B’nai B’rith International, along with B’nai B’rith lodges around the world, is raising funds and distributing aid within Ukraine for those sheltering from the brutal attack by Russia as well as to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the violence.
Here is a report by Simone Hofmann, a longtime B’nai B’rith member in Germany and the B’nai B’rith Lodge in Frankfurt, about a shipment of medicines for Lviv.
B’nai B’rith in Frankfurt, the B’nai B’rith Lodge Munich and the Leopolis Ukraine Aid all contributed to the purchase of these vital medicines and supplies.
By Simone Hofmann
Medicines are on their way to Lviv where they will be delivered directly to the B'nai B'rith Leopolis Lodge.
Our local volunteers can distribute them to the many elderly people who come to us as needed. This delivery is enough for a while. I cannot thank all the donors enough.
On Monday evening [March 7] at around 9:30 p.m., I learned that we would be able to send medicines on Thursday with a bus from Mönchengladbach from the Jewish community centre. It was all at very short notice. After many setbacks and disappointments, we were now able to get it on its way. And it is important that the medicines are not only brought to the border but all the way to Lviv.
A very big thank you goes here to the Titus Pharmacy in the Northwest Centre, Frankfurt and especially to Helen Sheel. She immediately got on the phone on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I was able to collect medicines worth 6000 € (about $6657 U.S.). A donation of over €2000 (about $2219 U.S.) worth of medicines came on top of that. I would also like to thank Pharmacie Raphael, Frankfurt, which spontaneously donated bandages, plasters, disinfectants and much more.
A big thank you also goes to the Jewish community in Frankfurt, which trusted us and generously supported us. From the B'nai B'rith Hebriaca Lodge of Munich, packages were sent to Mönchengladbach and the Ukraine Leopolis Lodge Aid also contributed boxes of medicine. A big thank you also to the Jewish community of Mönchengladbach, which allowed us to use a large part of the bus that members stocked with food so that we could send medicines for the B'nai B'rith Lodge in Lviv.
My friend Lali and I brought the load from Frankfurt to Mönchengladbach today. A drop in the ocean, because so much more is needed. But it was a matter of the heart. Now the bus is rolling. It is loaded and will leave during the night for Poland and then on to Ukraine. The Ukraine Aid Leopolis, the B'nai B'rith Hebraica Loge and Munich and the Frankfurt Schönstädt Loge e. V. would like to thank everyone who made this possible.
However, donations will still be gladly accepted.
Read the op-ed in English on Ynetnews.
Read the op-ed in Hebrew on Ynetnews.
Translated below from the original Ynet publication in Hebrew:
Last month, the leader of the Presbyterian Church (USA) said that Israel was guilty of “21st century slavery.” He did not level a similar charge against any other country – including those where slavery actually does exist.
In November, the General Synod of the Church of Sweden voted to urge investigation of Israel, the only democracy in its region, as an “apartheid” state, and the United Church of Canada may soon do similarly.
The synod did not level a similar accusation at any other country – including other Middle Eastern states where Arab Muslims, let alone Christian and other minorities, enjoy far fewer civil rights than they do in Israel.
Soon before the pandemic, the World Council of Churches issued a statement condemning “this violence” after an allegation by Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna that he was “poisoned” in a possible “assassination” attempt by the Jewish state.
Nearly two years on, not a shred of evidence has supported the claim by Hanna – who is also notorious for urging Israel’s destruction, saying “Zionism is a racist, terrorist movement” and calling the Israeli government “money changers in the Temple” who want to “control the world.”
And in December, the patriarchs and heads of major churches in Jerusalem – who, during the last hostilities in Israel and Gaza, echoed Hamas’s narrative that the fighting was caused by “violent events” at the “Al Aqsa Mosque or in Sheikh Jarrah,” with no mention at all of rocket fire or mob attacks by Palestinians – issued a new statement on a “threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land.”
The statement only specified objection to actions by Israeli Jews, and added – in a nod to tropes about Jewish greed and exploitation – that Christian tourism yields billions of dollars for the Israeli economy, as if Palestinian and other Arabs don’t benefit at least as much.
Even some typically circumspect ecclesial leaders have been caught up in this one-sided politicizing of bully pulpits against the world’s small, sole and oft-beleaguered Jewish state.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, in a Christmas homily meant to unite Catholics in Israel, Jordan, Cyprus and the Palestinian territories, alleged only wrongs done to the people of “our Palestine,” but not to Israelis.
He certainly did not credit Israel for what in reality have been extraordinary efforts to preserve religious freedom and to pursue peace with its neighbors.
And Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby published an op-ed echoing alarm about the “massive drop” of Christians in the Holy Land – when in Israel itself the Christian population has grown continually – and he apportioned at least some blame to an Israeli “Separation Wall” that is neither for the most part a wall nor motivated by some capricious intercommunal separation.
Rather, it was necessitated as a costly, but thankfully effective, response to a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings that exacted an infinitely greater toll on both sides of the partition.
The singling out of Israel for demonization, double standards and discrimination – as in the case of the PC(USA), which began pushing for divestment in 2004 – is not helpful to actual peacemaking in the region, and to furthering vital contemporary strides in Christian-Jewish relations.
It is also profoundly unjust: routinely obscuring Jews’ long history in their ancestral homeland – inseparable from the origins of Christianity itself – as well as the equal rights and lived experience of Jews today.
The WCC, which lambastes Israel but not Iran or North Korea at United Nations forums – and deems Jewish returnees “illegal” while urging a Palestinian “right of return” – has promoted calls for punitive economic campaigns against Israelis and an odious assertion that the “West sought to make amends” for Nazism by giving Jews a foreign land.
Following the Holocaust, ecumenical groups have shown noble readiness to acknowledge past Christian antisemitism – from Augustine to medieval crusaders, and from the inquisitors to Luther.
However, few denominations seem as self-aware when it comes to anti-Jewish animus in the present. This moral fallibility was perhaps epitomized by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, whose pursuit of reconciliation at home stood in stark contrast with his simplistic, hyperbolic rhetoric when it came to Israel and the Jews he associated with it.
Israel, to be sure, is imperfect, but so are its circumstances, and so is every other human society. Unlike Hamas or even the Palestinian Authority, Israelis and their mainstream leadership overwhelmingly deplore any manifestation of violent extremism in their midst.
After another international Remembrance Day for the Holocaust – that genocide born of longstanding religious contempt for a people’s legitimacy – let us ensure that false witness never pass as prophetic voice.
Faith institutions censuring the Jewish state more than all others promote prejudice, not peace.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International. He previously trained at the Foreign Ministry of Germany, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Embassy of Israel in Washington, Ha’aretz and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University. Click here to view more of his content.
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. Click here to view more of his content.
Like explorers embarking on a journey to discover a new world, Jews living in different parts of the world are returning to Portugal. And B’nai B’rith International has been proud to serve as a navigator of sorts.
As president of B'nai B'rith's international, the world's oldest and largest Jewish membership organization, a keen interest in our Diaspora inspired me to take an international board meeting to a place where inhabitants once believed the earth was flat.
I was fully aware of the cruel and evil history of the Inquisition, having visited Spain as a college student, but never Portugal. It was time for B’nai B’rith, founded in America in 1843 and exported to Europe in 1888, to bring its world to Lisbon and Porto. In 2019, our International Council of B'nai B'rith met in Lisbon for an extraordinary conference, where we revisited the saving of Jews by Ambassador Aristides de Sousa Mendes; and learned about the history and rebirth of Judaism in Oporto.
We learned from Catarina Vaz Pinto, councillor of culture in Lisbon and wife to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who previously was the country’s prime minister, about future plans for the Tikva Jewish Museum of Lisbon. The museum is planned for Belem in front of the Belem Tower and the Tejo/Tagus River. It will be the second Jewish museum in the country. Oporto was first to open its museum doors across the street from the historic Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue.
B’nai B’rith members from 17 countries walked in the footsteps of Jews from 500 years ago and in the shadows of the Jewish Ghetto. We became explorers returning to an Old World.
In a matter of days we consumed much in this country, even taking home bottles of its award-winning kosher Ruby red Port wine made in — where else? — Porto. We also commemorated this important, high-profile event with a postal indicia from the postal service, the Correios de Portugal, (CTT).
Portugal is a modern community that is awakened to its glorious Jewish past. This leap from the late 15th Century to the 21st Century is unearthing more than time. Following the 2013 passage and 2015 implementation of a new law, which welcomed Jews who could prove their Sephardic roots, the bowels of the exquisite Jewish in Oporto became lined with room after room of boxed files protecting applications and an assortment of legal documentation.
