Most recently, these virtual meetings allowed on-site housing staff to learn about various methods of handling the COVID-19 vaccine rollouts in their buildings, which ensured that residents were able to safely be inoculated.
Beaty said she looks forward to these meetings which allow her and other site managers to share ideas with people who have the same passion for helping others.
These virtual meetings have been so well liked by staff that CSS plans to continue them even after restrictions are lifted and in-person gatherings can resume, so communities across the country can keep learning from each other as to how they can provide the best, safest homes for in-need seniors.
Throughout the year, CSS will continue to celebrate its 50th anniversary by sharing more conversations with staff and volunteers, spotlighting properties with fun facts and pictures, interviewing board members and staff and sharing stories from residents.
To learn more about the history of B’nai B’rith Senior Housing and the work it does, take a look at our special 50th anniversary video, Who We Are: B’nai B’rith Senior Housing.
You can read the full special 50th Anniversary edition of the Seniority Report here.
B’nai B’rith Brings Together Jewish Communities Around the World to Commemorate Yom HaShoah; Hosts First Ever Yom HaShoah Event on Fast-Growing Social Media’s Clubhouse App
B’nai B’rith leaders around the world joined guest speaker Tammy Ben Haim, minister for public diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel in Washington (bottom row, center), for a virtual Yom HaShoah commemoration on April 8. Participants included (bottom row, l-r): Roberto M. Nul, B’nai B’rith senior vice president, Buenos Aires; Ben Haim; Serge Dahan, B’nai B’rith Europe president, Paris. (Middle row, l-r): Charles O. Kaufman, B’nai B’rith International president, Austin, Texas; Trey Meehan, chair, B’nai B’rith Connect-D.C.; Sheila Mostyn, chair, B’nai B’rith Center for Jewish Identity, Toronto; Ira Bartfield, chair, B’nai B’rith Center for Community Action, Arlington, Va. (Top row, l-r): Daniel S. Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith CEO, Washington, D.C.; Simone Hoffman, member, B’nai B’rith International Council, Frankfurt, Germany; Alan Schneider, B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem director; James Fleisher, executive director, Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, Indianapolis, Ind.
B’nai B’rith observed Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day—around the world on April 8 with new and unique events to honor the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Since 1989, B’nai B’rith has served as the official North American sponsor of Unto, a program of Yad Vashem—The World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin opened the ceremony and introduced this year’s theme: “Until the Very Last Jew,” which focused on 1941 and “Eighty Years Since the Onset of Mass Annihilation.”
“The theme reminds us that, despite the passage of decades, the need for us to re-dedicate ourselves to telling the full story of the Holocaust is ever more urgent, especially as the number of victims, who were eyewitnesses to this barbarity, sadly diminishes each year,” Mariaschin said.
The ceremony began with a video presentation by Yad Vashem about its ongoing efforts to document the names of Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. So far, more than 4 million victims have been identified by name. Almost 2 million remain unknown. But each year, the number of identified victims grows, and thus the number who can be remembered.
Tammy Ben Haim, minister for public diplomacy at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., provided an opening address, stressing the importance of carrying on these memorials and remembrance events each year.
“The act of verbalizing the names of the victims, as we are doing here today, is more than just symbolic,” Ben Haim said. “A name makes the person, the individual. If we remember each name, we can keep their memory alive and at the same time stand up against those who try to deny or distort the tragedy of the Holocaust.”
Sheila Mostyn, chair of the B’nai B’rith Center for Jewish Identity, read the poem “Unto Every Person There Is A Name” by the Israeli poet Zelda. Its final stanza reads:
“Unto every person there is a name
Which he receives from the sea
And is given to him by his death”
The reading of names ended with a recital of the Mourner’s Kaddish by Ira Bartfield, B’nai B’rith executive board of directors member.
In his closing remarks, B’nai B’rith President Charles O. Kaufman also emphasized the importance of remembrance events.
“We are in the twilight of life for Holocaust survivors and with each passing year the number of survivors shrinks,” Kaufman said. “That leaves us with one burning question: Who will bear witness when the very last Jewish survivor is gone? That answer rests with you.”
B’nai B’rith members and supporters also hosted community events on Yom HaShoah. B’nai B’rith Atlanta Achim/Gate City Lodge, with The Temple synagogue in Atlanta and community partners, hosted a virtual commemoration where volunteers read the names of Jewish children who died in the Holocaust. The greater Washington, D.C. Chesapeake Bay Region hosted its own community Unto Every Person There is a Name commemoration.
In past years, B’nai B’rith would hold in-person ceremonies all over North America to bring together local Jewish communities for the program. These events have moved online as a result of the pandemic. Although the shift to virtual programming presented a challenge, B’nai B’rith quickly adapted, and the online ceremonies allowed Jewish communities around the world to come together to remember.
In addition to B’nai B’rith’s Zoom Unto programs, B’nai B’rith Connect, the organization’s young leadership group, held a first-ever Unto ceremony on the app Clubhouse.
For the 20th consecutive year, Jewish leaders and community members gathered at the “Scroll of Fire” Plaza at the B’nai B’rith Martyrs’ Forest—with limited attendance due to the ongoing pandemic—to honor Jews who saved other Jews with the “Jewish Rescuers Citation.” Viewers also watched live on YouTube.
This year, 13 individuals received the award, joining more than 350 rescuers who have been recognized since the citation was established in 2011.
As Ben Haim said in her opening remarks of the Unto commemoration, these observances become more and more important each year as the Holocaust begins to fade from living memory. “We rely on these memorials and ceremonies to both remind those of us who know and remember and to educate future generations of Jews and non-Jews alike, so we never forget."
B’nai B’rith in Latin America: A Record of Achievement During 2020
In Latin America, where the struggle against poverty is too common, the consequences of the pandemic were dire for much of the population. Need increased as those whose survival had depended on minimal government support experienced homelessness, starvation and illness, while those made poor by the pandemic were without resources. Despite restrictions and strained budgets, the essential programs of B’nai B’rith in Latin America continued, while members launched relief initiatives enabling thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish people to survive and carry on their lives.
2020-21 Pandemic Disaster Relief
Eduardo Kohn, B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay and B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs, observed: “The pandemic became a serious challenge to maintaining community action work inside and outside Jewish communities for B’nai B’rith. In Panama, B’nai B’rith made very important donations to the Ministry of Health during 2020. In Uruguay, B’nai B’rith donated 2,500 food baskets to the National Emergency Committee. In Argentina and Uruguay, B’nai B’rith has reached out to give hundreds of needy Jewish families supplies, from food to hardware.”
B’nai B’rith Uruguay sent 1,000 food baskets to government charities in the spring of 2020. It contributed an additional 60 earmarked for the vulnerable residents in the Uruguayan town of La Paz in April 2021.
B’nai B’rith in Brazil contributed thousands of blankets to state philanthropies and private charities; Curitiba’s Weismann lodge partnered with other nonprofits to collect and deliver food to an organization that fed more than 40,000 individuals.
Partnering with other Jewish organizations, B’nai B’rith Panama donated 50 oximeters that monitored COVID-19 patient’s heart rates and blood oxygen levels to the country’s Ministry of Health and sent 150 beds to Panama City’s Center for Migrants.
Disabled individuals who obtain medical equipment through the lodges’ Medication Donation Program were provided with hand sanitizer and cleaning products.
In addition, new B’nai B’rith initiatives in Argentina and Uruguay are mitigating hardship in the poorest Jewish enclaves affected by COVID-19.
Ongoing Social Action Projects
Over the past decade, 750 Costa Rican educators, 24 of whom studied at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Center for Holocaust Remembrance, attended Holocaust and genocide history workshops and went on to impart their knowledge to an estimated 45,000 students, made possible by San Jose’s B’nai B’rith Rabin Lodge. Partnering with local organizations and businesses, the lodge coordinates an April 11 Good Deeds Day with hundreds of volunteers, held in person at hospitals and other facilities this year.
A nine-month Jewish teen leadership program developed by Panama’s B’nai B’rith Irving Zapp Lodge boasts 900 graduates since 2002. The lodge is also a major funder of JUPA, the Jewish Foundation of Panama. With more than 350 graduates since 2007, this foundation funds tuition scholarships to 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds studying English and math or culinary arts.
Maintaining its non-sectarian family program for 20 years, Venezuela’s B’nai B’rith Caracas Lodge sponsors mental health and occupational therapists who treat parents and children, many of whom are disabled.
B’nai B’rith Uruguay’s educational endeavors reflect an overwhelming record of success. Established in 2009, its non-sectarian Moving Forward Foundation, supported by various philanthropies and for-profits, enables promising economically challenged students from Montevideo to benefit from learning enhancement and tutoring, and become the first in their families to graduate high school and attend college. B’nai B’rith sends food and subsidizes medical insurance for the enrollee’s household. One of the 250 graduates, now a notary public, echoes the program’s directive, writing: “Like the pawn in chess, we can all become anything we want to if we move in the right direction.”
