Washington Jewish Week Cover Story – January 24, 2024
B’nai B’rith International has existed for 180 years, providing support for Israel, the elderly and victims of natural disasters, with its efforts expanding across the globe over a century ago. It now stands at the forefront of assisting people around the world while simultaneously helping Israel as it progresses through the war with Hamas and faces challenges from the United Nations, the International Court of Justice and growing antisemitism around the world.
The organization, led by CEO and Chevy Chase resident Daniel S. Mariaschin, who has served in the role for over 30 years, is working on a wide range of initiatives to provide support for the Jewish people at home and abroad, including in Israel, where B’nai B’rith has been very active recently.
“We immediately established our Israel emergency fund [after Oct. 7]. We have B’nai B’rith in Israel, we have very active members there on the ground, and immediately decided to … provide for basic necessities for those who had been displaced, and to also provide for basic necessities for soldiers … providing them, for example, with jackets, backpacks, special backpacks for medics and other kinds of basics that soldiers need, which, at a certain point, were in short supply, and we’re continuing to do that,” Mariaschin said.
The group has also been working in defense of Israel at the ICJ against the charge of genocide brought by South Africa. B’nai B’rith filed a legal brief for Israel at the court and has been working for years to educate ambassadors and others about the challenges Israel faces at home and abroad.
“For years, we’ve been bringing diplomats and ambassadors of other countries to Israel for a week simply to familiarize them with Israel, its accomplishments, its challenges, the threats against it. We do that frequently. And we’ve devoted a lot of our podcast content [to it]. I do a podcast. We do webinars and podcasts to make sure that the discussion of these issues and the threats to Israel get an adequate hearing,” Mariaschin said.
The podcast that Mariaschin hosts covers a range of topics that he finds to be important in an age where online media is so prominent in messaging, and it allows for a discussion of issues that otherwise might have a difficult time taking place.
“We live in a podcast world. So, the idea here is to choose a subject that may be as current as yesterday, because three days from now, that subject may not be relevant, it may be surpassed by some other subjects,” Mariaschin said.
He added that given the rise in antisemitism, particularly in Europe, the B’nai B’rith offices there have been working to find government officials who are friendly to the Jewish community and Israel, and that they will sometimes invite those people on webinars and similar forms of media to discuss important issues with them.
“That’s really taking up a good part of the programming over the last three months and probably will [continue] into this year. We’re always looking for good ideas, for new ideas, and to be as relevant as we can,” Mariaschin said.
The organization has also been working on college campuses to support students facing increased incidents of antisemitism after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, but Mariaschin noted that its efforts on campuses didn’t just begin a couple of months ago.
“It [campus antisemitism] was a problem before Oct. 7, and it’s a greater problem now. Of course, before Oct. 7, the focus was the growing BDS issue, and we could see that it was growing, and then we hit Oct. 7,” Mariaschin said.
He added that B’nai B’rith works closely with the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, and that the organization will be taking a group of pro-Israel fraternity members to Geneva in the future to discuss issues with diplomats related to Israel and other similar topics.
And the organization’s efforts won’t end with that trip, as it’s been working with the U.S. Department of Education, the FBI, and elected officials to ensure that Jewish students are being protected on campus and that they’re not becoming the victims of unchecked antisemitism.
“We need to bring to candidates in both parties the urgent need to address the rise in hatred against Jewish students. We cannot allow this to be returned to the 1930s, that Jewish students should be intimidated, that Jewish students should have to hide a kippah or a Magen David … Jewish students should not have to be intimidated,” Mariaschin said.
And all of these issues and rapid changes to Jewish life in America and in Israel had Mariaschin reflect that B’nai B’rith can continue adapting to these changes to help support the Jewish community by further bolstering its current efforts and remaining consistent with its important mission and work.
“I think over the next year, there will be more of the same [efforts] … we’re ready to provide the kind of community-based assistance that this organization has been providing to people since the 1840s,” Mariaschin said.