This past month we celebrated Flag Day, observed on June 14 since 1916 as the anniversary of the Stars and Stripes. The date was to coincide with the 14th of June, 1777, to honor the resolution that ordered the creation of the flag by the Second Continental Congress. The flag of the United States was to be 13 alternating red and white stripes and include 13 white stars, white on a blue background.
The flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” is preserved at the Smithsonian, was created in 1813 and flew over Fort McHenry. There is detailed history of its creation and how it became an inspiration to Sir Francis Scott Key’s poem, which became the inspiration for our national anthem.
The flag is treated with reverence by its citizens, especially those who have served under it in the armed forces. There is always a sense of pride as the American flag is raised over a winner of a medal at the Olympics. We will be watching to see that happen, along with hoping to hear the national anthem played many times as the athletes compete in Japan this summer.
Flags and banners are part of our heritage as Jews. We remember waving them as children on Simchat Torah, celebrating the ending and beginning of reading of the Torah. In Parshas Bamidbar, we find a description of the tribes of Israel after the exodus from Egypt. It is their second year in the desert and begins with taking a census of the assembly and the designation of the leaders of the tribes. Each of these tribes would camp by their banner according to the insignias of their father’s household. They would find their territory designated by a geographic location in the east, west, north and south and would include their banners, distinguished by the color of their tribe’s flag. Their flag color corresponded to their stone color on the Kohan Gadol’s breastplate.
In B’nai B’rith we have banners with the symbol of the B’nai B’rith menorah--our insignia--and the year of our founding proudly displayed. Lodges and units have their own banner, with their name and number shown along with the B’nai B’rith menorah logo. Their names are tributes to Jewish history or a special community leader. It also may identify their physical location. They are our signposts for B’nai B’rith around the world.
If these banners could talk, they would tell of the times they have been proudly carried at rallies and protests. They have served at parades to support Israel and other causes for the Jewish community. They appear in ballrooms and meeting rooms as part of events that are held by B’nai B’rith. I recall the room filled to capacity at district conventions with delegates, surrounded by their district, lodge and council banners hung around the border as décor. I also remember the flag parade at the B’nai B’rith International conventions, when the flags representing the delegations from around the world were brought into the ballroom as part of the opening ceremonies. The internationality continues to bring this visual to B’nai B’rith when we host ambassadors from other countries to address our gatherings. The flag of their country is proudly displayed alongside the American and Israel flags.
As our hearts break for the victims of the Surfside, Florida building collapse, we were proud to see the arrival of the IDF’s search and rescue team to help American workers and other international teams with the recovery efforts. They are the experts in engineering and have been to other disasters around the world, proudly wearing the flag of Israel on their sleeves.
We are proud of the B’nai B’rith South Florida Unit president, Gina Strauss, and her dedicated team, who collected and delivered supplies for the families and first responders.
On the same day, the Isadore Garsek Lodge in Fort Worth, Texas was honored by KRLD News Radio 1080 as a “difference maker” for feeding first responders at fire stations, police departments and hospitals and 911 operators during the pandemic. A photo of the B’nai B’rith volunteers posing with their banner shows their pride and commitment to the mission of B’nai B’rith. Long may their banner be the representation of the mission to make a difference in the world in the name of B’nai B’rith.
As the Passover seder begins, we read in the Haggadah that it is a mitzvah to talk about the miracles that happened when the Jews left Egypt. The more someone tells about it, the more they deserve to be praised. It is perhaps one reason that seders run long into the night—because there is so much to tell. The promise of praise is a good incentive to dive into the text and commentary.
Educators tell us that children need to be motivated to learn and praise has been shown to work best as that motivator. Recognition of achievement is good for personal growth and the development of character. We know that words matter. Words of encouragement and praise help, shaming and negative comments hurt. Coaches know that praise works. So do good employers, even when it must be accompanied with a suggestion or need to adjust or change.
On Friday night, as Shabbat is ushered into our homes, a tribute to the Jewish woman is said. The Eishes Chayil (Woman of Valor) blessing acknowledges how much a woman does to care for her household and the Jewish world. The last words tell us that she should be praised. Prayers are said, with many references of praise for God. There are also special prayers said on Shabbat that praise the individuals who provide for the needs of a community.
The praise of men and women at the time of their death is a tribute to them. The eulogies delivered by their children and family, friends or co-workers, are offerings of praise for their life and contribution to the world. We honor loved ones by speaking of their good deeds and commitment to their family. These words of praise are words of comfort for the mourners as it often evokes wonderful memories with the deceased.
The greeting card industry has mastered the praise of mothers, fathers, grandparents, couples and birthday celebrants. Most everything we use we buy as a consumer, often the result of an ad or a recommendation or praise by someone who has used it before us. We will see a movie or television show because we have heard it praised by reviewers.
Organizations such as B’nai B’rith are praised for the work they do on many levels in a community. This is often done via community proclamations in honor of a special anniversary year. Good wishes also come from a variety of government officials, citing the many good things that B’nai B’rith makes possible around the globe. The work it does benefits Jews and communities around the world.
I hope you are reading the media releases or articles shared by B’nai B’rith describing projects or programs taking place. Perhaps you see the news item that is picked up appearing in your local newspaper or on social media. It is the praise it deserves, often including praise of the people who make it possible. These posts often receive “likes” when they appear on Facebook. Help this praise go further by sharing the story. Forward it to someone you know and let them know how you feel about B’nai B’rith. If you have something to share with us, please do, as we do not always hear about activities that are done in the name of B’nai B’rith. Sometimes the planners are modest or they have been too busy doing the program to provide this last but important piece of publicity after the event.
If you want to support any of the work B’nai B’rith does, donations are examples of praise. If you want to bring a program to your community or learn more about B’nai B’rith programs, you can go to the B’nai B’rith website. Remember, there will be praise for your efforts!
Poetry is all the rage these days. It made the news when the National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the inauguration of President Biden. B’nai B’rith was especially pleased to hear her message that included her quote of a line from Michah 4:4, "Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid." These words were the sentiments of George Washington in 1790 to the congregants of Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island. This promise was made to the Jews of that time and continues to be the world we want for ourselves and Jewish communities everywhere.
This quote has become the foundation of B’nai B’rith’s None Shall Be Afraid project that was developed to continue our efforts to bring awareness to and speak out against anti-Semitism. The project contains resources and an action campaign to help individuals and communities get involved and add their voice to speak out against anti-Semitism.
Ms. Gorman was also featured as the first poet to recite an original poem during a Super Bowl this year. This poem was titled “Chorus of the Captains,” and paid tribute to honoree captains, chosen by the NFL as examples of the essential workers who have been hard at work during the COVID-19 crisis. This was another important message, echoing B’nai B’rith’s agenda to assist during times such as this, to help those in need and to appreciate the healthcare workers and volunteers whose efforts make the response to deal with the pandemic possible.
Poetry has been a part of education for centuries. There are poems we remember being taught in school, usually by memorizing them. The first stanzas still come to mind even though many years have passed since then, and we remember enough to find them on the internet. From Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees,” to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge, we learned to use descriptive language about nature and the world around us.
I recall another school assignment: to experience poetry by writing a haiku. This is a Japanese form of poetry written in three lines with 17 syllables total. I remember I wrote about clouds. How wonderful it was for me to staff the Kakehashi Mission in Japan in 2016, sponsored by the government of Japan in cooperation with B’nai B’rith to provide a cultural experience for young professionals. We toured a forest dedicated to the great master Basho, the father of haiku, where it was said he often wrote. We sat in this tranquil setting to learn about him and be inspired to write our own Haiku poem. His legacy to the world is this form of poetry. While the Kakehashi program is on hold due to the pandemic, B’nai B’rith continues to hold important programming with the Embassy of Japan virtually, until it can be resumed.
Parents read young children rhyming books because they are a fun learning tool. The sing-song voice and accompanying visuals open the door to words for a young child. This format was often used by participants in the B’nai B’rith Diverse Minds Writing Contest. The contest asked high school students to write books for young children about diversity and respect, and many wrote in this poetic rhyming form. The books reached thousands of students and provided the winners of the contest $337,000 in college scholarships. Forty-one of the original books were published by B’nai B’rith.
Poetry is a healer, describing love and broken hearts. Poetry has described historic events and becomes the words of future anthems and folk songs. It is a way to express how you feel, when you are in pain or feeling joy.
The poem “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” by the Israeli poet Zelda, became a cornerstone of the commemorative project “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” included with the thematic materials Yad Vashem and the project’s International Committee provide each year on Yom Hashoah. This is a means to remember the victims of the Holocaust and the generation of survivors that have contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel and the Jewish people around the world.
B’nai B’rith has proudly served as the North American sponsor of this program since 1989 and invites you to participate in the 2021 virtual event that will be held on April 8. The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem represents B’nai B’rith on the committee and, in cooperation with the B’nai B’rith Center for Jewish Identity, we have provided this program to communities and campuses each year.
More details will be available shortly and you can join us by bringing this program to your community by watching along with the worldwide family of B’nai B’rith. For more information please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Friday, I was honored to speak virtually with Hilah BBG chapter. The girls ran a beautiful virtual Friday night Shabbat service and after, we talked about Jewish leadership, Israel, anti-Semitism and more. They asked great questions!
I talked about my first trip to Israel, in 1998, where I attended a B’nai B’rith Convention in Jerusalem. I was 15 at the time and saw the impact of bringing B’nai B’rith members from all over the world together. I was able to participate as a BBYO delegate in elections and especially enjoyed the installation dinner. I also listened to my first Israeli singer, who was a guest performer. And I had the privilege of meeting Benjamin Netanyahu at a dinner on top of King David’s citadel. The experience definitely brought me closer to Israel and solidified my involvement in B'nai B'rith.
The girls asked about my volunteer work and I noted that my experience in BBYO and now volunteering in a Jewish organization such as B’nai B’rith International impacts my views of the world and the value I have learned—and continue to learn—about being a global citizen.
Israel advocacy and anti-Semitism were big topics of the night. We talked about the most common lies I hear about Israel—that it’s an “apartheid state”—and how to identify and respond to inaccurate allegations about Israel, as well as the connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel belief: anti-Israel is indeed the new anti-Semitism.
The girls asked me what I find most difficult about being a Jewish woman and advocate for Israel in the workforce. I told them that dealing with misinformation and ignorance of others is challenging but I am passionate about speaking openly to those who are willing to learn and as a result, I have had great conversations with people.
The girls were interested in how they can get involved in Israel advocacy. B’nai B’rith International is active at the United Nations in New York and its agencies around the world, such as the Human Rights Council in Geneva. B’nai B’rith leaders regularly meet with ambassadors and government leaders and our international connection gives us a voice to advocate for Israel and the Jewish people in the diaspora.
They also wanted to know about my global travels on behalf of B’nai B’rith. When they asked about the favorite place I have visited on behalf of B’nai B’rith my answer included two spots: Japan and Prague.
Perhaps the most memorable experience I have had as an advocate for Israel was meeting with Gilad Shalit in London after his release (the Israeli soldier was a Hamas hostage for more than five years). We got to dance, go out into the town and have stayed in touch via Facebook. I’ve also met with the Deputy prime minister of Japan and spoke in depth about Israel’s history and right to exist peacefully in the middle east. Japan and Israel’s positive relationship has grown in the past few years. Finally, I noted that serving as a B’nai B’rith delegate to WZO has also been an amazing experience.
And we talked about takeaways for the girls: what to keep near their hearts and minds as they move up in the world, through high school and college and beyond. I concluded by telling them that going forward in their lives, they need to question and challenge anyone who supports the BDS movement and uses anti-Israel rhetoric. They must, as Jewish leaders, know the facts and have intelligent conversation with people they encounter. I told them that many anti-Israel statements are misinformation used to promote anti-Semitism. Lastly, I told them to visit Israel, learn the history, and experience it for themselves. I promised them that after such a visit, they would leave with a piece of Israel in their hearts that will inspire their future leadership goals and endeavors and make them better advocates for Israel and the Jewish people.
We had an inspirational and motivating conversation and I am very excited about their enthusiastic participation and interest in Israel advocacy, combating anti-Semitism, leadership and B’nai B’rith’s global work. I look forward to more opportunities to speak to Jewish youth about important topics facing Jews and leadership.
Rebecca Anne Saltzman serves as a senior vice president at B'nai B'rith International and as chair of the Disaster and Emergency Relief Committee. Saltzman also sits on the Executive Board of Directors, has served as the marketing chair and is past chair of the Young Leadership Network (now called B’nai B’rith Connect). In 2012, Saltzman earned the Label A. Katz award, an honor for individuals under 45 who have demonstrated outstanding service to the totality of B’nai B’rith and have worked to achieve the goals of the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership program.
A recent New York Times Sunday section asked readers to describe the year 2020 in one word. It is tempting to use some negative ones, but I would like to use that question and describe B’nai B’rith’s community service agenda in 2020. The word is PEOPLE.
There are four groups that are represented in this one-word description. The first group is the people who need assistance. They may be a vulnerable population – children, single parent families or seniors. They may be a living in a place that is experiencing something particularly difficult, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or a natural disaster that occurred in their community. The second group is the people who are dedicated volunteers who carry out the projects that B’nai B’rith brings to the first group. These volunteers involve others to join them in delivering what people need. This group often works with the third group of people. This third group runs agencies and other organizations that work in a community. They become B’nai B’rith’s partner with boots-on-the-ground and experts who can deal with the situation faced by the first group. And finally, the last group is the people who make it all possible. This group is comprised of the individuals who contribute the funds used to purchase tangible items or pay for the services that are provided to the first group. It is also what keeps the physical locations within B’nai B’rith’s structure staffed and running, and what makes all of this possible.
The B’nai B’rith Disaster and Emergency Fund is a perfect example of this process in action. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, needs were addressed by the people who can help them utilizing the funds to make it all possible. A great example is the distribution of COVID kits containing a cloth face mask and hand sanitizer. Three thousand kits are being distributed across the U.S.; made possible by all of the people you see mentioned above.
The same can be said for the B’nai B’rith Center for Community Action. One program held in December has a story to share. Pinch Hitters, a Christmas-Day program carried out by members of the Achim/Gate City Lodge, has been a mainstay of the Atlanta community for nearly 40 years. It was recognized by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 as the 335th Point of Light award.
But what happens when volunteers and visitors cannot go into the locations that have been the usual places of service because of the pandemic? They get creative and seek out a way to fulfill their annual mitzvah. Volunteers worked with the Center for Community Action and the B’nai B’rith Communications Department to assemble talented people who recorded themselves performing songs or dances to share with us. These recordings became a two-hour video to be shared with the residents and patients of the facilities that had been visited in the past by B’nai B’rith volunteers. The video also shares an important message to the workers at these locations at this time. It is a huge thank-you to the staff of these locations who are not just essential workers—they are exceptional and always appreciated, especially now.
We learned that there are so many people who want to help others. This included young people, and a 96-year-old resident in a B’nai B’rith’s Senior Housing location and a staff member of the management office who arranged to record her at her piano keyboard. We heard from a member of the Achim/Gate City group who has been providing piano concerts for friends on Facebook since the pandemic began who offered to share his mini-concerts for this video. The Shalva Band from Israel allowed us to use a song that was shared at a recent award ceremony at the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem. A runner-up in the first AEPi Talent Show submitted a clip of his guitar performance.
These are just a few of the 25 presentations that you can enjoy in the video. While many selections are holiday treats for Chanukah and Christmas, there are also love songs, cool jazz, salutes to the U.S.of A and interpretive dance. With the world continuing to face dark times until we see the end of this pandemic, we do not have to just enjoy this during the winter holiday season. It is a treasure to enjoy all year. You can watch the video here.
Please enjoy and share with others to show that PEOPLE are what B’nai B’rith is all about.
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: