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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