I encouraged our leadership last week to call people in their B’nai B’rith circle, simply to find out how they were faring in the Land of the Quarantined. No, we were not asking for money. These calls were casual, “just checking in” phone calls. As a service organization with roots in people-to-people contact, this was a natural outreach for us.
I made 15 calls over barely two days. They were a chance to say, “Thank you,” “Happy Passover” and “Stay healthy.” One person in suburban Philadelphia was so pleased to receive the call that she volunteered to make calls. “We aren’t going anywhere and are looking for things to do,” she said.
One of the calls turned out to be the best kind of call one could hope to have. It was to a household in Hallandale Beach, Florida. The person I was calling was not in, but in the course of sharing my message, I quickly learned that I was speaking to Boris Moroz, 98, who said he was a lodge president in B’nai B’rith Canada in 1943. Yes, you read the year right.
Boris left his birthplace of Lodz, Poland, in 1935, and moved to Montreal one year before his bar mitzvah. He left behind “a lot” of family who perished in the camps. Eventually, Boris would become a homebuilder in Canada and continue in the construction business in Florida, and along the way he learned French, Hebrew and English to go along with his native Polish and German.
His lodge presidency as a young man in Canada (Mount Scopus Lodge) coincided with B’nai B’rith’s centennial. Wrap your mind around the fact that that was 76 years ago. This fact would make Boris as close to a lifer as anyone could be. Perhaps he’s the longest-ever member of B’nai B’rith International.
Boris remembers where he was when the United Nations voted on statehood for Israel. “I called a B’nai B’rith meeting to listen to the vote,” he recalled. “Of course, there was a time difference, but this was so important to us, so we stayed up for it. It was terrific.”
Other phone calls to people in the Land of the Quarantined yielded fascinating nuggets about our brothers and sisters. One person is writing a book; another person who I had heard was not feeling well said he was feeling “great.” He had just had a heart valve replacement.
So, these small “just checking in” phone calls took less than two hours to make over not even a two-day period. They delivered wonderful results. The value of such good will and chesed is, well, priceless. Let this time of quarantine be a time of connection among our B’nai B’rith family.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
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.
Last May, I wrote a blog called “Grandmothers and The Fight Against Gun Violence,” which highlighted the important advocacy work seniors are doing to stem the tide of firearms violence. Since writing that blog, I have wondered about other issues that have spurred on senior advocacy throughout America. My first thought was there had to be seniors’ activism around global climate change. A threat to our planet as serious as climate change must have caused a spark in activism in the senior community, no? Unsurprisingly I only had to perform a simple Google search to find countless articles and information regarding ways climate change has impacted older Americans and how they are fighting for a better environment.
So what is climate change? The short answer: Climate change is an increase in the earth’s temperature which has caused sea levels to rise, ice masses to melt and highly concerning weather patterns to emerge. In addition, the U.S. Global Research Program concluded that human beings are the overwhelming cause of climate change, particularly because of the production of greenhouse gases.
Unfortunately, these dramatic changes in the earth’s climate can lead to dire consequences for older Americans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), climate change conditions like extreme heat, poor air quality and hurricanes can be particularly problematic for seniors. All too often, seniors suffer from heart conditions and diabetes, which can be exacerbated because of the heat. Increasing temperatures also cause ticks and mosquitoes to increase their geographical reach and remain for longer periods of time. Older adults with already-weakened immune systems are at greater risk of being bitten by ticks and mosquitoes if rising temperatures continue. In addition, during hurricanes, seniors often need to be evacuated, which causes obvious obstacles. Around half of the people who died for reasons related to Hurricane Katrina were over the age of 75, with people over 65 accounting for half of the fatalities during Superstorm Sandy.
However, seniors are taking action! Predictably, older Americans are not advocating for their own self-interest, but speaking up for policies that protect the planet for future generations, like their grandchildren. Groups of senior citizens like Elders Climate Action (ECA) are strongly advocating for policies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This group, consisting of 3,300 people, advocates their positions to members of Congress, gets their message out through social media and has monthly calls regarding ECA’s priorities. Furthermore, in 2017, ECA visited Washington DC, taking their message directly to the offices of every member of Congress, and participated in the People’s Climate March.
Given climate change’s devastating impact on our planet, how seriously is this crisis being taken by our elected officials? As is always the case, the answer is a mixed bag. The House of Representatives has taken encouraging steps by establishing the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which will help raise public awareness about climate change by holding hearings and organizing fact-finding trips. Sadly, some federally elected officials don’t believe action is required. Many politicians in Washington, D.C., despite scientific facts, have purposefully turned a blind eye towards climate change’s impact on our planet.
Like gun control, older Americans are picking up the slack for some of our elected officials, whose response on global climate change has been unacceptable. However, it’s nice to know we can count on the wisest people among us to lead the charge for a cleaner and better tomorrow.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
This month (November 2017), we mark the anniversaries of two pivotal milestones in Jewish history: the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which declared the British government’s endorsement of the creation of a nation-state for the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland, and the 70th anniversary of the passage of U.N. resolution 181, in which a majority of U.N. member states approved of a plan to create that nation-state, which became the State of Israel.
B’nai B’rith International is celebrating both anniversaries, organizing an event at the Knesset on the Balfour Declaration and co-sponsoring with the Permanent Mission of Israel to the U.N. and other Jewish organizations an event at the original site of the passage of resolution 181.
At B’nai B’rith, we take pride in our historical role in both events. See B’nai B’rith Magazine’s latest issue for background on the role of B’nai B’rith leaders in the Balfour Declaration. B’nai B’rith was active in the U.N. from its founding, attending the 1945 San Francisco conference and gaining accreditation as an NGO in 1947. A key moment in B’nai B’rith history is the intervention of B’nai B’rith President Frank Goldman and B’nai B’rith lodge member Eddie Jacobson with U.S. President Harry Truman, which led to the U.S. decision to support partition. And, B’nai B’rith has had an active presence in Israel since 1888, helping to build the state.
As these important anniversaries arrive, it’s important to celebrate and reflect on the advocacy efforts that led to these key moments in history. We also need to realize that, as important as these events were, they did not in themselves create the State of Israel. That job was done by the Zionist pioneers that settled the land, the leaders of the Yishuv (the Jewish government in waiting in pre-state Israel), the Haganah and other armed groups (and later, the IDF) that defended the nascent state, and the support of the Jewish community outside of Israel. Balfour and 181 did, however, give vital international recognition and legitimacy to Zionism at critical times to the development of the eventual State of Israel.
The Palestinians would do well to finally reckon with this history and with the fact that Israel is here to stay. Instead, the Palestinians are still battling the battles of the past — demanding that the current British government renounce the Balfour Declaration (the United Kingdom forthrightly refused to do so). At the U.N., the date of 181’s passage (Nov. 29) has been turned into the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” whereby the U.N. delegations of countries hostile to Israel make incendiary speeches that few people outside of the U.N. building pay any attention to and resolutions are voted upon that do not bring the region closer to peace and only serve to discredit the U.N. The U.N.’s anti-Israel bureaucratic machinery also recently hosted an event attacking the Balfour Declaration.
While some delegations at the U.N. mourn, we in the Jewish community will continue to celebrate our return to sovereignty in the land of our ancestors and pledge to rededicate ourselves to the cause. Israel grows stronger economically, culturally, technologically and militarily, as a diverse democracy with flourishing diplomatic opportunities in countries throughout the world while the Palestinians play games at the U.N. When the Palestinians realize that seeking to delegitimize and isolate Israel via international institutions and/or seeking to destroy Israel with military force or terrorism will not lead to the creation of a Palestinian state, perhaps they will start to negotiate in earnest with Israel on a true, meaningful peace.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Click here to view more of his additional content.
Did Islamic terrorists ask permission to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and to bomb the AMIA in 1994? No. Neutrality only opens doors for insanity.
In January of this year, before the massacre in Belgium but after the terrorist attacks in France in 2015, a major daily in Uruguay interviewed French Ambassador Sylvain Itte to Uruguay in Montevideo.
“Of course Uruguay is not outside terrorist threats. It would be very wrong to think that way or to think that any country can be free of such a threat,” Itte said. “Terrorists have no borders and their message is the same all over the world. You can´t live thinking 24 hours a day that there will be a terrorist attack, but if you compare 20 years ago, you must admit that there is no place on earth free from terrorist threats and attacks.”
Itte didn’t realize that this was basically a premonition.
15 years ago, Uruguay approved an anti-discriminatory law to combat hatred and anti-Semitism, defending the society against hate crimes. This was not a response to terrorism at the time but there were strong signs of intolerance and the approval of the law was essential.
On March 8 of this year, incitement progressed to murder, hate crimes and terrorism.
David Fremd, an extraordinary, devoted Jewish community leader in Paysandu, a city 400 kilometers from Montevideo, was stabbed to death. The killer admitted this was because he was Jewish.
Abdullah Omar, 35 years old, a school teacher, converted to Islam 10 years ago. His original name is Omar Peralta. He told the judge before being sentenced that he received “a call from Allah” to kill a Jew, so he went to the shop where he knew a prominent Jew worked and stabbed him.
Latin America is surrounded by incitement. From social media to the awful language used in political discussions in the media to the Uruguayan Congress, etc. We can watch it through the lens of the frenzied, radical left, which separates the world into good people and bad people, and blames Israel for all the evils on earth.
More from Eduardo Kohn:
During last war in the Gaza Strip in 2014, then-President of Uruguay Jose Mujica took part in the incitement, saying that Israel was “genocidal.”
In a blink of an eye, anti-Semitism rose like flames of a great fire and graffiti with the phrase, “Get out Jews from Uruguay” were painted in roads, streets, avenues and walls. Once incitement comes out, it does not go back.
The signs of hatred are out there. There are laws to fight discrimination and cyber harassment. But waiting for turmoil is not prevention as requested by the law.
Now that hate crimes and terrorism have taken place in Latin America, there have been some positive reactions.
The Uruguayan government, through its President Tabare Vazquez who took office a year ago, has promised that the administration will use its tools to combat all sorts of racism and discrimination at all levels.
But let´s be clear. Neither the state nor the civil society alone will be able to heal these deep wounds separately. The work must be done together.
Is it possible? We all hope so. Except for the ALBA countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela), democracy prevails.
In this fight to defend democracy, it’s not simply the future that is at stake. It is also the present.
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