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.
What is your connection to Israel? A good icebreaker question for a Jewish audience of any age.
It is also a good question to open up the topic about celebrating Israel and its accomplishments, as it is celebrating its 72nd birthday. Israel is a nation among the nations of the world. During this time of crisis in the world, we are proud to see Israel’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, not just for its own citizens but for all who can benefit from its knowhow. It is a leader in medical treatments and testing. It creates and uses technology to help mankind. It shares its knowledge about assisting after trauma and continues to run to places to help when it is needed.
Most Jewish young people today have received the gift of a trip to Israel from Birthright during their college years. I do not have official statistics, but I know of several of my generation and older that still have that trip on their bucket list, and are still figuring out how to make it happen.
I have been lucky – while my family had no relatives that lived in Israel, it has been a part of our family’s DNA. We said, “next year in Jerusalem” every Passover and and could picture the possibility. It is what I learned about in Hebrew school, and if we saw a product that said “Made in Israel” in a store in the 1960s and 70s, it was a thrill. I am sure many of us still have an Israeli blue/green metal Judaica piece –jewelry, mezuzahs, bookends, a seder plate, and a menorah are ones I can account for. These items were part of bat mitzvah gifts or sourced from a synagogue’ s gift shop. I had also been influenced by my parents, the generation that experienced Israel’s birth, and hearing about the dancing in the streets in Brooklyn in 1948 when the announcement of the creation of the state was on the radio. We continued to be glued to the news when I was a youngster and teenager hearing about the wars for its survival that followed.
Living in New York City, I experienced the annual Israel Day Parade that brought youth groups and schools to Fifth Avenue. I remember learning a line dance with my Israeli Hebrew teacher that we would perform as part of the synagogue delegation, wearing a white dress tied with blue ribbons. As I got older, the parade offered the social element of seeing friends I had made in United Synagogue Youth, meeting other teens around the city and tristate area.
My first trip to Israel was a sweet sixteen present from my parents, offered as their gift instead of a party. Traveling with a teen tour for six weeks , we saw Israel from end to end, experiencing kibbutz life at Ein Gedi, and a week with Israeli teenagers at Gadna camp, with the most adorable Israeli soldiers as instructors.
I got to visit again in 1980 as part of a B’nai B’rith staff mission. It was a wonderful way to bond with colleagues and learn about the people and projects of B’nai B’rith that have had roots in the country since 1888. It was another view of the country, seeing behind the tourist scene, presenting some of the difficult social issues for Israelis and their struggle living alongside their Arab neighbors. We saw the presence of B’nai B’rith in various form. From a Moshav named for Henry Monsky, to libraries and streets named in recognition of B’nai B’rith’s role in their creation. We were present just months after the B’nai B’rith World Center was established in response to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 that in August 1980 called on all member states to remove their diplomatic missions from Jerusalem.
B’nai B’rith provided another opportunity for me to experience Israel at the 1998 International Convention. It was also the occasion to share an Israel experience with my husband and introduce my kids to Israel at age 12 and 16.
The venues were amazing, opening ceremonies at David’s Citadel in Jerusalem, dinner at the Israel Museum with a private tour and a banquet that filled a ballroom with members from around the world.
The closing program included a spontaneous line of dancers that moved between the tables to celebrate the occasion of this event. A special memory was the dedication by the B’nai B’rith Center for Community Action of a playground outfitted for physically challenged children in Hadera.
I had the unique experience of seeing Israel in 2005 as a parent with a child spending their first year in a college program at Bar Ilan University. It was another view, 33 years after my first experience. For this visit, we could tak a bit more time to experience Jerusalem and Tel Aviv , soaking in the historic and cultural sites in Jerusalem and then the beach in Tel Aviv.
When my grandson Jacob was born in 2014, we joked about holding a special upcoming date on the calendar July 2027, for his bar mitzvah. We have since then talked about a summer trip to Israel as a wonderful way to celebrate with his parents and his two siblings. It is strange to think that this summer it will be just 7 years away. But, looking at the events of these past months, it feels like that that may be too long to wait. When we can hopefully see these days in our rearview mirror, and our prayers and social distancing maintains good health , I hope a family trip to Israel will be in the plans for me.
Happy 72nd Birthday, Israel. Hope to see you soon.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai B'rith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. Rhonda has served on the B'nai B'rith International staff for 41 years. To view some of her additional content, click here.
The Gamaraal Foundation in Switzerland has set up a 24-hour telephone hotline to provide support to Holocaust survivors during the coronavirus pandemic. The hotline can be accessed by calling +41 44 931 37 35 or visiting https://gamaraal.com.
The Gamaraal Foundation was created in 2014 with the mission of supporting Holocaust survivors in need in Switzerland as well as engaging in Holocaust education. The foundation earned the prestigious Dr. Kurt Bigler award for excellence in Holocaust education in 2018, together with the archives of contemporary history at the ETH Zürich.
Many Holocaust survivors show incredible resilience in the current situation. I deeply admire the positivity they show. They say we had much more difficult times. I am so proud of the many dozens of volunteers and the team of the Gamaraal Foundation, which has worked nonstop. Many of the volunteers are students and young professionals, the solidarity between the generations is immense and this is deeply touching. This is so crucial now, more than ever before, heartwarming and overwhelming for me to see. I am immensely grateful to all those giving their time to help.
The gratitude that we receive from survivors cannot be put into words. It goes directly to the heart. Most of our work is listening by phone to the survivors, taking them out of loneliness and isolation. The coronavirus pandemic can evoke painful memories among Holocaust survivors. Some are experiencing renewed trauma – the loneliness and isolation which they face during difficult experiences can be exacerbated due to the past they were forced to endure. Volunteers also assist survivors with buying food or medicine.
With demand for assistance on the rise, the volunteers’ team will be expanded in the coming days.
For more information:
Anita Winter is a B'nai B'rith International Geneva representative and founder and president of the Gamaraal Foundation.
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: