WATCH B'nai B'rith International EVP Dan Mariaschin as he reflects on the life of Shimon Peres.
Mariaschin calls Peres the "last of his generation" of "those men and women who were present at the creation and who were responsible for founding the modern state of Israel."
B’nai B’rith Also Funds Clean-Up and Rebuilding Work
In mid-August, Baton Rouge, La., was inundated with rain that resulted in devastating flash flooding.
Harold Steinberg, chair of B’nai B’rith International’s Disaster Relief Committee, and his wife, Margie Steinberg, volunteered with clean up efforts in Baton Rouge this week. They also presented two grants to assist with clean up and rebuilding. The Steinbergs, on behalf of B’nai B’rith, presented a $15,000 check to aid group NECHAMA to assist with its ongoing clean-up efforts to help rebuild not only Baton Rouge, but other areas impacted by a natural disaster. Our donation, along with funds from other donors, will help NECHAMA purchase a supply truck that will be used to bring supplies, tools and other equipment.
The Steinbergs also presented a check for $4,400 to the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL) to purchase new school supplies to replace supplies destroyed in the floods.
This is their account of their volunteer work and B’nai B’rith’s Disaster Relief Efforts:
We have done disaster clean-ups before with NECHAMA. We worked with them in Vilonia, Ark., in rebuilding efforts there two years ago after massive tornado damage.
When we saw the pictures from Baton Rouge in the wake of the August flooding, we wanted to see how helpful B’nai B’rith overall, and we personally, could be. We worked with the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief committee to open a fund to raise assistance for the region. And not long after, we put on our B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Volunteer T-Shirts and took off from our home in Memphis for Baton Rouge.
Mucking out a house—tearing it down to the studs—is strenuous work, at least for 70-year-old people. We were assigned to muck out a house that was untouched for six weeks. That involves taking out all the siding, the fixtures, the floor, cutting the house down to the studs. Everything goes out to the street.
The storm was Aug. 15. That is the date marked on the houses we worked on. They marked it with a big “X,” which notes that the house is not inhabited, and you can see the date that the house was (temporarily) abandoned by its owners. The houses we work in have no air conditioning: they are hot, wet and smelly.
NECHAMA brings everything volunteers need in terms of personal protective equipment. Hand tools, hard hats, gloves, goggles, dust masks—everything.
This is work that is necessary to help people who don’t have the resources to help themselves. It is very heartwarming and rewarding. You can work at your own pace and your own abilities.
B’nai B’rith and our Center for Community Action took part here because of the relationship we have built with NECHAMA and all the good work that organization does. We wanted to work with them again and that’s why we went to Baton Rouge.
NECHAMA and its volunteers have completed mucking out 53 houses since they arrived in Baton Rouge. They are committed to be there until the end of October. Their hard work is about gutting the houses down to the studs so they can be rebuilt.
We are so proud of the work of our Disaster Relief Committee, which found such a worthwhile clean-up project in partnership with NECHAMA.
We are also pleased that in addition to our manual labor, we were able to present a donation of $15,000 directly to Mark McGilvery, field operations coordinator, and his dedicated team.
B’nai B’rith, which is 173-years-old next month, started doing disaster relief in 1865, in the wake of devastating floods in Baltimore, Md. Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is something we are both deeply interested in.
B’nai B’rith and NECHAMA are partners together to help people. A late international leader of B’nai B’rith from Arkansas, Louis Barg, would say “B’nai B’rith meets unmet needs.” And we have seen that time after time when our Center for Community Action reaches out to a community devastated by a disaster and helps with rebuilding efforts.
NECHAMA gets the work done, with great care and attention to a shoestring budget.
Working with NECHAMA is truly an interfaith experience. We met people from all religions, all backgrounds, who just want to help.
Our next stop after our work with NECHAMA was Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL).
We met with Keith Courville, Ph.D., the executive director, and presented him with a check from B’nai B’rith for $4,400 to help teachers restock school supplies lost in the floods. We also donated books from our B’nai B’rith Diverse Minds Writing Challenge, a contest where high schoolers write books to teach elementary aged children about tolerance and diversity.
We discovered A+PEL through a Facebook post from someone in New Orleans about the great need for school supplies. We read up on them and thought this would be a good fit for B’nai B’rith. Our Disaster Relief Committee approved a $4,400 grant to support these efforts. So many teachers buy school supplies out of pocket for their students. The flood washed the supplies away. When we contacted Dr. Courville, he confirmed the great need for school supplies in the area.
In fact, when we were mucking out houses, we even saw on the floor a drenched, new package of writing paper, and a school bag with brand new pencils, still in their box. We are also providing a large number of Diverse Minds books to A+PEL to distribute to the teachers.
This is another wonderful aspect of our disaster relief efforts—the ongoing rebuilding and commitment to a community that B’nai B’rith brings.
Promoting Education And Anti-Discrimination Legislation: Two Important Ways To Combat Anti-Semitism And Other Forms Of Bigotry Globally
The Case of a Small City in Argentina
A few weeks ago, there was an anti-Semitic incident in the city of Bariloche, a major tourist destination in the southwestern part of Argentina. It is common for Argentine students to travel there when they graduate from high school.
A group of Jewish students from the ORT School in Buenos Aires were at a disco when they started to receive insults from another group of students, from a German School, who were wearing swastikas and Hitler costumes. The students from ORT alerted the managers of the disco but nobody took the appropriate measures and, therefore, there was apparently a fight between the two groups.
Officials from the city apologized later on and the German school took appropriate disciplinary measures. But the incident sparked a number of other of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the country.
One of them happened in my hometown, Salta, a relatively small city in the northwestern part of the country. Carlos Paz, the ombudsman of a district called Cerrillos, allegedly posted an outrageous anti-Semitic message on his Facebook page, stating:
"Sh***y Jews, I am tired of them, always appearing as the victim. They are the ones that segregate millions of Palestinians, build walls, have racist laws, murder and advise terrorist organizations and murderous States, like they did with Apartheid South Africa. Now they are judging young people for wearing German clothes from WWII. And we cannot even say ‘sh***y Jew’ because we are labeled as racists and human garbage…”
The post went on to imply that the 1994 terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish center was a self-inflicted attack and that the Jews want people to believe Iran was responsible. The message ended again with the phrase "sh***y Jews, I am tired of them," and was accompanied by several articles, one of them stating that the Holocaust was a lie.
Paz is not only the ombudsman of the district but also teaches philosophy at several local high schools.
Fortunately, INADI, the country’s agency that combats discrimination, xenophobia and racism (created after the AMIA bombing) acted immediately and joined the local Jewish community in its denunciation of the incident. Several government officials strongly condemn the incident as well.
As a result, the ombudsman is now suspended from his position and will apparently face an impeachment process through the local legislature. He was also suspended from his teaching positions and is facing criminal charges (because of an existing anti-discrimination law).
Independently of what ends up happening with this particular person (who is now orchestrating a pretty clever defense by stating that his Facebook account was hacked), it is important to note the swift and positive measures that the local government, the judiciary and the nation’s anti-discrimination agency took. Some years ago, an incident like this would have not generated such a strong response, particularly in a city like Salta, a small and traditional place where anti-Semitic manifestations were not at all uncommon.
There are three factors that, in my opinion, contributed to these very positive developments. The first one is the anti-discrimination law that the Argentine Parliament passed back in 1988, which has gradually become more widely known and used. The second one is the creation of INADI, in 1995, which has not only played a key role at creating awareness among the general population about the need to combat all forms of discrimination and intolerance, but also expanded the use of the existing anti-discrimination law in a considerable way. And the last factor is Argentina’s decision to join the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2002. Until then, the Holocaust was either absent in the curricula of most schools or studied in a very tangential way.
As this case shows, anti-discrimination laws can play a very important role in the fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance. Anti-Semites and bigots of all kinds will continue to exist but these laws can certainly force them to watch what they do and limit the negative effects that their hateful acts can have in society.
In this regard, it is worth noting that B’nai B’rith International has long advocated for the approval of anti-discrimination legislation in many countries throughout the region, working in conjunction with other minorities and vulnerable groups. And—at the hemispheric level—B’nai B’rith has worked for many years at the Organization of American States to make the approval of two major Inter-American anti-discrimination conventions a reality.
The other—and perhaps most important—tool in the fight against bigotry is, of course, education. And B’nai B’rith can be proud of its work in this field as well. Our districts and units across Latin America have not only advocated for the passing of legislation that makes Holocaust education mandatory in schools but also played a very active role in promoting educational programs that teach respect for diversity and human rights. As the case of Salta demonstrates, this is definitely something worth continuing.
Recently, Israel blew the lid off of deplorable Hamas operations to divert humanitarian aid from development projects in Gaza into their efforts to attack Israeli civilians. And, sadly, the United Nations, and by implication, our tax money, was also affected.
The more notorious of the humanitarian aid scandals in Gaza was the arrest of Mohammed El Halabi, Gaza director of World Vision, a Christian charity, for funneling millions of dollars worth of money and supplies to Hamas over a multi-year period. World Vision gets funding from individual donors, churches, foundations and grants from many Western governments. The large amount of money that was diverted is staggering and deeply disturbing. The scandal has led some countries to withhold aid to World Vision, which has suspended operations in Gaza while it investigates. World Vision issued a statement condemning terrorism in only a general way, and instead of showing genuine horror that funds sent from donors (who thought it would benefit Palestinian children) were instead diverted to a terror organization bent on killing Israeli children, expressed skepticism about the allegations and lectured Israel on transparency.
The U.N. connection? Prior to working at World Vision, El Halabi worked at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). As Israel alleges, as part of his work for UNDP, El Halabi sent “farmers” to the areas near the border between Israel and Gaza, where they acted as scouts for Hamas terrorists (see more information on the El Halabi case here). The U.N. honored El Halabi as one of its “humanitarian heroes” in 2014 as part of World Humanitarian Day. That webpage was taken down, but is still archived here. World Vision has still not taken down an identical article about El Halabi on its own website.
After El Halabi was detained, a second arrest was made, this time of a UNDP Gaza staffer named Waheed Borsh, who allegedly funneled concrete, which was used to construct a base for Hamas’s terrorist operatives.
The U.N. reacted to news of the arrest similarly to World Vision—with concern about the allegations but also some skepticism and hectoring of Israel on judicial transparency. It should go without saying that Israel is a democracy with a strong standard of rule of law, while being careful not to endanger security. Gaza, on the other hand, is run by a terrorist gang that summarily executes people.
The U.N. also absurdly claimed that Borsh, as a U.N. employee, was entitled to diplomatic immunity. Borsh, however, was a local staff person, not a diplomat. If a local staffer at U.N. Headquarters in New York was accused of giving money to Al Qaeda, or a staffer at UNESCO in Paris of supporting ISIS, would the U.N. also claim diplomatic immunity for them? Highly doubtful.
In an added insult, the U.N. demanded that Borsh be let go from the prison where he is being held in Be’er Sheva. But, they did not write it Be’er Sheva, they chose to use Bi’ir as-Sab, the Arabic name for the city—a city with ancient Jewish historical connections. This tactic of purposefully mislabeling Israeli cities and towns with Arab names is a favorite of those who hate Israel and want to see it destroyed and replaced with an Arab state. For the U.N. to degrade itself in this way while demanding that Israel release a staffer accused of using U.N. resources to support terrorism is an unnecessary added provocation. These types of games should have no place under U.N. letterhead. Was this done by mistake? Then the U.N. should admit to it and apologize.
Israel hinted when El Halabi was arrested that there could be more arrests coming down the line. Unfortunately, these examples are also not the first time that Palestinian groups have taken advantage of well-meaning donors. During Operation Protective Edge, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. agency funded by many Western donor governments that takes care of Palestinian refugees and their offspring in perpetuity (while all other refugees are taken care of under the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees—UNHCR), found Hamas rockets hidden in their schools. It is not only Hamas that takes advantage—the Palestinian Authority takes in massive amounts of aid from Western donor governments while continuing to run a pension system for terrorists.
Indeed, transparency and accountability is needed, but from the humanitarian NGOs and U.N. agencies working in Gaza who are being used to further Hamas war aims against Israeli civilians.
B'nai B'rith Uruguay was hosted by the Uruguayan House of Representatives to pay tribute to Elie Wiesel (Z´L) on August 31 in a very important public event.
The chair of the House of Representatives and B'nai B'rith Uruguay President both spoke and paid their respects. The keynote speaker of the event was noted Jewish community leader Ianai Silberstein, who has a long record as a great intellectual and Jewish leader in the Massorti congregation. What follows is his remarkable speech that and has been professionally translated to English.
Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory, wrote:
“I became A-7713. From then on, I had no other name.”
Human beings are recognized by their name. Not for nothing, in different traditions and in different ways, names tend to repeat themselves, generation after generation, because identity is something we wish to preserve. Elie Wiesel was one of those numbers who was able to retrieve his name, to rescue it from the abyss and darkness where the Nazi regime not only wanted to bury it, but also to extinguish it. Elie Wiesel converted his name into a symbol and a manifesto.
Elie Wiesel, paraphrasing the aforementioned authors, could have said something like this:
As I face the honor and challenge of sharing reflections in a tribute to ElieWiesel and thus dive into the dark memories of the Shoah, the Jewish Holocaust, I cannot but ask myself how I personally arrived at this moment. Am I a child of the Shoah? How could I address an issue of this nature? I immediately ask myself: Can a man of my generation, a Jewish Ashkenazi, whatever his circumstances, be unaware of the Shoah? After all, although my four grandparents left Europe before the war, a good part of their families perished who knows in what circumstances: firing squads, starvation in ghettos, or death camps. Thus, can I have the right to opt out?
The Shoah is unequivocally linked to Judaism. It should not be understood outside of this context, just as it should not be understood outside the Nazi regime. It is a fatal historical crossroads of centuries of anti-Semitism and a racist, efficient and omnipotent regime. A “perfect storm”.
Therefore, allow me to say a few words from a Jewish perspective.
For a long time, I believed that addressing the issue of Jewish identity by founding it on the Shoah was a contradiction: trying to give life and meaning to an identity based on death and destruction, does not seem a very consistent way to address the issue. The silence that prevailed in my family and in so many others, thousands throughout the world, after the tragedy, left a void whose purpose was uncertain: either would forgetfulness lead to disappearance, no longer at the hands of the Nazis but of silence; or a new force would arise to replace that Jewish identity as we conceived it before the war.
Hence I am a child of this new force, Zionism. Zionism, understood primarily as the centrality of the State of Israel in Jewish life, is the answer that Judaism had prepared for its next great tragedy, the Shoah: the culmination of more than two thousand years of institutionalized anti-Semitism in Europe, from Greek Hellenism through the Spanish inquisition to the pogroms in tsarist and communist Russia.
Precisely two weeks ago we commemorated the most tragic day in Jewish history, Tisha B'Av, the day of the destruction of the two Temples of Jerusalem: the first one in 586 BC, the second in 70 CE. When the second temple was destroyed and exile came, and with it the end of the priestly and institutional era of the Temple, Judaism was already developing its next stage: rabbinic Judaism. As Paul Johnson notes in his book “History of the Jews”, at that time we Jews stop writing history to focus on ourselves, on our lifestyle, on our survival. This rabbinic Judaism, through Talmudic literature, through Maimonides, for example, led us to the days of the Shoah. Believe it or not.
It is difficult to know today where Zionism will lead us to. We are a people whose identity is based on the promise of a land and Messianic hope. Together, these are the forces that brought us up to this day. Because I understand it this way, I can say without hesitation that I am a child of Zionism.
I never knew an Elie Wiesel in my family; nor a Chil Rajchman, nor an Ana Vinocur, appealing to the voices that emerged and continue to emerge from Uruguay, like Ruperto Long's recent book, “The girl who watched the trains depart.” In my family nobody spoke, nobody talked about the little they knew; nobody tried, like them, who certainly succeeded in doing so, to build history out of ashes. In fact, none of them passed through Auschwitz; but they were all – all of them – survivors, even those who got out before the war. It would seem that not having lived that inferno, they did not want to even evoke it with words.
Continuing in this confessional tone, I want to tell you about two very strong associations I have with the Shoah: To this day I cannot enjoy eating a potato without thinking of those children of the ghetto about whom I read in school. Not only its basic flavor takes on a special dimension, but while eating it, I am also absolutely aware of its nutritional value. Nor I can see freight cars and railroad tracks without thinking about the Shoah. When we received loads of wood in covered railcars I wondered how they had managed to get all those boards in there that took us so many hours to unload. My question came from the depths of a diffuse but certain memory: those cars had been filled, years ago, with Jews, not with wooden boards and planks. Today, as I very occasionally go over rail tracks, I cannot avoid thinking about how their real purpose was forever denaturized for me. I want to believe that it is not only I who is affected by these associations: not for nothing our own Jewish Holocaust Memorial in Montevideo is defined by two railroad tracks.
Eli Wiesel wrote: “The world was a hermetically sealed cattle car.”
There is no doubt that Eli Wiesel's contribution, along with Primo Levi's and Imre Kertesz's and further testimonies that do not cease to appear, was to put the record straight, give people their names, give a name to barbarism and a name to hope. I quote Bernard Henri-Lévy speaking about Wiesel: He had “the terrible privilege of having felt six million shadows pressing against his frail silhouette, in an effort to gain their almost imperceptible place in the great book of the dead”.
Opening those hermetically sealed rail cars is not just a symbolic act. It means opening both their doors, entering, going through, and stepping off them, a reenactment we can find in any of the museums dedicated to the memory of the Jewish Holocaust worldwide. Nobody stopping for a few seconds there, inside the
wagons within the museums, will be able to escape the feeling of claustrophobia and fear that would ensue if those doors would close again.
Perhaps, although I do not recognize myself at first sight, I actually am a child of the Shoah. Because, as the French writer and documentary filmmaker Ruth Zylberman says, “fear continues as a river that still flows... it is transmitted from generation to generation.” Ruth Zylberman believes, according to her recent interview in the Argentine newspaper “Página 12”, that an “organic memory” exists, a memory that is not expressed by words but exists as a collective subconscious.
No one can self-exclude themselves from the collective they belong to. This is something Hitler already taught us.
However, our species has built up its history in terms of discourse. It is worth reading or re-reading the book by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”. We human beings have realized our large projects, be they creative or destructive, by means of words.
Elie Wiesel's strength lies in his personal experience, but especially in his use of the resource of words: pure, hard and poetic. Not poetic according to lyrical and traditional romantic esthetics, but in his tenacious efforts to build metaphors about death and hope.
I cite three metaphorical uses of language in some of his most famous quotes:
Let us take one by one the three examples I have chosen to quote. It is clear, at a rational and logical level, at a realistic level, that the world is not a cattle car, a drawing does not kill in itself, and a heart is not a cemetery. But we have no problem at all to understand immediately, intuitively, the deeper dimension of what Elie Wiesel wants to convey.
To say that “that the world is a hermetically sealed cattle car” is not only equivalent to saying that the world had turned his back to the issue or that there
was no possible escape; saying it metaphorically includes those historical realities but exceeds them in their desperately human dimension.
The heart, a word that already possesses both a real level and a metaphorical level, is not a cemetery; but associating one word with the other builds, on the one hand, on the portability of the memory, and on the other, on the personalization of the collective tragedy. Not only were we unable to bury them in a real cemetery, but each of us carries those dead inside of us, forever, the way we Jews bury our dead.
Today we know with certainty that the “star of David” did kill, as the very young Elie, protagonist of “The Night”, very well knew. The weight of metaphor, in this case, lies mainly in the power of the sign as signifier. Marking, stigmatizing, or numbering people is an act of fierce dehumanization whatsoever the context. When during the military dictatorship, the citizenship of all of us was “categorized”, we were all potential victims. Regardless of the historical consequences in one situation or another, the sign-symbol establishes concrete realities, realities according to which people live. And die.
Among the unconscious memory or the collective memory or other intangible or inexpressible concepts we all perceive, the Eli Wiesels, and the authors of the other testimonies we have cited, arise and choose to speak, adding a voice, among a majority that plunged the subject into the deepest silence.
Perhaps, my personal experience did not need, so far, to verbalize the tragedy brought with it by the people I am part of. Today, I have had to face this challenge and like never before, I have experienced the exorcizing value of words. Because, whether I like it or not, I have the Shoah inside me, and Elie Wiesel also spoke for me.
Eli Wiesel turned himself into the paradigmatic voice of the Shoah, into the spokesman for all victims, those who were murdered, those who are missing and those who survived. He was with the dead and walked among the living to tell a story. He took ten years to start it; others could not utter a single sound on the matter for the rest of their lives, and suffered the memory of terror in the most frightening and lonely silence.
Eli Wiesel did not choose the path of revenge, not even the path of justice, but the path of resilience.
He did not dedicate his life to find and prosecute war criminals. He dedicated his life to remember, write, disseminate, and warn. He did not win the Nobel Peace Prize for nothing. You do not get an award for being a victim but for transforming a personal tragedy into collective hope. The award itself is a recognition by
humanity, in this case of the Western hemisphere, of the tragedy it spawned and allowed to grow and develop within itself, until, later rather than sooner, it had to stop it with its own and depleted resources.
The predatory instincts of man do not stop. The Shoah about which Eli Wiesel wrote and spoke, is not the only barbaric, bloody and genocidal phenomenon which humanity has been witness and protagonist of; perhaps it has been the most systematic, industrial, and effective one. But whatever the system, gas chambers or genocidal war, the same instinct underlies. I quote Bernard Henri-Lévy in his tribute to Elie Wiesel, published in the Jerusalem Report a month ago: The Shoah in its uniqueness and particularity “it requiers ardent solidarity with all the victims of all other genocides.”
Documentation and literature on the Shoah have turned it into a symbol and also a source for the destructive potential of man to himself, and have also turned them into educational materials for future generations. No wonder the Shoah Project in Uruguay achieved the outreach it did, transforming and reinventing itself to continue building how within Uruguayan society and students.
How did this Shoah project take shape? Three very young and very Jewish Uruguayan people proposed to take the Shoah out of the intimate and inner circle in which we had always preserved it, by means of an exhibition in a public space. This stage surpassed, and with the addition of hundreds of other young people, the project takes on a massive scale, reaching the classrooms. The Shoah project turned the matter into a public conversation subject of the Uruguayan people.
Why, when the consequences of state terror during the military dictatorship, torture, imprisonment, and disappearances, start being studied, Uruguayan intellectualism turns to the sources of the Shoah? Because there was not only experience there, but above all, there was literature. With all the differences between one narrative and the other, the roots of evil seem to be the same. Or at least, they can be looked for in much the same way. And allow me say, with all due respect, that evil is not, in any circumstances, something banal.
Elie Wiesel represents, in all his iconic and mediatic protagonism, a very Jewish quality: not only to cherish the memory but to transmit it. Elie Wiesel, a “cheder” student, that place where Jewish boys studied in pairs, sitting opposite each other, analyzing and discussing the sacred texts, the sources, was prepared to document his experience. The same way he lived in his own flesh the Nazi terror, he lived the Jewish tradition. He knew, as the central prayer of our liturgy, the “Shma Israel” (Hear O Israel) says, that the center of this prayer is “veshinantam levanekha”, “you will repeat it to your children”.
A Jew can define him or herself in many ways. No Jew who considers himself as such will exclude the word “tradition” of this self-definition. It might be the only word to connect him or her with Judaism. Not religion, not Zionism, but actually tradition. Whether flavors, smells or a specific ritual, it is a kind of common denominator.
The idea of tradition underlies the work of Elie Wiesel. It is the ancestral mandate that prompted him to write and speak. To such a degree, I would dare to suggest, that at some point the details of his life cease being relevant, his historical experiences being exact, because what counts is his words. In semiotic terms, we might even venture to say that he, Elie Wiesel, himself becomes text: I suggest googling him and you will see the number of pictures, posters, phrases, and videos that appear. The same words he wrote in a novel or said in a specific speech, acquire a new and distinct force once they are mediatized. Beyond who he was and how he lived, there is his idea, forever and ever.
Elie Wiesel is the Shoah signified.
And humanity needed an Elie Wiesel and a Nobel Prize to recognize it, because it is not free of terror, genocide, hatred, racism, xenophobia; the list of sins in this regard is long. If what Elie Wiesel wrote and said did not fall on deaf ears, it is because there were some people willing to listen. We should note that for every racist, anti-Semite, or homophobe, there is a sensitive spirit willing to listen. For each racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic group, ideology, or leader, some Elie Wiesels will emerge and become spokespeople for all those sensitive and empathetic souls whose voice breaks, or who simply cannot find the right words but feel outrage and solidarity.
Judaism does not claim for itself the invention, originality or uniqueness of ethics and morals. What we do know for sure it is that our tradition is an ongoing effort to apply ethical and moral criteria in daily life, in our decisions and actions. Judaism adopted for itself, as a premise, the action based on what is “good and fair”, what is moral and ethical. The discussion around these issues, along with other that are earthlier, has kept us busy throughout the centuries. It seems that the twenty-first century requires more than ever to keep these subjects of conversation on the table.
It was a blessing for us that Elie Wiesel lived until very recently. Now it is our obligation and challenge to keep his voice and his image alive. If next to the iconic images of Che Guevara and Carlos Gardel, we start finding Elie Wiesel, our society will surely have taken a huge step in the right direction. Unless, as in some cases happens, these icons are reduced to mere images, becoming anachronistic. Massification has its risks.
Events of this kind fight that tendency to the loss of significance.
In one week it will be six months since the murder of David Fremd (of blessed memory), in the city of Paysandú, at the hands of a Uruguayan man radicalized in the context of the new forms of hatred and xenophobia reigning in the western world and which also disembarked on the shores our Uruguay river. The children of David and Susy, whom I know well, were involved in the Shoah Project in a committed manner, touring elementary, secondary and high schools in an effort to bring a message of hope and resilience founded on tragedy. Now, with deep sorrow, they and the whole Fremd family, have their own personal Shoah. Now it is they who are survivors, and I say it not only metaphorically: one of the children physically survived the attack when his father was murdered.
When Elie Wiesel walked the paths of death between Auschwitz and Buchenwald, having lost his father, none of us was there with him; we know about his experience from his books and his discourse. Nobody can step into the shoes of the victim. What we can do, is to collect the message of hope left to us by both, Elie Wiesel in his writings, and David Fremd's children, with their by now well-known phrase “that Dad's death be not in vain.”
To end, I quote once again Elie Wiesel, saying:
Dilma Rousseff has to leave the Brazilian presidency. A Senate majority vote of 61 to 20, no abstentions, ousted her under the accusation that she “used illegal means to hide holes in the federal budget, exacerbated a recession and high inflation.” The impeachment procedure established under Brazilian law ended with her second term as president.
Another vote to ban Rousseff to participate in elections and be elected was defeated, so if she wants she could be a candidate in 2019.
Michel Temer, acting president during the time the impeachment has lasted, became the formal Brazilian president on Aug. 31, and his term will end on Jan. 1, 2019.
Rousseff, who was imprisoned during the country’s dictatorship in the 1960s, said she broke no laws, and argued that she was forced to make tough choices on the budget in the face of declining revenues, and accused that her problem was the refusal by opponents in Congress to work with her.
Rousseff had sharp words on Monday for her former vice president, Temer, who took over when she was suspended and will finish the term as president. She called him a “usurper” and “racist.” Temer, whose family is from Christian Lebanese origin, is trying to face the very difficult economic situation Brazil is going through with high rates of unemployment and inflation.
A large number of members of Congress and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have been implicated in a number of corruption scandals. It is another front that Temer has to face. Watchdog groups estimate 60 percent of the 594 lawmakers in both chambers are being investigated for wrongdoing, many for corruption.
Rousseff and her predecessor Lula Da Silva ruled Brazil for more than a decade. Together with former Presidents Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina; Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela; Rafael Correa in Ecuador; Evo Morales in Bolivia; the Castros´ in Cuba; and Jose Mujica in Uruguay (2005-2010), there was created a wide net of populist governments, which engaged with Iran and utterly anti-Israel and anti-American.
Today the political map has changed. Argentina voted for another type of ruling when they elected Mauricio Macri last year; Rousseff has been ousted by impeachment; Venezuela is economically and politically ruined; Cuba is trying to approach the United States and Uruguay changed in last year´s election for a most moderate leftist like Tabare Vazquez for president.
These changes have created a serious political division in the region.
Presidents like Temer, Macri, Horacio Cartes (Paraguay) have joined the new President of Peru Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia to face and reject the violent populism of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
With regard to Israel, it once again has democratic governments in Latin America with which to deal, to conduct business and to receive proper designation as the only democratic country in the Middle East.
The immediate future of Brazil is still uncertain. The economic crisis is the most important challenge that Temer has to face. If Brazil gets some improvements in its economy, the region will feel relieved and democracy will have a better chance to be sustainable.
Populist Presidents like Maduro and Morales have accused the Brazilian Congress of attempting a coup against Rousseff. That is absurd, legally speaking, because impeachment is a procedure established in the Brazilian constitution, and there has been no shadow of any coup. On the other hand, the confrontation between democracies and populists will go deeper, so not only the political relations will suffer, but the economic links too.
This is “the framework of uncertainty” for the immediate future in Brazil and its neighbors. Time is of the essence, so we will have to wait no less than until the end of the year to watch if Brazil can recover, and if the dangerous instability in Venezuela does not create another regional unrest.
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.
Bambi won the World Center award for an issue of Eretz Acheret—a bi-monthly magazine she founded in 2000—dedicated in its entirety to the relationship between Israel and American Jewry. Published under the motto (in Hebrew) "A journal in the service of the community,” Bambi wrote in her editor's column in the inaugural October 2000 issue that Eretz Acheret "will follow those Israelis who seek to expand the limits of their identify and to that end are ready to listen to voices it is difficult for them to hear." Indeed, Eretz Acheret quickly became the principal platform for constructive demands for social, religious and nationalist revision in Israel on everything from land policy and minority rights to Israel-Diaspora relations and avant-garde Judaism. Writing in Makor Rishon, contemporary and senior columnist Amnon Lord wrote that Bambi, compared to other journalists (religious and non-religious alike) stood out for her sense of responsibility towards the State of Israel. She represented an old-school journalism that "linked Judaism to Israelism, to [form a] culture with roots but open to the world… [She] understood that losing the Left would be a wound on a national level that Israel could not allow itself."
Under the typically provocative title "Two States for Two Peoples? American Jewry and Us," Bambi opened the winning edition of the magazine by taking issue with the conclusions reached by most of her own contributors. Ever the optimist about the trajectory of Jewish destiny, she wrote: "Most of the writers in this issue are not optimistic about the communal-cultural future of American Jewry and do not believe that it has enough internal strength to revitalize. But perhaps they are mistaken. Perhaps the direction of this flow can be changed through a concentrated Israeli and all-Jewish effort. And perhaps history will surprise again, as it always does, and exhibit a completely different picture from that seen by the writers in this magazine."
Reflecting on the topic of her winning entry, Bambi said in her captivating acceptance speech, "The fundamental problem of the Jewish people abroad at this moment is related to questions of identity and belonging. This is the result of weakness at the core, including the big core that lives in Israel. This core, that feels fully dedicated to the future of the people, is still not strong enough to deflect the extremist forces that insist that authentic Jewry must be defined entirely by Halachic parameters that predated the Shoah, the foundation of the State of Israel and the mass immigration to Israel that we are witness to…What should Jewish identify be after all we have been through? Should these monumental events effect the nature and content of Jewish identity from now going forward? I believe so."
The jury considerations at the time included the following: "We found, above all, that the editor, Bambi Sheleg and the crew she leads, is equipped with an impressive—even a surprising—amount of personal, public and professional courage, above and beyond what is found in journalism in general and in our topic of discussion in particular."
With a tradition of co-opting appropriate award winners onto our jury, Bambi accepted, without hesitation, our invitation to serve subsequently on the award jury, and did so with great diligence until her death, participating in the jury's meeting in late May to determine the 2016 award winners, even though she was already terminally ill. No one on the jury, including myself serving as secretary, got any inkling from Bambi that anything was awry while the deliberations went on for over two hours or, following the ruling, when Bambi made some very wise proposals for revising and improving the award structure in the future. At the meeting, Bambi also shared her frustrations with the financial challenges posed by maintaining an intellectual print journal, including the need to constantly seek and retain donors, which led her to move Eretz Acheret solely to a web version in 2012 after 66 ground-breaking print issues.
Bambi even volunteered to compose the detailed jury considerations for one of the winners, Times of Israel Diaspora editor Amanda Borschel-Dan, which she did. Unfortunately, she contacted me just days before the July 7 award ceremony to say that she was not feeling well and requested that one of the other judges present the considerations she had prepared on behalf of the entire panel. In retrospect, this communication should have set off some warning bells, but I remained oblivious until I heard the tragic, shocking news of her passing on national news—as did nearly all of her close friends who, according to her wishes, were kept in blissful ignorance about her medical condition. Only Yair and their children, who devoted themselves to her care for the past 18 months, knew the true gravity of her condition. I take some solace in knowing that Bambi valued our journalism award project so much that she made this very great effort to fulfill her volunteer undertaking, even when she was gravely ill, lending her considerable stature to the award.
It is fitting that Yair immediately accepted our invitation to take Bambi's place on the jury as a way of maintaining her legacy into the future.
May the memory and work of Bracha "Bambi" Sheleg be a blessing for us all.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
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