Ongoing since late February, “Migrations: The Making of America” celebrates the all-encompassing transformation of New York City’s cultural landscape through the vibrant heritage of those foreign to its shores. Its organizers at Carnegie Hall reached out to forge partnerships in all five boroughs, including theater and music venues, museums, libraries and arts centers. Almost 100 events -- concerts, some of which were broadcast locally, and virtual and on-site museum exhibitions augmented by courses, tours, lectures and panel discussions-- mainly focus on how the city’s cultural milieu was defined by a wide-ranging panoply of ethnic groups and how this process continues in our own time. Later this year, the opening night concert of Irish, Scottish and American folk music featuring award-winning composer and banjo great Béla Fleck will be heard on public radio stations across the country.
Unsurprisingly, the creative legacies of Jewish composers, performers and even a choreographer or two supplied the content of a good proportion of festival offerings. Many events were held at the Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street. It was there, on March 3rd, that silent film aficionados reveled in Molly Picon’s sprightly portrayal of a Jazz Age flapper who falls for a yeshiva student in “East and West,” with live orchestral accompaniment. Rarely or never-heard Yiddish songs from radio, film and theater were performed by members of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene during a March 10th concert at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
On March 27th, America’s premier interpreter of The Great American Song Book, Michael Feinstein, was onstage at Carnegie Hall for his one-man show of standards by the composers that he knows so well, including Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Harold Arlen.
While the festival continues, there’s still time to enjoy some of its programs. One of the most opulent, to take place on April 15th at Carnegie Hall, might be described as a multi-generational, star-studded survey of repertory spanning klezmer to classical, all of which emanated from the Jewish presence in New York, and which continue to transform the city today. “From Shtetl to Stage: A Celebration of Yiddish Music and Culture,” a gallimaufry of theatrical sketches, production numbers, instrumental music and song will showcase violin virtuoso Gil Shaham, Klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, pianist Evgeny Kissin and vocalists, including Katrina Lenk, the Tony Award--winning actress from the hit Israeli musical, “The Band’s Visit,” and Yiddish theater veterans Mike Burstyn and Eleanor Reissa, (the latter is also the show’s director).
A Yiddish and Ladino recital will be performed by Sephardic artist Sarah Aroeste and Ashkenazic specialist Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell with piano and accordion accompaniment at the West Side’s Marlene Meyerson Manhattan JCC on March 31st. On April 1st, the King Juan Carlos I Center of Spain will screen “A Brivele Der Mamen (A Letter to Mother),” one of the last Yiddish movies made in Poland. On April 7th, Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center will present “Music in Color,” a St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble concert devoted to music by Gabriela Lena Franks, a contemporary Lithuanian-Peruvian-Jewish-Chinese composer. At an April 10th lecture at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Professor Mark Slobin will trace the roots and manifestations of Eastern European Jewish musical culture, and an ongoing exhibit of art by Israeli-American sculptor Boaz Vaadia in Chelsea runs through April 15th.
Yaniv Dinur, the Israeli-born conductor of the New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Milwaukee Symphonies and the previous recipient of three grants from the Solti Foundation in Evanston, Illinois, has been awarded the Foundation’s 2019 $30,000 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, given to musicians under the age of 38. The money can be spent for travel, study or the purchase of scores.
Considered one of the world’s greatest Wagnerian conductors, and esteemed for his interpretation of composers including Elgar, Verdi and Beethoven, the distinguished Maestro Solti (1912-1997), was a student of Bela Bartok, who had established a career in his native Hungary before increasing anti-Semitism forced him to emigrate in 1938, one year before the Nazi advent. Enjoying an international reputation, he was best known for his remarkable recordings made with the Chicago Symphony, where he served as music director for 22 years.
Those who heard the National Gallery’s Diamonstein-Spielvogel Lecture on Saturday, March 9th, delighted in the feisty commentary and quips of 91-year-old Alex Katz, an iconic artist whose career took off in the late 1950s and who is still painting gorgeous large-scale canvases today. The son of a Yiddish theater actress, Katz recounted his years as a struggling student and painter who learned the importance of acquiring a command of drawing in contrast to his intuitive approach to color, all adding up to the masterpieces of portraiture and landscape so loved by museum-goers and collectors. The audience had a good time, but many of them (me) coveted the artworks and lamented (again, me) not having an Alex Katz hanging in their own living room.
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
To read this op-ed by B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield in the Jerusalem Post, click here.
It should be axiomatic in American politics: If both David Duke and Louis Farrakhan support your position, you should reconsider it.
Such is the dilemma for US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), whose repeated antisemitic remarks have drawn approbation from curious places. She remains insufficiently apologetic, though.
Omar’s intransigence is made somewhat understandable by the failure of the House of Representatives to issue an unequivocal condemnation of either her behavior or the wider problem of antisemitism. In confronting the world’s oldest and most resilient social problem, Congress did what would have been unthinkable in condemning, say, racism or misogyny: it folded the problem into a litany of horribles that included discrimination against multiple other groups.
Former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was booed and pressured to apologize when he responded to the Black Lives Matter movement by declaring, “All lives matter.” This is because his pat, all-inclusive formulation diminished the immediate problem of racism, particularly as it pertained to black victims of police violence. But this is what Congress has done in response to antisemitism, at a time when one of its own members is practicing it. In its own “All Lives Matter” moment, Congress is avoiding dealing with antisemitism by refusing to confront it squarely.
The anti-hate resolution passed by the House condemned antisemitism as a “hateful expressions of intolerance,” at the same time as it also condemned Islamophobia and discrimination against all minorities as “hateful expressions of intolerance.” It referenced the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville and the mass synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh while simultaneously deploring the oppression by white supremacists of “traditionally persecuted peoples,” including people of color, religious minorities, immigrants “and others.”
The 19th century Dreyfus affair in France is offered as an example of a false Jewish dual-loyalty accusation, while more recent examples, such as Japanese-American internment during World War II or post-9/11 discrimination against Muslims, were used to illustrate some of the threats faced by populations in the United States.
Despite the best efforts of Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida), the resolution’s initial drafter, the final amalgamated product is a sweeping condemnation of all bad things, rather than a serious attempt to address antisemitism. The catch-all resolution acknowledged that antisemitism is one of many forms of discrimination in America, but there are a number of things it did not tell us. For example:
• Antisemitism is a unique and uniquely persistent social illness, featuring distinct manifestations and sometimes requiring distinct solutions. Today, it is at its greatest peak since World War II.
• Hate-crime statistics demonstrate that Jews are by far the most targeted religious group in the United States.
• Antisemitism appears both on the far Left and the far Right of the political spectrum, but its alarming growth on the Left, among minorities and among young people, is pushing antisemitic viewpoints further into the mainstream.
• Holocaust denial is a glaring aspect of antisemitism. The increase in distortion or minimization of the Holocaust speaks to the need for more education, something that is within Congress’s purview.
• The impingement on Jewish religious practices such as circumcision and kosher slaughter (shechitah) is a growing concern worldwide and poses an existential threat to many Jewish communities abroad.
• The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism and the State Department’s fact sheet on antisemitism contain definitions of the problem that should be widely circulated to increase understanding of it.
• Israel, Israel, Israel. The House resolution mentions Israel only once, in its reference to the myth of Jewish dual loyalty. But many of the most common manifestations of contemporary antisemitism involve anti-Israel hatred that crosses the line into antisemitism. We are frequently reminded that legitimate policy criticism of Israel should not be confused with antisemitism, as though that needs to be explained. However, the resolution did not speak about the appropriation of traditional antisemitic motifs in service of an anti-Israel message, something that has become a regular feature of political discourse today.
• The resolution did not explain that political events in the Middle East or elsewhere can never justify antisemitism, as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has already declared. It also skirted the harm done to the Jewish community – which is overwhelmingly pro-Israel – when the Jewish state is demonized, for example, by obscene comparisons to apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany. Or by the imposition of double standards on Israel when it attempts to defend itself from security threats, for which most Western countries have little appreciation or understanding.
When antisemitism spiked nearly two decades ago in response to the Second Intifada, officials in Europe were slow to react to the problem, dismissing it at first as a temporary reaction to events in the Middle East. Proponents of a “holistic” approach to combating social hatreds argued that there should be no “hierarchy of discrimination,” implying that antisemitism should not receive a special focus and should instead be grouped together with other phobias. We have now heard similar arguments in the US Congress, which collectively rejected a standalone resolution on antisemitism. Nearly two decades after the start of the current wave of antisemitism, some minds have yet to change on this issue.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
As B’nai B’rith continues to celebrate its 175th anniversary, the menorah continues to be a link to the past, a commitment to the present and a promise for the future.
The founders of B’nai B’rith found their inspiration in the Torah. The name they chose, “Sons/Children of the Covenant,” referred to the covenant that the Jewish people have with God. That definition made them a Jewish organization, with the Torah as a guide to living a Jewish life. B’nai B’rith’s founders wanted each of the members of the organization to commit to becoming a better person by developing good character. This would be accomplished through their personal relationships as well as by helping others that needed assistance in their community.
They chose the menorah, one of the ritual objects described in the Torah, as their emblem. The seven-branched menorah is described in detail in Parashas Terumah. The placement within the Tabernacle is very specific.
We are told that the menorah should be made out of one piece of gold and God shared its creation in a vision to Moses. Commentaries have interpreted the design to have several meanings.
The Italian commentator Sforno interprets the branches, saying that the three branches on the right represented intellectual ideas and the ones on the left represented ideals that applied to how one made a living. The central candle represented the Torah. The six candles on the left and right are connected to the candle in the middle.
The menorah would stand in the outer chamber of the Tabernacle as an inspiration to those who saw the light it emitted. It was not to be placed in the Holy of Holies, as that was the place for the Torah, which did not need any additional light beyond its own. In Parsha Beha’aloscha, we find out that the job of lighting the menorah was given to Aaron, Moses’s brother, and the tribe of Levi. While other tribes were involved in the creation of the Tabernacle, the tribe of Levi did not have a special role until this important responsibility was given to Aaron. The menorah becomes a central piece of history later on later in the Chanukah story, as the Hasmoneans, descendants of Aaron, were the ones who drove the Syrian-Greeks out of the Temple.
The menorah has continued to be the emblem of B’nai B’rith, and in each of our districts, regions and communities we find its counterpart. We have seen it used in many ways; on the large display banner surrounding a stage of leaders and dignitaries at special events, on invitations or on certificates of service. It is proudly displayed on a lapel pin and used as a signet ring. You will see it on T-shirts, hats or neckties.
The menorah candles are used for the induction of members, installation ceremonies, conferences and special occasions. Each candle represents an ideal that B’nai B’rith members are expected to strive for. Light, justice, peace, benevolence, brotherly and sisterly love, harmony and truth are the words and concepts described in the reading. These words and concepts are also referenced in daily prayers, often as attributes of God and how man treats his fellow man. The traditional ceremony used today is one found in B’nai B’rith guides to ritual, but many other creative interpretations exist. The honor of lighting the menorah is one that is taken very seriously, and the ceremony is given a place of honor. The candle lighting ceremony has also been used to share the work of the B’nai Brith Program Centers and /or events in Jewish history, with each candle assigned a special project or event.
B’nai B’rith has been described by scholars as an organization that helped create civil society in America. The desire and need that existed for a Jewish civil society organization helped create the mission that continues to this day. As the Jewish community spread its wings across America, activities that support the Jewish and general community grew. Across the globe, the Jewish community adopted the organization as their means of organizing themselves within the Jewish community. The menorah came with them and the ritual demonstrated a link for all of those involved.
The menorah’s message for today’s members and supporters becomes even more meaningful when it is shared at events that bring together leadership from around the world. At these gatherings, individuals are honored for their good work in the community when they are called to light one of these candles. You will see the menorah used in the logo of B’nai B’rith International. It also is a symbol of the Jewish people and our bond with Israel, as it is part of the official seal for the country and stands outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Help us keep the candles burning by introducing people you know to the wonderful work of B’nai B’rith as members and supporters. There is a pin with a menorah waiting for them.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai brith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. This June will mark her 38th anniversary at B'nai B'rith. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
A few weeks ago, one of the leaders of the Venezuelan regime, Diosdado Cabello said that the “United States is lying; there is no Hezbollah in Venezuela.”
At the same time, Nicolas Maduro, while being interviewed in a Lebanese pro-Hezbollah TV channel went further and said: “Which is the problem to have relations with Hezbollah. It is a very respectable political party with representation in Congress.”
Those were the Venezuelan answers to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had said days before that “Hezbollah has a dangerous presence in Venezuela.”
Cabello and Maduro lied. As usual. Not only have they opened doors to Hezbollah, but also to Iranian penetration in the region, and the closest allies of Maduro and his partners are also Turkey, Russia and Hamas.
In recent years, Hezbollah has developed a significant presence in Latin America. Its continued terrorist activity and expanding financial empire, built on drug trafficking and money laundering, is a growing security concern.
The United States has understood the danger that terrorism and terrorists have found a heaven in Latin America, mostly in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia.
One year ago, the United States created the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT) at the Department of Justice.
A few months ago, the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) hosted a panel of U.S. national security experts to discuss how the United States can successfully address the growing convergence of international terrorism and transnational organized crime from which Hezbollah benefits.
The panel was moderated by SFS Senior Fellow J.D. Gordon and consisted of SFS Executive Director Joseph Humire; Vanessa Neumann, author of “Blood Profits” and president of Asymmetrica; Charles Faddis, retired CIA Operations Officer and former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center’s WMD Unit; and Derek Maltz, former director of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division.
Humire emphasized that U.S. sanctions have been ineffective in curbing Hezbollah’s activity, and collaboration with regional partners is necessary to enforce this kind of unilateral action and ultimately dismantle Hezbollah’s networks in South America. Neumann, explained that Brazil faces a variety of complicated issues, primarily that the Lebanese population in Brazil makes up the primary merchant class and facilitate the majority of smuggling and money-laundering into the country. Further, she added, these groups often take advantage of their mutual interests and the gray areas between their operations. She ended by saying that Venezuela is the heartland of Hezbollah in Latin America, and it is difficult for Brazil to differentiate between genuine Venezuelans entering Brazil and Hezbollah members with legitimate Venezuelan passports.
Drawing on his experience as an expert witness in a variety of Latin American trials, Humire provided insight on the perspective of Latin Americans, highlighting that Latin Americans do not necessarily understand jihadist groups, but they are fully aware of transnational organized crime. The convergence between the two is often not recognized and this connection is intentionally veiled by the skillful compartmentalization that Iran achieves in its operations there.
He highlighted the groundwork of Ghazi Nassereddine, a Venezuelan diplomat in Syria who builds and isolates networks that ultimately prevent significant leaders such as Venezuelan former Vice President Tareck El-Aissami from being linked to Hezbollah. Neumann added that the infiltration of people deeply positioned in the Venezuelan financial and political system has led the state to become a part of the crime-terror pipeline.
Maduro and Cabello lied for many reasons: To attack and undermine U.S. accusations; to protect their proxies; to send the discussion far away from the humanitarian tragedy that is destroying Venezuela day after day.
But Maduro showed something more. When he said on Lebanese TV that Hezbollah is just a “respectable political party,” he also showed that Hezbollah is an important ally and supporter for the regime and for himself.
If Maduro´s regime is finally displaced, which does not seem very clear in this very moment, and no matter who may make up the next government, Hezbollah will not disappear from Venezuela overnight. Its power and its influence have been embedded there for more than a decade.
Without real international support, any new government in Venezuela will not be able to face the danger and the power of Iran and Hezbollah alone.
Latin American countries should be more concerned about this sort of danger and think not only in the present time but also for the future. The United States and Canada are fully aware of this tragic environment. But to face it as it must be faced, all the Americas should work together because Hezbollah means terror, and terror is everybody´s enemy.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
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