Marking 2020-2021 Communal Anniversaries during the Pandemic
On July 18, 1994, terrorists murdered 85 people and injured hundreds more when they bombed the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina building (AMIA: Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) in Buenos Aires. Though it’s long been held that Iran is responsible for the attack, no one has been apprehended. In July 2020, B’nai B’rith Argentina’s online 26th anniversary commemoration of this tragedy included a message from AMIA’s current president and testimonies from survivors and victims’ families.
Dignitaries including President Luis Lacalle Pou (lighting menorah), Vice President Beatriz Argimon and Yoed Magen (center), Israeli Ambassador to Paraguay and Uruguay, attended B’nai B’rith Uruguay’s November in-person Kristallnacht commemoration, which was also streamed and broadcast nationally. Keynote speaker Jorge Grünberg, rector of ORT University in Montevideo, said: “Intolerance, discrimination, indifference, the killings reached the unbelievable under the Nazis, but such criminality also exists in our time: the AMIA bombings.”
Remembrances of the November 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms, considered a prelude to the Shoah, held particular resonance for those experiencing fear and loneliness during the pandemic. B’nai B’rith in 13 countries partnered to host an online ceremony with guest speaker, historian Julián Schvindlerman. Additional virtual events were jointly organized by B’nai B’rith in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela.
Uruguay’s Congress honored Holocaust Commemoration Day on Jan. 28, 2021, with B’nai B’rith Uruguay President Franklin Rosenfield in attendance.
Minister Andres Allamand spoke at a Holocaust Commemoration Day ceremony at the Chilean Foreign Ministry, organized by B’nai B’rith and the Chilean Jewish community. Under Secretary Carolina Valdivia was also present.
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Common History, Common Regional Interests
A new joint college course sponsored by B’nai B’rith opens opportunities for relations between Israel, Greece and Cyprus
In its latest effort to foster a close diplomatic relationship between Israel, Greece and Cyprus, the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem initiated and partially funded a joint course between Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Beer Sheva, the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, Greece and the University of Cyprus in Nicosia.
The course, entitled “Israel, Greece, Cyprus: Common history, common regional interests,” is taught in Greek and Hebrew and follows the history of diplomatic relations between the three countries—the three democracies in the Mediterranean—and aims to develop a shared appreciation for the close relationship between them.
Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem, said that B’nai B’rith hopes the course will “expand the opportunities for thoughtful interaction between significant civic cohorts—beyond the political, diplomatic and military echelons that already enjoy an unprecedented level of intimacy.”
Schneider said the program is a breakthrough, as it is the first time universities from the three countries are formally cooperating to offer a joint course.
With the help of the Greek embassy in Israel, the three schools were able to coordinate their differing academic structures, and the course launched for the spring 2021 semester.
The initial idea for the course came from Gabriel Haritos, visiting professor and postdoctoral research fellow at the Azrieli Center for Israel Studies, Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism, Ben-Gurion University, and professor Paula Kabalo, director of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute and chair of the Azrieli Center.
Haritos said that, in the beginning, it was a challenge to teach students who did not share a common historical background. Israeli students knew little about what led to the creation of the modern Greek state and Greek and Cypriot students were unfamiliar with the concept of Zionism as a national movement.
“But with lots of patience and some extra academic hours dedicated to fill those gaps, the course went smoothly for the students—and for myself as well,” Haritos said.
In the course, students examined primary and secondary sources such as diplomatic reports and newspaper articles. Three researchers and experts from Israel and Greece participated as visiting lecturers.
A joint study mission to the three countries was also planned but had to be cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. If conditions allow, the mission may take place next year.
Through the course, students acquired the necessary skills to advance Israeli-Greek-Cypriot relations further. Kabalo said she hopes the course encourages long-term mutual interest and that it will inspire graduate theses and Ph.D. dissertations that will pave the way for future academics to teach on this topic.
“The students are the future generation to cultivate and nurture these ties,” Kabalo said.
Haritos said that, as political, scientific and technological Israeli-Hellenic ties have grown over the past decade, it is essential to strengthen societal ties and mutual understanding to create a sustainable partnership.
As the course took place, the relationship between the countries advanced and realized historic new developments. In April, the foreign ministers of Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the UAE met in Paphos, Cyprus to discuss various common concerns. Also in April, Israel and Greece signed a defense procurement deal.
B’nai B’rith has long promoted Jewish-Hellenic relations, both through the tripartite Israel-Greece-Cyprus relationship and through the partnership between American Jewish and American Greek communities.
B’nai B’rith often works in close partnership with the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) and the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (Order of AHEPA). In 2014, the two organizations joined leaders from B’nai B’rith and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations for a historic three-country mission to Israel, Cyprus and Greece.
The mission was focused on ways to strengthen the trilateral relationship between the countries in the areas of government, economics, security and energy. Missions were also held in 2016, 2018 and 2020.
The spring semester course served as a pilot program for future academic collaborations between the countries and universities. Haritos said he is already scheduling a new series of lectures covering a broader range of Israeli-Hellenic relations for the upcoming academic year.
“I do not see these three courses as a purely academic endeavor. I consider it as the initial step which will lead to create a new generation of Israeli experts, journalists, historians and future decision-makers with skills that will enable them to understand the Greek and Cypriot realities and how Greeks and Cypriots see themselves as regional players in the Middle East and beyond,” Haritos said.
One Donor: Many Helped
The COVID-19 virus outbreak created significant sanitary, economic and social consequences in each country, leaving the Jewish community’s most vulnerable members in a particularly precarious situation. This, coupled with a diminishing network of community institutions and schools that traditionally provided a “safety net” of services to these families, left low-income families and individuals unable to meet even the most basic needs.
In Uruguay, just as in Argentina, the pandemic exacerbated the already difficult position of the community’s neediest members. The donation has allowed B’nai B’rith Uruguay to provide essentials on a case-by-case basis to families—refrigerators, kitchenware, sheets and towels, mattresses, water heaters and more to make homes more livable. Items such as sneakers, orthopedic shoes, a jacket, a belt and support railings may seem small, but to the recipients they are impactful gifts they would not have had access to otherwise.
By partnering with B’nai B’rith—with its unique “boots-on-the-ground” network—this donor made a profound difference in the lives of people struggling during the pandemic.
Project H.O.P.E. Continues to Brighten Passover for Many
Though decidedly different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, B’nai B’rith Project H.O.P.E. (Help Our People Everywhere) was still able to make Passover possible for Jews in need.
In March 2021, Project H.O.P.E. distributed food in areas of Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York.
In the Chesapeake Bay Region, Project H.O.P.E. partnered with the Jewish Social Service Agency of Montgomery County, Maryland, to send Passover food baskets to more than 500 Washington, D.C. area recipients on March 21. Students from Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Maryland, helped to assemble the baskets, which were delivered by B’nai B’rith members and congregants from Maryland and Virginia synagogues.
B’nai B’rith Liberty Region in Philadelphia has participated in Project H.O.P.E. for more than 24 years. In 2021, area B’nai B’rith members who worked in conjunction with the Jewish Relief Agency (JRA) made a Passover celebration possible for many who could not afford to purchase the often-costly Passover products for the seder. B’nai B’rith volunteers picked up the packages from the JRA distribution center and delivered them to the recipients on March 21.
On March 24, the New York Metropolitan area Metronorth Region Project H.O.P.E. distributed Passover meals to 110 seniors experiencing isolation, illness or food insecurity. B’nai B’rith worked with the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center (YJCC) in Plainview, New York, the Ruderman Family Food Pantry and a local caterer to prepare and distribute the meals.
Ruderman Family Food Pantry clients were moved to tears:
“I got my Passover package, and I could cry!”
“Of course I am crying. The Streit’s matzoh made me feel like my mother was with me. So perfect. Thank you.”
“I’m crying from joy. I wanted to thank the people from B’nai B’rith. It made my day. It just made me realize there’s such beauty around me. It’s such a beautiful care package!”
Susan Berk said that her work as Project H.O.P.E. chair in Long Island honors the memory and legacy of her father, "whose vision when he started Project H.O.P.E. many years ago was to help others enjoy the holidays. I am grateful for the opportunity to reach out to the community and have a positive impact."
In the Great Lakes Region, Project H.O.P.E. donated funds to the Yad Ezra Food Bank, which provides kosher food to impoverished residents in Southeast Michigan. Included in the donation were B’nai B’rith COVID-19 relief kits, each containing a cloth face mask and travel-sized hand sanitizer, which have been distributed around the country as part of B’nai B’rith’s pandemic relief efforts.
Fort Worth’s Garsek Lodge Sponsors a Night of History and Nostalgia
The eyes of Texas are upon….B’nai B’rith Isadore Garsek Lodge’s May 2 online celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) and B’nai B’rith history outlined by keynote speaker Daniel Mariaschin (middle row, center). Those from the lodge who contributed to this informative event were (top row, from right): Robert Chicotsky and Gerald Zenick, who shared stories about their families and Jewish life in Texas; moderator and immediate past president Gerald Stein; and current Garsek president, Alex Nason. Attendees included B’nai B’rith President Charles O. Kaufman of Austin (second row from top, first left-side image).
Recipe for a great learning experience: Take the story of Jews in America, add some compelling information on B’nai B’rith’s achievements over the course of three consecutive centuries, season liberally with memories of growing up Jewish in Fort Worth, Texas, and personal family history dating back to World War I and voilà, you’ve got a concoction that appeals to everyone.
On May 2, Fort Worth’s Isadore Garsek Lodge kicked off Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) with “The Jewish Experience in the U.S.A. and Fort Worth: Matzo and Chicken Fried Steak,” an online panel featuring lodge members and prominent area philanthropists Robert Chicotsky and Gerald Zenick, preceded by B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin’s keynote speech.
Garsek Lodge President Alex Nason greeted the attendees while the immediate past president, Gerald Stein, served as moderator and introduced participants.
Mariaschin highlighted significant Jewish milestones marking 350 years of Jewish history recognized during Jewish American Heritage Month, which has been celebrated every May since 2006. He also paid tribute to Jewish heroes including Haim Solomon and Jonas Salk.
Underscoring B’nai B’rith’s ongoing role in enhancing life for people of all faiths, he observed, “In the beginning, B’nai B’rith focused on philanthropy, honor and patriotism. Members expanded their interests beyond the borders of the United States to come to the rescue of victims of persecution. These causes have not changed but evolved to address many important issues.”
Mariaschin noted Garsek Lodge’s disaster relief activities during February 2021 snow and ice storms and throughout the ongoing pandemic.
The lodge sponsorship of the Mollie and Max Barnett Apartments and Tarrant County B’nai B’rith Apartments for senior citizens received special praise: “I am proud to advise that these apartments are part of a fantastic network of housing making B’nai B’rith the largest national Jewish sponsor of affordable homes. The program provides over 5,000 residents a home and links 38 communities throughout the United States that serve the needs of seniors without regard to race or religion.”
During the second part of the evening, retired journalist and newspaper executive Gerald Zenick spoke about his grandfather, an immigrant from Russia to Fort Worth, whose shoe and clothing stores were instrumental in fostering the community’s retail presence. He also remembered the prejudice he himself encountered during his time at the University of North Texas, and the restricted country clubs, prevalent until about a decade ago.
The owner of his family’s liquor store and shopping center in Fort Worth, Robert Chicotsky told the story of his Polish grandfather’s success in Texas, where he began life as a merchant and then as a butcher for the Swift Company meat packing plant. He sent his wife and children their passage money to America hidden in framed pictures. Both his parents lost relatives in the Holocaust.
The event concluded with a question-and-answer session, and perhaps the promise of future lodge programs focusing on various aspects of Jewish life, traditions and culture. Those at home who might have been noshing on quirky Texas-Jewish cuisine had their hunger for knowledge satiated online.
FROM THE VAULT
Renown Social Worker and Zionist Leader Anitta Müller-Cohen had ties to B’nai B’rith
Like other important Jewish women of her generation, Anitta Müller-Cohen was actively engaged in philanthropic activities at a time when Europe’s Jewish population endured the most suffering and deprivation resulting from World War I and its aftermath. Recognized worldwide for the many lives she saved, she would go on to settle in pre-state Israel, where her mission as an author, advocate for social change and later as a leader, was dedicated to improving life for all in her adopted homeland.
In one of several articles published about her in B’nai B’rith’s national periodical, B’nai B’rith News, Müller-Cohen was described as “the ministering angel” and “the soul of Jewish welfare work for Viennese children…She has aroused pride in the B’nai B’rith lodges of Vienna, which assisted her most effectively with financial means or with able workers from the circle of our brothers and sisters.” Readers were constantly reminded of desperate post-war conditions, as the magazine declared in 1919 that “Vienna is starving,” and reported that Müller-Cohen had brought 750 infants and children to Copenhagen, where they received medical care and nourishment.
In August 1920, Müller-Cohen addressed the important Jewish World Relief Conference in Carlsbad, Czechoslovakia, where her plea for support for what she estimated to be 400,000 Jewish orphans received an overwhelming response from the South African Jewish community.
She made appearances throughout the United States, after traveling here to address the opening session of the 1925 American Jewish Congress in Chicago.
After her divorce and remarriage, Müller-Cohen immigrated with her family to Tel Aviv in 1935. Continuing her work as writer and social worker, she provided help to Austrian refugees, founded the Women’s Social Service, assisting women and families, and was prominent in the Mizrahi Women’s Organization during the later part of the decade. In the 1950s, she became involved in Israeli politics. In 1965, three years after her death, a senior citizens’ residence built in Ramat Gan was named in her memory.
Backstory: B'nai B'rith in the Land of the Pyramids