Elie Wiesel died July 2, 2016, however, he will continue to live on through his writing. Jews remember their loved ones every day, but there is special significance on the anniversary (Yahrzeit) of their death. As we approach the first anniversary of his passing, it is an opportunity to remember him and especially meaningful to think about his words and the legacy that he has left us.
His name has always been associated with the Holocaust. The Jewish community could count on him to speak for the victims and the survivors of the Shoah. I was proud to learn of an early connection to B’nai B’rith when he was the recipient of the first B’nai B’rith Jewish Heritage Award for Excellence in Literature in 1966.
The most famous of his writing is Night, written as a novel, but is an account of his own life during the Holocaust. It describes the deportation of his family from Hungary in 1944, the death of his father at the hands of the Nazis, his experience surviving in Auschwitz and his liberation by the Allies.
His writings, continued to question man’s relationship with G-d and his fellow man. So many quotes can be attributed to him that come from his collection of novels and memoirs. He became a public figure, known for speaking out on difficult topics. His messages woven into his writing usually linked back to his experience as a witness to man’s inhumanity to man.
He went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. In his remarks, he shared a question he asked his father: “Can this be true?” This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”
On that day in Oslo in 1986, he shared that the same boy who sought answers from his father, now was asking: “What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?” Wiesel said to his younger self, “I tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”
In conjunction with the B’nai B’rith Jewish Heritage Award, Elie Wiesel’s short stories, Three Legends for Our Times was published in the Spring 1966 edition of the B’nai B’rith publication Jewish Heritage. One of the stories, Face in the Window, is a description of the deportation of Jews from Hungary. It offers us, in just eight paragraphs, discussion content for an adult learning group on the question of being a bystander.
In honor of Elie Wiesel, the B’nai B’rith Center for Jewish Identity invites you to assemble casual learning groups in your living rooms and offices to read and reflect. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org to get started. There is so much of our history and heritage to share.
In 1966, in the introduction to the publication Lily Edelman, then-director of the B’nai B’rith Continuing Adult Education Department, wrote “Elie Wiesel avows that, ‘he is so Jewish, that it’s painful.’ All of us are richer because of that pain and his power to transform it into the kind of literacy excellence that illuminates our understanding and enlarge our vision.”
Fifty-one years later it remains a fitting tribute to him.
Photo via Flickr
Bolivia, the closest ally of the Venezuelan government in Latin America; Bolivia is also close with Iran; Bolivia has be named the chair of the United Nations Security Council in June.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, who decided to break relations with Israel in 2014 by saying the Israel is a “terrorist State,” announced the two main goals of his government in the next 30 days: Bolivia will be the President of the Security Council.
"Our priorities, conflict in the Middle East of 50 years of the occupation of Palestine, and non-proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons,” Morales said.
Morales also said that his country “assumes with great responsibility the presidency of the U.N. Security Council and we will work for the resolution of international conflicts."
It is hard to believe that the debates promoted by Bolivia may end in positive results for any conflict.
During the U.N. General Assembly last September, Morales made it very clear what the meaning of peace and equity is for his government. Let´s review some of his thoughts, taken from his speech.
On the building of a wall: “The capitalist countries have built borders and walls everywhere—on water, on land and in the air. One out of every 100 people in the world is either a refugee or someone displaced by global warming, wars or imperialist invasions, as occurred in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other countries.”
Morales thinks that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a victim.
On Israel hatred: “The expansionist and warmongering policies of the State of Israel and its allies are major expressions of barbarism in the modern world. We strongly condemn Israel’s attacks on the civilian population of Palestine and demand that Israel cease hostilities immediately. We urge the United Nations to fully and immediately recognize the State of Palestine and take tangible action to stop the brutal genocide of the Palestinian people.”
Morales uses Iranian anti-Israeli language to attack the Jewish state and has never recognized the terror committed by Hezbollah and Hamas. All the same: Hamas is a great friend to Bolivia.
On justifying why there is terrorism: “It must be said that as long as wealth remains in the hands of a few, as long as poverty and exclusion exist, as long as racism and discrimination persist, as long as the identity and the sovereignty of peoples are not respected and their natural resources are pillaged for imperialist purposes, there will be grounds for violence and terrorism.”
Morales believes that “imperialism” is the root of terrorism. This is the way Iran and its proxies speak up, and Bolivia endorses, not only the language, but its votes in U.N. agencies.
Bolivia and Morales can´t accept that Venezuela is a dictatorship and is undergoing a humanitarian crisis with lack of medicines and food. Bolivia endorsed former Bolivian President Hugo Chavez and now Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, regardless of the massive protests in the streets of Venezuela, the tens of civilians killed and put in jail. Morales´ words are clear and rather unsustainable:
“Imperialist interests are creating a process of political destabilization in our region. We condemn foreign political intervention in our brother country of Venezuela. We salute the revolutionary fight of the people, undertaken with their leader, Commander Maduro. The new imperial conspiracy in the twenty-first century is no longer through coups d’état but rather through parliamentary or judicial takeovers. They may be legal and constitutional, but they are not legitimate, nor do they respect the decisions of the people. We do not need an imperial leader to control our people.”
The chairmanship of Bolivia in the Security Council will serve no purpose. A government supporting al-Assad and its brutal crimes in Syria; accusing Israel of genocide; backing the brutality against civilians in Venezuela should not be given the opportunity to spread such hatred. On the contrary, it should be exposed for defending all principles and regimes opposed to democracy and peace.
But this is the way it works in U.N. agencies. And so, rhetoric moves forward each day more and more, helping countries to fight hunger and terrorism is each day further and further.
Of all art forms, it is perhaps opera that provides the richest experience for its audience. From start to finish, staging an opera requires the participation of composers and writers, musicians adept at revealing emotional states and motivations using both their voices and their bodies, instrumentalists, choreographers, dancers, and artists capable of creating build sets, costumes and special effects that enhance the meaning of the score, as well as the message behind the story and text, its libretto.
Gaining popularity in the 18th century, opera developed as its venue changed from productions staged in private for the wealthy, to a public venue, the opera house, where it gained popularity, as legions of devotees, attended performances in theaters throughout Europe. In the United States, and in South America, opera companies toured through large cities, and even in far way away outposts like mining and logging camps. During the 19th century, the Jewish opera and operetta composers were often household names, celebrated throughout the world.
Today, those who are still drawn into this world by Giuseppe Verdi’s dramatic and robust music and poignant narratives will quickly recognize the similarities between his works and those of the now largely forgotten, but thrilling and beautiful operas of Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864), the most famous composer of his time, whose tremendously difficult music can only be sung by performers at the top of their game. While his operas, including “Les Huguenots,” “Le Prophète” and “L’Africaine,” are no longer part of the standard repertory, Meyerbeer’s reputation is enjoying a revival, in part due to a new CD of scenes and arias in French, German and Italian recorded by the internationally known soprano, Diana Damrau.
While others converted to achieve success, Meyerbeer, born Jacob Beer near Berlin to a wealthy banking family, remained true to his faith, despite the anti-Semitism he encountered throughout his career. Influenced by Gioachino Rossini and other early 19th century masters, he went on to write the scores to dozens of works, whose libretti, created by important playwrights of the era, often draw on historical incident. In most of his operas, Meyerbeer’s protagonists are tragically affected by prejudice and persecution. Αs the conductor Leon Botstein has commented “he keeps the audience on edge…by not releasing them from the fact that they are half on stage and half in their seats,” meaning that the dramatic events they are viewing mirror the conditions of our own century. This observation aside, Meyerbeer’s lush, beautifully orchestrated instrumentals and thrilling and dramatic arias will be the main attractions for new devotees.
A genre which is continually evolving, operas about recent history are being created by a new generation of men and women who are attracted by what it can convey, and impart relevance to those who connect with it. Scheduled for its world premiere by Denver’s Opera Colorado, in Jan. 2018, Gerald Cohen’s “Steal a Pencil for Me,” inspired by the real life love story of Dutch Holocaust survivors, is set in the Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. Cohen, whose previous vocal and instrumental output has been honored with the Cantors Assembly’s Max Wohlberg Award for distinguished achievement in the field of Jewish composition, is also a celebrated cantor. “Steal a Pencil for Me” will be staged in New York, at both the Morgan Library on April 23, and at the Jewish Theological Seminary on April 26, where Cohen will take part in a discussion with composer Laura Kaminsky, whose opera “As One,” deals with transgender issues.
The Algemeiner ran an op-ed written by B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, and the current tensions between Iran and Israel.
You can read the full op-ed below or click to read it on algemeiner.com
The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War will be commemorated in many ways in the coming days. Media retrospectives, conferences, new documentaries and first person remembrances of the battles and their aftermath will be seen and heard in Israel, here in the United States and elsewhere.
For those of a certain age, we’ll be asking each other: “Do you remember where you were on June 5, 1967?” I do.
I vividly recall being in my high school cafeteria waiting for the bell to ring for first period. Each morning, a group of us would gather at the back of the cafeteria, just shooting the breeze, as high school seniors do. But this morning was different; one of my friends, who had obviously seen the news before leaving for school, perhaps on the Today Show, said to me, “You guys are really beating the Arabs.”
I knew immediately that the war had begun. It was the culmination of more than three weeks of threats to destroy Israel emanating from Cairo and Damascus. Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Syria’s President Nureddin al-Atassi, and those who represented them, were clearly signaling their intention to finish off the Jewish state.
Actually, these threats began months earlier. A New York Timesheadline on October 15, 1966, read: “Israel Tells UN Syria Plans War to Destroy Her.” Abba Eban, then Israel’s foreign minister, addressed the Security Council, referencing dozens of Syrian threats against the Jewish state.
Between then and May 1967, hardly a day passed without threats from Nasser. On March 8, he declared: “We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand, we shall enter it with its soil covered in blood.” A month later, Syria Information Minister Mahmoud Zubi predicted that, “this battle will be…followed by more severe battles until Palestine is liberated and the Zionist presence ended.”
The pace picked up throughout May, with both official radio outlets in Cairo and Damascus promising to defeat the “Zionist entity.” Egypt demanded the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula, who had been stationed there since the Suez campaign of 1956. Then Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, considered by some to be an act of war. Neither the UN, nor the international community, seemed willing — or even the slightest bit interested — in taking Israel out of its isolation. The best UN Secretary-General U Thant could utter, after Egypt’s demand that the peacekeeping forces leave, was a weak, “…may I advise you that I have serious misgivings about it… [the] withdrawal may have grave implications for peace.”
The closing of the Straits was criticized by both the United States and the United Kingdom as contravening international law, with Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Wilson stating “[Egypt’s blockade] must not be allowed to triumph; Britain would join with efforts to open the Straits.” But, in the end, nothing was done to stand up to Cairo and Damascus’ march toward war.
The Egyptians and Syrians were so confident of victory that Hafez Assad, then Syria’s defense minister and later its president, said on May 20: “Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse any aggression, but to initiate the act ourselves, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland of Palestine. … I believe that the time has come to begin a battle of annihilation.”
Sitting in our living room in New Hampshire, my family watched and listened to this litany of threats unfold, one more belligerent than the next. Egypt’s UN Ambassador Mobared El-Kony and Syria’s, George Tomeh, were particularly threatening in Security Council debates on the crisis. We worried endlessly about our relatives living on a kibbutz not far from the Syrian border.
Each day brought even greater boasts from the region, and we took them all seriously. We comforted ourselves only by watching and listening to the oratorical skills of Eban, whose speeches at the UN Security Council not only outlined the Arab threats, but the rightness of Israel’s cause.
On May 30, Nasser ratcheted up the tone even more: “The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel…to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. The act will astound the world…”
And Iraq’s President Abdul Rahman Arif couldn’t have been more direct, when he said on May 31: “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear — to wipe Israel off the map.”
The rest is history. Israel’s defense forces routed the Arab armies in six days, and the war — which was named for its length — has been enshrined in Jewish history as one of its most glorious chapters.
I rushed home from school on the afternoon of June 5, turning on CBS News on our local station, WKNE, to hear Michael Elkins reporting from Israel that the Israeli Air Force had destroyed the combined Arab air forces on the ground. We were jubilant.
Back at school the next day, I was able to follow events on the radio in the high school office. In the small city in which we lived, my father took a petition supporting Israel to merchants and friends on Main Street, asking that they sign in support of Israel. Nothing else in our lives mattered that week. As the days passed, the feelings of relief turned to triumph and then to pride in what we never imagined happening.
Today, it is the Iranian regime that is making the threats to annihilate Israel. The Jewish state is a “cancer” that needs to be eradicated, its leaders say. Tehran paints those very words on the sides of ballistic missiles that it parades, with hubris, in full sight of international TV coverage. Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and it makes no difference, really, if it is in mothballs for a few years. Already, European officials say that Tehran is shopping for dual use technologies to utilize when it is ready to do so. And Iran provides thousands of rockets to Hezbollah, and mentors and supports Hamas, both of which call for Israel’s destruction many times daily.
And the United Nations, which stood idly by in 1967, today has under its roof agencies like the UN Human Rights Council and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), which year after year have sought to delegitimize, demonize and marginalize Israel. In 1967, Britain’s Sir Alec Douglas-Home, speaking about the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, presciently said: “…the first casualty (of this crisis) had been the United Nations. It would need an immense effort, an almost superhuman effort, to restore the prestige of that organization.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. The UN continues to risk irrelevancy by allowing the pummeling of Israel to continue.
The Six-Day War was a miracle, aided by courageous leaders and soldiers who had no choice but to win. It was a defining moment for young Jews of our generation. And it fortunately established the Jewish state as the regional power it is. But the battles that followed, including the Yom Kippur War, the First and Second Lebanon Wars and the Gaza campaigns, attest to the continuing desire of Israel’s enemies to bring it down — one way or another.
Iran is only the latest of these foes to threaten Israel, and its newfound bounty, by way of the nuclear agreement, has left it flush with cash to attempt to carry out its objectives. While we observe those momentous six days, let us all be sure to sleep with one eye open.
Guest blog by Jessica Kreger, B'nai B'rith Young Leadership Network-South Florida
As part of a delegation of the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Network (BBYLN), eleven young professionals were recently invited to Japan for the Kakehashi Project, a friendship ties exchange program sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, designed to build bridges between Japan and the United States.
Hailing from Chicago, Denver, Detroit, New York, Washington, D.C., and South Florida, the group was accompanied by two staff members from B'nai B'rith International.
“The Kakehashi Project is an important cross-cultural exchange that increases our understanding of trilateral relations between the United States, Japan and Israel,” said Eric Fusfield, Director of Legislative Affairs at B'nai B'rith International. This was the second B’nai B’rith-Kakehashi Project delegation to Japan.
This year’s trip, from March 4-12, included several points of interest in Japan with stops in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Fukuyama and Kobe. In Tokyo, the delegation talked with diplomats from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the former Japanese Ambassador to Israel. They also met with the Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Israel in Japan, as well as attended Shabbat services and dinner with the congregation of the Jewish Community of Japan.
"Our experience in Japan was an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the fascinating culture and history, all while making new life-long friends,” said Rebecca Saltzman Barsheshet who attended the trip. "This experience was not only unforgettable, it was inspiring, and ignited our enthusiasm to continue our involvement with B'nai B'rith and building relationships around the world."
Barsheshet is a member of the executive board of directors, chair for the marketing committee, and past chair for the B'nai B'rith Young Leadership Network. She is also the past chair of the network’s Denver group.
After seeing the Atomic Bomb Dome in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the delegation visited the adjacent museum, where they heard the testimony of a woman who survived the bombing.
Stopping in Fukuyama, the group toured the Holocaust Education Center, where they were welcomed by a Japanese choir singing Hebrew melodies, and then visited Kobe. There, they saw the city archives, which documented the pre-World War II Jewish community, and met with the rabbi from the Ohel Shelomo Synagogue.
The last stop of the visit was the Tokyo Dome, where participants cheered Team Israel as they defeated Cuba in the World Baseball Classic.
The Kakehashi delegates plan to share their experiences in Japan with their local young professional communities during events this spring. For more information, look for the hashtags #kakehashi2016 and #BBYLNinJPN in social media.
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: