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.
There is an official Random Acts of Kindness Day celebrated every February. The concept has also found a home during the “season of giving,” so whether you choose to observe on the official day, (February 17, 2020) or when it works for you, we encourage you to connect these acts with B'nai B'rith. Our organization has a long history of bringing acts of kindness to the world and initiating new ideas. There are hundreds of ideas about what one can do to be part of this initiative, as individuals and as a group. It can be just one thing you do, or it can become a tradition. You can do it alone, with your family and with a B’nai B’rith group.
A new film about Fred Rogers turns a spotlight on his life teaching generations about kindness. He said, "There are many ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind. A similar thought has been attributed to the novelist Henry James, who said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” An eight-year-old girl has written a book called “BE KIND, Silly: A Child’s Quest for a Kinder World” to combat bullying. A young man who lost his life to mental illness is remembered by his family with an organization and award in his name called Matt’s Kindness Ripples On.
Kindness has its roots in the Torah, as many of the deeds of our forefathers and mothers stressed their acts of kindness for others. Kindness is also emphasized in Perke Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers. It tells us that the world is upheld by three things - Torah, Service and Gemilut Chassadim (Acts of Loving Kindness).
At B'nai B'rith, we can say that most everything we do is because it is the right and kind thing to do. Our founders based their mission on kindness for widows and orphans, providing for their financial needs. We offer kindness, community and a home to senior citizens via B'nai B'rith housing. We support the people of Israel as they deal with daily attacks against their country. We join with our fellow community members to stand up against hatred and violence against others by providing disaster funds to support projects that help the community heal. Our community service programs are daily, weekly or annual events filled with kindness. Volunteers bring breakfast to children in schools and shelters in the Greater San Fernando Valley in California. Hundreds of families receive Passover food each year to help them celebrate the holiday, recognizing that without this project, they could not provide this for themselves. We bring assistance to people who are dealing with devastation and destruction due to natural or man-made disasters. We are on the scene when it counts, at the time of a disaster and long after it has occurred during the recovery and rebuilding stages.
The kindness meter in B'nai B'rith heats up during Christmas, when volunteers make sure that workers or volunteers who want to be home with their families can do so because a B'nai B'rith volunteer is stepping in for them that day. It has also become a time to thank community workers serving in VA hospitals and the veterans who are receiving care in these facilities. We bring teddy bears to children who need a loveable hug to help them face difficult situations. Volunteers collect and deliver books, clothing and household goods in their communities and support food banks and schools with the donations.
Do we need a day to remind us to be kind? Looking at the wide assortment of service events in the B'nai B'rith community, we can say that we remind ourselves of this every day of the year. But sometimes, it is nice to point out something we take for granted. This year at the B'nai B'rith Leadership Forum, International President Charles Kaufman instituted a President's Award for individuals who went above and beyond in their efforts to provide leadership and service. Of the thirty awards presented, more than half were for volunteers who make community service programming a reality.
Kindness Day can be a time for those who may have been thinking about getting involved to help make something happen in their community. Lodges and units can support these efforts by providing the link individuals are looking for something meaningful to do and funding for the project.
So yes, we need to remind ourselves and others that B'nai B'rith has kindness at its core. It confirms that kindness is the way to ultimate success and doing something important. Come get started and be kind with us.
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.
We could not have imagined that within just a few shorts weeks the world would endure the devastation of three major hurricanes in the Atlantic basin and multiple earthquakes across the region. These natural disasters have put an immense strain on international humanitarian relief efforts. The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund has made appeals to support the recovery in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, and continues to monitor the urgent recovery needs in Puerto Rico and other areas facing dire situations. The B’nai B’rith Cuban Jewish Relief project is also closely following the evolving needs of the Jewish community in Cuba, where Hurricane Irma made landfall as a Category 5 storm on Friday, Sept. 8.
Hurricane Irma was the first Category 5 storm to make landfall in Cuba since 1932. B’nai B’rith International learned quickly from our partners on the ground that the damage was severe, and the impact devastating. Storm surge pushed about a third of a mile inland into low-lying neighborhoods and adjoining towns, and two of the synagogues in Havana took on water. Immediately, power, gas and water services were affected.
Although thousands of people were evacuated, innumerable buildings suffered partial or total damage. Medicines, foodstuffs and other basic necessities were difficult to locate or afford before Hurricane Irma, and the crisis in these realms continues to worsen, despite a coordinated international humanitarian response. A United Nations report says between 210,000 and 220,000 homes were severely damaged, agricultural crops and livestock hit hard and 14 municipalities from the northern coast of Villa Clara province east to Camagüey critically impacted.
While the flood waters have receded, the hardest hit provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara—three of which maintain active Jewish communities—are still facing interruptions to electrical service nearly a month after the storm.
Compounding the devastation left in Irma’s wake are new travel regulations announced by the Trump administration and their chilling effect on travel by Americans. While much of the enterprises catering to tourists in and around the capital of Havana have been repaired, Cuba has seen a marked drop in U.S. visitors during what is traditionally recognized as the high season. Tourism being the largest factor in the Cuban economy, it is anticipated that these new regulations—particularly during this time of crisis—will stymie recovery efforts even further.
It will take a long time for Cuba to recover from this natural disaster. In an immediate response to the challenges on the ground, the Cuban Jewish Relief Project, in partnership with the Disaster Relief Fund, mobilized over 50,000 water purification tablets for distribution to those affected by water outages. We continue to coordinate with our partners on the ground to assess the damage and the long-term needs of the community.
If you would like to help the Cuban Jewish Relief Project and our recovery efforts, please consider a contribution and Donate Now
Sienna Girgenti is the Assistant Director for the International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy and Director of the Cuban Jewish Relief Project at B'nai B'rith International. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
“The Disaster Relief Fund is open and needs support. Help us be ready by donating to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/bbi-disaster-relief.”
You may have seen that sentence in a news release or an appeal from B’nai B’rith. In a recent two month period, the fund was opened to support assistance to victims of flooding in Texas and the earthquake in Nepal.
Technically, the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund is always open—we gratefully accept donations to our general disaster fund that are not designated for a specific disaster, because we know that there is no date on the calendar to plan for when these natural disasters occur. Disasters that are man-made, such as terrorist attacks, will occur with no science to understand them.
Since the mid 1800s, B’nai B’rith got involved in responding to disasters with the creation of our Disaster Relief Fund. Domestically and across the globe, the fund provides money to assist victims of a disaster via partners in the community or for the first responders who travel there to provide their expertise for the emergency.
The impact of any disaster is devastating, but a disaster hitting poor, heavily populated areas makes the devastation more devastating as much of these locations already have overloaded services that are dealing with the underserved population.
B’nai B’rith is ready to respond once a disaster occurs. A committee comprised of volunteer leaders and staff reviews the information about the disaster that has occurred and determines the need to allocate funds. An appeal is made for donations to enable our response. We receive requests for funding assistance from local community leaders, or we seek out partners in the area that has been impacted.
We dedicate much of our response to “unmet needs,” which may not have already been provided by others. We also know that there are phases of a disaster that will meet our criteria, at the beginning of the emergency, during recovery efforts and finally, rebuilding.
Long after a disaster has been in the headlines, there is need for assistance. Some distributions are completed in a month, and some have taken up to five years for the project that has been allocated to reach completion.
B’nai B’rith’s history of providing disaster relief is part of our core mission of humanitarian aid. As anniversaries of major disasters come along, we often reflect on the impact of the funds provided by our donors.
For example, in April 1995 the B’nai B’rith Disaster Fund provided scholarships to the children of government workers who were killed in the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
Twenty years later, these children are grown, still missing a parent, but they have had assistance with their education by people who cared about them enough to make a donation.
Since that disaster, B’nai B’rith has supported many other projects in the United States and around the world, providing close to $3 million in assistance projects.
The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund is always open.
We cannot predict the future or know where help will be needed, but you can help us be ready to respond today.
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. This June will mark her 38th anniversary at B'nai B'rith. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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