Piles of additional applications await processing. They are the fingerprints, voices, even whispers of generations past. Where few, if any, records existed and people were burned at the stake, suddenly, there are thousands of virtual heartbeats in the bottom of the Oporto Jewish Museum.
Inspired by B'nai B'rith’s mission and global reputation, Gabriela Cantergi and the Portuguese Jewish leaders are inspiring a nation, much the way Joshua led the Hebrew nation from Egypt and into the Promised Land. Yiddishkeit is flowering in Oporto with kosher hotels and restaurants that complement a magnificently restored synagogue and an extraordinary Holocaust Museum. The Holocaust museum tells the epic history of the modern world, from the evil of the Nazis and the synagogue's unique role in housing Holocaust survivors to the heroic 1976 rescue of the hijacked Air France jetliner in Entebbe.
The work that has transpired here in a few short years is nothing short of a miracle. When I and others put on tefillin there, daven there, receive an aliyah there, bench there, sing z’mirot there, the experience there is certainly special. It is a palpable experience that you must see, describe and feel for yourself. This is hallowed ground.
Maybe the resilience of Portugal is the sequel to what took Jews 40 years in the desert to define itself or a dozen years to extract itself from the horrors of 1,000 work and death camps in Europe.
The rebirth of the Jewish people in Portugal and religious practice and faith have ignited services with kiddush meals and full-throated prayer. Portugal is a place where Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews stand together, pray together.
Near Lisbon, in Cascais, the largest Chabad Center in Europe is housed in an extraordinary contemporary edifice with a flock of new residents and visitors led by a brilliant, engaging young man, Rabbi Eli Rosenfeld, who came to Portugal in 2010 with his bride Raizel and growing family.
And while the resurgence of Judaism exposes our people to anti-Semitism, relations with the Catholic Church in modern times and Portuguese diplomats is most positive. Israel ambassador Raphael Gamzou accepted a diplomatic assignment with a difficult history and paved a strong trail as Israel’s ambassador for his successor, Dor Shapira.
Through it all B'nai B'rith proudly stands shoulder to shoulder and hand-in-hand with rediscovered family. And the exploration continues.
Read the op-ed in The Portuguese News.
Charles O. Kaufman is the former president of B'nai B'rith International.
CEO Op-ed in The Portuguese News: Working Together to Face Challenges to the Portuguese and European Jewish Communities
Over 40 years ago, on a visit to Israel, I learned from my cousin Chaya that our forebears may have originated in Portugal.
My mother was born in Lithuania, as was Chaya, her first cousin. They came from a small shtetl not far from Vilna, and frankly, most of our relatives had probably not given too much thought as to where our family might have originated. After all, the first Jews are believed to have arrived in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the late 14th century. That was pretty far back in time.
Many in my mother’s family came to America decades before the Holocaust. Chaya made her way to pre-state Israel in 1934. We know of only one relative who survived the Shoah, who later made his way to Israel after the war. All of our other family in Lithuania was killed.
I was excited to hear that Chaya had done some research at one of Israel’s universities and was convinced that our origins were in Portugal. Her maiden name, and my mother’s, was “Berzak.” Chaya concluded that a Portuguese rabbi, Elkanah Bar Zera Kodesh, had been among those who left Portugal in the expulsion of the Jews at the end of the 15th century. The acronym for the rabbi’s name became “Berzak.” It is likely he or his descendants made their way to Hamburg, which was a jumping off point for many who arrived in Lithuania in the late Middle Ages.
I tell you all of this because I take a special pride both in the rich history of the Jews in Portugal, and today, in the rebirth of the Portuguese Jewish community. In Porto, which I had the opportunity to visit some months ago, the beautifully maintained Kedoorie Synagogue, the establishment of two excellent museums, a kosher restaurant and an active local community are all to be admired at a time when Jewish communities everywhere are debating the best way to ensure Jewish continuity and communal life in the still-new century.
But that is not the only challenge Portuguese, and by extension European Jewry, is facing. We have seen, over the past two decades, a tremendous spike in anti-Semitism—some of it emanating from the populist right or ultra-nationalist quarters, and some from the left and Islamic extremists. This perfect storm of Jew hatred has spread throughout Europe at viral speed, energized by social media and its “influencers.”
That anti-Semitism is present in Europe comes as no surprise to anyone. That it remains ensconced in country after country within the living memory of those who were victims of and witnessed Hitler’s barbarity, and with it the worst crimes ever perpetrated on the Jewish people, is reprehensible.
B’nai B’rith, founded in the United States in 1843, but which has been present on the European continent since the last quarter of the 19th century, knows of this hatred firsthand. We confronted and battled anti-Semitism wherever it manifested itself here in the United States and in those places where we established a presence abroad.
In 1933, on the eve of Hitler’s coming to power, our organization had more than 100 branches in Germany alone, and in many other countries throughout the continent. At the war’s end, and as a result of the Holocaust, we had to re-build on the ashes of the devastation that befell European Jewry in Germany, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, former Yugoslavia and so many other places.
Anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest, most persistent and resistant form of hatred. It sprouts and flourishes where there are substantial Jewish populations—or no Jewish communities at all. It thrives on lies and distortions, on envy and a perverse taste for inflicting harm—mental and physical. And it often operates with the approbation of public figures and some in the media, who use it for political gain or to attract new followers, readers or viewers.
B’nai B’rith itself has been on the receiving end of this malicious, hateful behavior. In days past, it might be like that which used to appear in the Soviet press, when we were called “the first violin in the Zionist orchestra.” Today, you’ll see it on websites, even those which claim to be legitimate press outlets. Some continue to ply old, shopworn and outrageous tropes about us, and Jews generally, suggesting “secretive” powers of manipulation and control over the media, banks and everyone else.
Clearly, when it comes to anti-Semitism in Europe, the more things change, the more they stay in the same.
What can we do about all of this? Years ago, B’nai B’rith opened an EU Affairs office in Brussels, to create awareness of anti-Semitism on the continent at the European Commission, the European Parliament and other bodies (including the Council of Europe in Strasbourg). We work closely with the very able Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission Coordinator on Combating Anti-Semitism and Fostering Jewish Life, and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions (ODIHR) to create new approaches to confronting Jew hatred Europe-wide.
In recent years, in several countries in Europe, there has been an assault--in the name of animal rights-- on the right of Jews to engage in the practice of shechita, or kosher slaughter, abrogating our right to freely exercise our religion. Bans and restrictions have been imposed in a number of countries in Europe, most recently in the Belgian regions of Wallonia and Flanders, and in Greece. Other initiatives have been afoot to ban circumcision, or brit milah. B’nai B’rith has been in the forefront of those speaking out loudly against attempts to roll back freedom of religion in a democratic Europe.
B’nai B’rith was among the earliest advocates for a standard working definition of anti-Semitism that could be used to clearly identify its manifestations, and not allow political leaders, the media, judges and others to either deny it or to nuance it away. That definition was adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a consortium of 35 countries committed to Holocaust research and remembrance. Portugal is a member of IHRA and in 2019 adopted the working definition. A growing number of countries, provinces, municipalities, universities, sports federations and others are joining the list of those who endorse it.
Additionally, we have pressed various governments in Europe to facilitate Holocaust-era restitution to survivors and their families, and promoted Holocaust remembrance and education initiatives.
With all of this, so much more remains to be done. Much contemporary anti-Semitism emanates from various bodies of the United Nations, especially, but not only at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Israel is singled out continuously in resolution after resolution for carrying out the worst possible human rights violations. The lopsided votes against Israel often include many countries—some of them in Europe—who should know better. They often “go along to get along,” signing on to the annual festival of calumnies against the Jewish State. Recently, this activity has spilled over to agencies like the World Health Organization.
Which brings me back to Portugal. Our history there came to such an abrupt stop at the end of the 15th century. The thought has often crossed my mind, what if there had been no disputations, no expulsion, no Inquisition, no auto da fès and no burnings at the stake? Unfortunately, “what if’s” have no answers, just speculation. What we can imagine, with some certainty, is that the community would be one of the world’s largest and its contributions to Portuguese and Jewish life immense.
For the Jewish people, numbers don’t really speak to what we have contributed to civilization writ large, and to European culture, science, education and commerce over the centuries. That continues today. What we lack in size, we have been able to compensate by our solidarity, based on shared history, values, traditions, a common ancient—and modern—language and so many other intangibles that make us a justifiably proud and creative people.
B’nai B’rith is proud to be a partner in the renaissance of Jewish life in Portugal and an ally in the fight against anti-Semitism, one of the seminal challenges of the day. We’ll work together to find friends and allies who can join us in confronting it. We’ll continue to speak out in those fora in Europe to advance the message that anti-Semitism, in the 21st century, is totally unacceptable anywhere, anyhow. And we’ll be there together with you in support of Israel, our ancient homeland.
As we begin the new calendar year, let’s all pray that the year ahead is one of new accomplishments for your community, and for peace and security for Israel, and for each of us, wherever we call home—always in good health.
Read the op-ed in The Portuguese News.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
The idea of presenting “opposing views” with the Holocaust would be mortifying if the concept behind it weren’t so mind-boggling. The thought of such a ridiculous notion leaves me shocked, numb.
That a top educator in a School District in the Dallas-Fort Worth area would use the Holocaust as an example of desired balance in presenting history-relating racism reveals vast deficiencies in understanding, much less education.
What began as a debate over legislation addressing “critical race theory” ended with a bizarre comparison delivered before a stunned school board audience, prompting a swift and immediate apology from the superintendent of the Carroll Independent School District.
One of many teaching moments in this chapter of history is that revisionism is clearly becoming the embarrassing subplot to the torment that’s ripping apart the country. Are school districts across the most advanced country in the world really going to allow what should have been an Age of Re-enlightenment to become the Age of Reimagining Everything? Are generations of history, literature — not to mention our sanity — about to be gone with the wind?
“Opposing views” of the Holocaust are nothing but Holocaust denial. Such behavior is nothing new in today’s world of hate. In fact, this event only gains credence when Holocaust museums, commissions, and education diminish their importance by allowing the unvarnished history to be portrayed as just another genocide or just another violation of human rights. Now, anyone who can’t understand the reality of the Holocaust either believes people should still hail Hitler or that the earth is still flat. Two decades into the 21st century, is this the new direction of education?
Educators wishing to teach racism need to realize that too many people believe anti-Semitism began with Hitler and in Nazi Germany. In truth — the unequivocal variety — the history of anti-Semitism goes back thousands of years with Jews as slaves, inhabitants in ghettos, or scapegoats by empires over more than 100 generations. And despite such oppression, the Jewish people have not only survived but made a positive impact in many societies. In the face of great achievements, the Jewish people also understand that our values oblige us to dedicate ourselves to the freedom of others.
Today, Holocaust denial has a new partner — the denial of Israel as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. The history of Israel dates back thousands of years. The legal boundaries of Israel are more in evidence than in dispute, and any disputed territory is subject to negotiation. To that end, “Palestine” will exist when the Palestinians accept history, own up to the consequences of their own actions, and develop compromises within their ranks.
In truth, we have Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and an immense evil cast who not only participated in hatching, planning, and implementing the Final Solution, but meticulously and proudly documented the heinous crimes for the world to see. The irrefutable evidence is substantiated by voluminous eyewitness accounts of prosecuted war criminals, rescuers, physical evidence from labor and death camps; cans of Cyklon B, hair, bones, ashes, testimonies from survivors, miles of film, books.
And yet, the Holocaust deniers demand telling of their side of the story, their truth, the imagined “opposing views,” which basically is a collection of demonizing libels that don’t deserve repeating. Poland, which succumbed to the Nazis and was complicit in many ways to the brutality at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where 300,000 Poles also were victims, wants to criminalize tying Poland to its history of death to millions of Jews and others.
There’s no running away from history, particularly the evil of this human experience. Diminishing the truth is shameful. Back in Texas, with apologies rendered and, of course, the “opposing views” argument ascribed to either confusion or misapplication of a law that aims to keep people from spinning history, the incident undoubtedly will evaporate into the “wokesphere.”
Meanwhile, Jews continue to be targeted as scapegoats for the blood libels of the past or for no other reason beyond their religious identity. Make no mistake, there are many good people who respect the diverse culture and practices of the Jewish people. And for those who prefer not to do so, well, they will continue trying to reinvent the wheel, which remains, by all accounts, the same shape as the earth.
Read President Kaufman's analysis in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
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