As we experience the trajectory of anti-Semitism in history and during one’s own life, it’s natural to feel hopeless. Hate will endure, but it’s still possible to celebrate and enjoy the efforts made to acknowledge the legacy of the Jewish people, as well as to take pride in the end result: contributions that improved life for all.
The city of Goerlitz in Saxony, a part of East Germany after World War II, had a Jewish population between 600 and 700 in 1888, when its B’nai B’rith Victoria Lodge first met. Fewer Jews were living there when a new synagogue opened in 1911. Adopted from the basilica plan, the structure was far from standard, boasting attractive modern additions. Contributing to its unique visual interest was a centrally located structure containing a space which congregants used. Its tiled, domed roof had been topped with a Star of David mounted on a pole. A then-cutting-edge feature of the building was the Art Nouveau and Secessionist elements applied to the exterior and places in the sanctuary. Yet, even in 1911, few of the assimilated Goerlitz Jews worshiped there.
Only 300 Jews remained in Goerlitz when the Nazis set the synagogue ablaze on Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938. Thanks to the local firemen who disobeyed orders and extinguished the fire, it was the only synagogue in Saxony to survive. Farm animals roamed the damaged structure for years after the war, but eventually the East German government repurposed the space for public events. Genuine preservation efforts only began after the 1991 reunification. Now, thanks to efforts by Goerlitz’s 30-member Jewish community, its Christian groups and civic associations, the synagogue has been brought back to life. Known as the Cultural Forum Synagogue Goerlitz, it’s intended for both worship and performing arts, and its July 2021 opening was celebrated with a stellar concert, attended by German political leaders, clergy and other notables. Speakers included the prime minister of Saxony, Rabbi Akiva Weingarten of Dresden and the Mayor of Goerlitz.
Millions of euros for the 30-year project came from government grants, foundations and several anonymous philanthropists. Alex Jacobowitz, a cantor and president of the Goerlitz Jewish community, will pay to re-enforce the domed roof to support the Star of David. Parts of the synagogue, including the Exodus verse formerly inscribed on the lintel over the entryway—“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them”—intentionally remain in disrepair to evoke Kristallnacht. Jacobowitz, the historian of the Goerlitz Synagogue, has observed: “I have always found it important that the synagogue has continued to show its scars …”
As much as London was pivotal to the history of Zionism for its important Jewish leaders and as the location of the signing of the Balfour Declaration, the city of Manchester is even more connected with the genesis and the fruition of this important event. In the years before World War I, Zionist leader and German émigré Chaim Weizmann, teaching at Manchester University, served as the first president of the city’s constantly growing B’nai B’rith lodge. Its members—both emigres that had come to join him, and wealthy and influential merchants and manufacturers native to this industrial city—were all supporters of Weizman’s mission, the creation of a Jewish homeland. More than any other Jewish leader in England, it was his efforts that culminated in the signing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
Although Manchester’s reputation as a working-class city held true for many decades, gentrification has been impacting its changing neighborhoods. Dating to 1874, its oldest synagogue, located in a warehouse enclave, served as the Manchester Jewish Museum.
Funded by a two-year Capital Development Project, the synagogue/museum was restored and the museum space was expanded into a newly constructed adjacent building, highlighted by an attractive exterior fabricated in weather resistant, patinated steel. The eight-pointed star motifs punched into the façade, intended to welcome people of all backgrounds into the museum, also serve to emanate shafts of light from the museum’s interior. Its weathered, shed-like appearance harmonizes with neighboring warehouse buildings.
In addition to revamped exhibits and innovative spaces including a kitchen for interactive cuisine demonstrations, the museum has partnered with the 2021 Manchester International Festival to commission Turner Prize-winning British artist Laure Prouvost’s “The long waited, weighted gathering,” a site-specific installation fusing video, sound, and fine and decorative arts together with found objects from the synagogue and textiles woven by Manchester’s women congregants, which can be viewed this summer in the women’s gallery. Prouvost wanted her vision to meld to “the beautiful textures and architecture, to the history of this amazing place. I was inspired by the ideas of ceremonies and rituals that we bring from histories.”
CEO Op-ed in JNS: U.N. Human Rights Council: When It Comes to Israel, Still Driving on Biased Retreads
(July 27, 2021 / JNS) That “history repeats itself” is not only a shopworn axiom, it is, like other clichés, oftentimes true.
The appointment last week of Navi Pillay, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to head up an investigation of the “root causes” and “systemic abuses” emanating from the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May comes as no surprise.
The mandate of the investigation is to look at “all underlying root causes or recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systemic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”
In other words, using kangaroo-court vernacular for singling out Israel for defending itself in the face of daily barrages of indiscriminate fire emanating from Hamas rocket-launchers in Gaza. Furthermore, this newly named commission has no specified shelf life and can continue to investigate Israel indefinitely.
We’ve seen this call to criticize before, especially on Pillay’s watch at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). During her six-year tenure at the UNHRC in Geneva, she more than once held her thumb on the scale when opining on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 2010, Pillay oversaw the work of the special commission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, tasked by the UNHRC with investigating the fighting between Israel and Hamas in 2008 and 2009. That report, which was biased against Israel and distorted the facts surrounding that three-week war, concluded that Israel may have been guilty of war crimes.
In 2014, Pillay convened another investigation into fighting between Israel and Hamas, again showing her biased hand in evaluating the causes and the outcome of that war. “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated,” she said, “in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
She criticized Israel for use of disproportionate force and for its disregard for civilian lives. The UNHRC, in what has become the usual feverish diplomatic hysteria that surrounds fighting between Israel and Hamas, created “an independent commission of inquiry” that would look into “all violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.”
Once again, the Human Rights Council demonstrated its bias and callous disregard for the facts. It should be recalled that Israel had actually withdrawn from Gaza in 2005, nine years before the 2014 resolution, citing “the occupied Gaza Strip,” was adopted. More important to note, though, is the broad band of responsibility that the resolution arrogated to the investigative committee: indeed, what did “East Jerusalem” have to do with Israel defending itself against Hamas rockets?
In both 2010 and again in 2014, Pillay did mention Hamas rocket fire into Israel. But given the heavy-handed focus on Israeli military actions, the reports’ references to Hamas had the look and feel of throwaways, as an afterthought placed in the texts of these resolutions to cover the UNHRC’s tracks.
Indeed, in 2014, Pillay accused Hamas of not practicing “the principle of distinction and precaution.” In other words, “disproportionate response” was being tossed around liberally by her and others with regard to Israel, while Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli population centers was lightly let off the hook with diplomatic language that required three readings to understand exactly what was “distinction and precaution.”
And if there is still any doubt as to where Pillay stands on the issue, consider this: In 2014, she pointedly criticized the United States for not sharing Iron Dome technology (that has allowed Israel to shoot down most incoming rockets targeting its populated areas) with Hamas. At the time, Pillay said, “No such protection has been provided to the Gazans against the shelling.” In other words, why isn’t the United States arming terrorists?
In May, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and an incessant critic of Israel in her own right, said that Israeli attacks on Gaza might constitute war crimes. That led to the appointment of one of her predecessors, Pillay, to begin the process of publicly flaying Israel for the third time in 15 years. Even though the naming of Pillay to the post was done in the name of the current UNHRC president, there is little doubt that Bachelet’s influence was in play.
The United Nations is now in its 76th year, but it has been apparent for decades that many of its agencies and committees, like the Human Rights Council, stocked as they are with countries that participate in bloc voting and who engage in oftentimes mindless herd mentality, can be counted on to pounce on Israel whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Investigations into Israel’s justified responses to rocket attacks from Hamas, or its earlier and current responses to innumerable terrorist attacks, only serve to politicize and marginalize the organization. The United Nations, whose original mission was to promote peace in the international community, now often appears as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian narrative—predictable and yet dangerous because such activity only serves to reward terrorism, and raises expectations of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that they have the international community at their backs.
We should not be surprised by the outcome of the upcoming UNHRC “investigation” into the recent fighting in Gaza. Indeed, this commission of inquiry will no doubt pull from the shelf reports filed by the Goldstone Commission and that which the UNHRC inquiry produced in 2014. Which is to say: The Pillay Commission’s findings are likely already written.
The good news, I suppose, is that the Abraham Accords, which brought four Arab countries into the peace fold with Israel, will soon observe its first anniversary. The spirit of those agreements represents the future; they are a promising pathway to cooperation and co-existence.
Rather than convene yet another commission to castigate Israel, the UNHRC would have done far better to establish a commission to investigate why the Palestinians—now approaching 28 years after the Oslo Accords—refuse to engage in serious negotiations with Israel. Or, perhaps, a report focusing on Hamas’s obsession with bringing about Israel’s demise.
Now that would be a real contribution to advancing human rights.
Read Mariaschin's expert analysis in JNS.
The effects of the May 2021 continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been felt around the world. With the rise of criticism against the Jewish state, a predictable wave of anti-Semitism has followed. Beyond the anonymous fringe population that spouts anti-Semitism unabashedly on the internet, a new population has emerged; it is made up of individuals who have a face—my friends, my classmates and even my teachers—and who are hiding behind Israeli politics to marginalize the Jewish community.
I had already left campus when the new wave of anti-Israel “activism” hit social media. I opened my profiles on Instagram and Twitter, and overwhelmingly found my peers reposting one-sided infographics about the conflict on their stories. Then came a very popular addition to posts: “From the river to the sea,” the Hamas terrorist group’s motto which strives for not only the eradication of Israel, but also of all Jewish people. The virality of the subject quickly turned from Pro-Palestinian to anti-Jewish, from rewriting the history of the state’s establishment to comparing Israel’s discrimination of Palestinian citizens to the Nazi regime committing the atrocities of the Holocaust.
I asked some Jewish college students for their own perspective on the issue, as well as their experience of online anti-Semitism translating to its presence at their schools. Jake Egelberg, a sophomore at Northeastern University, responded “Why should Israel be wiped off the map for discriminatory policies, while countries like Yemen, Iraq, Myanmar, China and Sudan are actively committing genocides?” and shared his own experience after publicly supporting the Jewish state.
Jake writes for his school newspaper and published an op-ed in March 2021 titled “The anti-Semitism of the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement” for the Huntington News. The article was an elaboration of the criticism that the BDS movement singles out Israel’s political record as the world’s only Jewish state, and thus promotes anti-Semitic messaging. Jake faced a strong backlash on his posts sharing the story, including personal attacks. Huntington News elected to take down its promotions of the article on twitter, a first for the paper despite controversies surrounding other pieces going against mainstream opinions at the university.
“I worry which of the strangers around me thinks I support genocide. I fear that one day, one of these people will act on their belief,” he wrote in response to his situation. I share his worry. With the exponential rise of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide, these fears are not unfounded. Just a few weeks ago, a rabbi was stabbed outside a Jewish school by a college student in Brighton, a neighborhood west of the Northeastern campus in Boston.
It is still difficult for me to understand why all these people—people I know—continue to support a biased narrative that encourages anti-Semitic hate crimes while excusing the violent actions and violations of the other parties to the conflict. I’ve come to question whether I should be worried about going back to campus in the fall as a Jewish student. Can I mention to an acquaintance that a large part of my family was born, raised and lives in Israel? Should I hide the fact that I am hoping to do a Birthright trip to the country with my Hillel Chapter in the spring?
With the rise in tensions and violence toward Israel and Jewish people in the past months, it is unclear what the return to campus means for Jewish students like me. With universities like Pomona College beginning to refuse funding to mainstream Jewish organizations like Hillel and Chabad, safe spaces for our community on college campuses are actively threatened. Whether or not individual Jewish students support Israel, the criticisms against the state affect all of our safety and security at schools across the country. And the extent of student activism for minority groups seems to end at the Jewish community, right when it’s needed most.
Dianne Strauss works as a summer intern with B’nai B’rith International. She attends Johns Hopkins University as a rising Sophomore.
With the one-year delay of the 2020 Olympics due to COVID-19, the Tokyo Games of 2021 are one year closer to the 50th anniversary of the Munich Massacre by the Palestinian terror group Black September. In 1972, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) promised to remember, even declaring, "We will never forget." But that message, too commonly repeated since the Holocaust, never seems to sink in.
Days before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC maintains its history of rejecting any "moment of silence" for the Munich 11, which arguably introduced the free world to international terrorism. The lobbying effort by victims' families, at least in the past decade, has been rejected or ignored by the IOC. In contrast, the IOC allowed American athletes in 2002 to enter the stadium with a flag from the recently torpedoed and collapsed World Trade Center. The IOC maintains that, under Avery Brundage's leadership, it memorialized the 11 murdered Israelis with a service a day after the September 5, 1972 murders.
In place of a moment of silence every four years, host countries today spend fortunes—600 million pounds at the 2012 Games in London and $895 million at the Rio Games of 2016—to ensure the safety of more than 200 national athletic delegations. The Olympic Games, founded in the spirit of international harmony, were once considered bulletproof from a hostage-taking episode.
War was reserved for military battlefields—not the well-kept apartments of an Olympic village. American distance runner Kenny Moore, then 28, recalled in 2012: "I had believed the Olympics immune somehow to the threats of the larger world. It was an illusion, but it had been a hell of a strong illusion and it rocked me personally to have that shattered."
The 1972 games were supposed to be the games of peace—an example of German redemption from the 1936 Games in Berlin, which coincided with the heinous Nazi era that led to the systemic extermination of 11 million innocents, including at least 6 million Jews. In Munich, Germany wanted to show the world that it had reformed its image; that these Olympics could be peacefully policed without the menacing muscle of German force. They were unprepared and were barely armed.
Today, following 9/11, all major sporting events—not just the Olympics—prepare for the possibility of terrorism.
Just as the Nazis introduced the world to gas chambers and the reduction of atrophied bodies to dust through crematoria, so too did the Palestinians introduce the world to international terrorism at the Munich Games.
Almost 50 years later, many still remember the image of a white ski-masked gunman standing on a balcony of the Olympic Village, brandishing a machine gun. In what today is just part of a history of hostage-taking and hijacking for the purposes of trading Israeli Jews for hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian captives, the Munich mission sought 200 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 11 Israeli Olympians.
Two Jews were shot initially to underline the threat. Negotiations led to an attempt to facilitate the release of the hostages, but the Palestinians took advantage of a bungled rescue attempt by German police, allowing one fleeting moment for a terrorist leader to toss a grenade into a helicopter, killing the remaining nine Israelis. Five of the terrorists were killed during a failed attempt to rescue the hostages, as was a West German police officer. The three Palestinian survivors were arrested and released by West German officials less than two months later.
Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan directed Mossad to lead a retaliation effort. With the assistance of European intelligence agencies, 10 Palestine Liberation Organization bases in Syria and Lebanon were bombed. This was part of a broader Israeli assassination campaign, dubbed Operation Wrath of God, that eliminated all perpetrators and planners of the Munich raid by 1979.
Forty-five years after the massacre, a memorial at Munich's Olympic Park was unveiled with families of the victims in attendance. Reuven Rivlin, then-president of Israel, proclaimed the Munich Games as "the blood Olympics." Then-German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "It should never have happened."
The IOC insists that Olympics opening ceremonies are inappropriate moments for remembering the Munich victims. But, if not every four years, when?
The IOC executive board agreed in 2015 that the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 would offer "a mourning place" to remember "all those who have lost their lives at the Olympic Games." The monument included two stones from ancient Olympia and a memorial for Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in a luge track crash the day before the 2010 Vancouver Games began. The IOC acknowledged that the moment of reflection could include the murdered Israelis in Munich. An engraved base with the interlocking Olympic rings reads: "We will always remember you forever in our hearts."
Remember who, for what, and why?
The IOC must put forward a gold-medal effort after almost 50 years to remind the world of the Munich Massacre.
Read President Kaufman's analysis in Newsweek.
Throughout my time working at B’nai B’rith, I have written about a variety of topics that impact older Americans, ranging from gun reform laws, climate change, health care, social security, student debt and so forth. However, in recent years, there are few topics that inspire as much passion as voting rights. I have written blogs entitled, “Long Lines at Polling Stations During a Pandemic: It’s Time to Expand Voting from Home” and “Seniors and Voter Identification Laws” both of which advocate for greater access for seniors to the ballot box.
As many people are aware, several states have started debating and passing legislation that further regulates older Americans’ access to voting. For example, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida and Georgia have all either passed or are debating legislation that will make voting problematic. Many of these bills reduce the number of drop boxes, make absentee voting more difficult, ban drive through voting, limit assistance at the polls and forbid election officials from sending unsolicited ballots to people’s homes.
A central theme for these bills is that people with mobility issues are going to have a more difficult time participating in our elections. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, about 11.2 million people age 65 and older have self-reported travel-limiting disabilities. Legislation that increases the likelihood seniors will have to needlessly wait online to vote will only discourage people from participating in our democracy.
For example, recently passed legislation by the Wisconsin legislature requires an “indefinitely confined” individual’s absentee ballots to be returned by a family member who lives in the state, if such a person exists. This still applies even if your only family member lives on the opposite side of the state. Governor Tony Evers has indicated he is likely to veto this legislation.
In Texas, legislators are debating making it a felony, punishable by jail time, to send absentee ballot applications to voters who didn’t request one. In the last election, Texas counties sent voters 65 and older mail-in ballots unprompted. Governor Greg Abbott has indicated that he intends to sign the final bill into law.
In Florida, a recently signed law restricts drop boxes from being open 24/7. Instead the drop boxes’ hours will coincide with a county’s early voting hours so the boxes can be monitored at all times. Also, some groups are concerned the law would prohibit them from passing out food and water to people in line to vote, so as to not influence voters.
While protecting the integrity of our elections is an important objective, evidence demonstrates voter fraud is not a problem in our country. According to the New York Times, after the 2020 election, they reached out to election officials in every state, and 49 states reported no “major voting issues.” While Texas didn’t formally respond, Harris County, the largest county in Texas, reported only a few small issues and indicated that “we had a very seamless election.”
In Georgia, the secretary of state’s office reported that, during our last presidential election, not one single case of fraud was discovered during an audit of over 15,000 absentee ballots.
Presently, these bills are being challenged in court. For instance, disability rights groups in Georgia are arguing that the state’s legislation violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Also, the Justice Department is suing Georgia on the grounds the law is discriminatory against Black voters.
In Florida, the Alliance for Retired Americans is joining with other groups to legally challenge the state’s new voting law. “This law will make it more difficult for millions of Florida citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said Bill Sauers, president of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. “Older Floridians take the right to vote seriously, and we will fight any attempt to keep our voices from being heard.”
“These bills are in seek of a problem that does not exist in the state of Wisconsin,” said State Sen.. Melissa Agard, of Madison. “They’re making it harder for our friends and neighbors across the state to vote, especially our seniors, especially our people with disabilities, especially people of color.” This quote from Agard crystalizes the problem with the states’ decisions to enact new voting laws.
Why make it more difficult particularly for seniors and disabled Americans who are least able to vote when it seems clear that our elections are not being threatened by voter fraud?
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: