As we experience the trajectory of anti-Semitism in history and during one’s own life, it’s natural to feel hopeless. Hate will endure, but it’s still possible to celebrate and enjoy the efforts made to acknowledge the legacy of the Jewish people, as well as to take pride in the end result: contributions that improved life for all.
The city of Goerlitz in Saxony, a part of East Germany after World War II, had a Jewish population between 600 and 700 in 1888, when its B’nai B’rith Victoria Lodge first met. Fewer Jews were living there when a new synagogue opened in 1911. Adopted from the basilica plan, the structure was far from standard, boasting attractive modern additions. Contributing to its unique visual interest was a centrally located structure containing a space which congregants used. Its tiled, domed roof had been topped with a Star of David mounted on a pole. A then-cutting-edge feature of the building was the Art Nouveau and Secessionist elements applied to the exterior and places in the sanctuary. Yet, even in 1911, few of the assimilated Goerlitz Jews worshiped there.
Only 300 Jews remained in Goerlitz when the Nazis set the synagogue ablaze on Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938. Thanks to the local firemen who disobeyed orders and extinguished the fire, it was the only synagogue in Saxony to survive. Farm animals roamed the damaged structure for years after the war, but eventually the East German government repurposed the space for public events. Genuine preservation efforts only began after the 1991 reunification. Now, thanks to efforts by Goerlitz’s 30-member Jewish community, its Christian groups and civic associations, the synagogue has been brought back to life. Known as the Cultural Forum Synagogue Goerlitz, it’s intended for both worship and performing arts, and its July 2021 opening was celebrated with a stellar concert, attended by German political leaders, clergy and other notables. Speakers included the prime minister of Saxony, Rabbi Akiva Weingarten of Dresden and the Mayor of Goerlitz.
Millions of euros for the 30-year project came from government grants, foundations and several anonymous philanthropists. Alex Jacobowitz, a cantor and president of the Goerlitz Jewish community, will pay to re-enforce the domed roof to support the Star of David. Parts of the synagogue, including the Exodus verse formerly inscribed on the lintel over the entryway—“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them”—intentionally remain in disrepair to evoke Kristallnacht. Jacobowitz, the historian of the Goerlitz Synagogue, has observed: “I have always found it important that the synagogue has continued to show its scars …”
As much as London was pivotal to the history of Zionism for its important Jewish leaders and as the location of the signing of the Balfour Declaration, the city of Manchester is even more connected with the genesis and the fruition of this important event. In the years before World War I, Zionist leader and German émigré Chaim Weizmann, teaching at Manchester University, served as the first president of the city’s constantly growing B’nai B’rith lodge. Its members—both emigres that had come to join him, and wealthy and influential merchants and manufacturers native to this industrial city—were all supporters of Weizman’s mission, the creation of a Jewish homeland. More than any other Jewish leader in England, it was his efforts that culminated in the signing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
Although Manchester’s reputation as a working-class city held true for many decades, gentrification has been impacting its changing neighborhoods. Dating to 1874, its oldest synagogue, located in a warehouse enclave, served as the Manchester Jewish Museum.
Funded by a two-year Capital Development Project, the synagogue/museum was restored and the museum space was expanded into a newly constructed adjacent building, highlighted by an attractive exterior fabricated in weather resistant, patinated steel. The eight-pointed star motifs punched into the façade, intended to welcome people of all backgrounds into the museum, also serve to emanate shafts of light from the museum’s interior. Its weathered, shed-like appearance harmonizes with neighboring warehouse buildings.
In addition to revamped exhibits and innovative spaces including a kitchen for interactive cuisine demonstrations, the museum has partnered with the 2021 Manchester International Festival to commission Turner Prize-winning British artist Laure Prouvost’s “The long waited, weighted gathering,” a site-specific installation fusing video, sound, and fine and decorative arts together with found objects from the synagogue and textiles woven by Manchester’s women congregants, which can be viewed this summer in the women’s gallery. Prouvost wanted her vision to meld to “the beautiful textures and architecture, to the history of this amazing place. I was inspired by the ideas of ceremonies and rituals that we bring from histories.”
The effects of the May 2021 continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been felt around the world. With the rise of criticism against the Jewish state, a predictable wave of anti-Semitism has followed. Beyond the anonymous fringe population that spouts anti-Semitism unabashedly on the internet, a new population has emerged; it is made up of individuals who have a face—my friends, my classmates and even my teachers—and who are hiding behind Israeli politics to marginalize the Jewish community.
I had already left campus when the new wave of anti-Israel “activism” hit social media. I opened my profiles on Instagram and Twitter, and overwhelmingly found my peers reposting one-sided infographics about the conflict on their stories. Then came a very popular addition to posts: “From the river to the sea,” the Hamas terrorist group’s motto which strives for not only the eradication of Israel, but also of all Jewish people. The virality of the subject quickly turned from Pro-Palestinian to anti-Jewish, from rewriting the history of the state’s establishment to comparing Israel’s discrimination of Palestinian citizens to the Nazi regime committing the atrocities of the Holocaust.
I asked some Jewish college students for their own perspective on the issue, as well as their experience of online anti-Semitism translating to its presence at their schools. Jake Egelberg, a sophomore at Northeastern University, responded “Why should Israel be wiped off the map for discriminatory policies, while countries like Yemen, Iraq, Myanmar, China and Sudan are actively committing genocides?” and shared his own experience after publicly supporting the Jewish state.
Jake writes for his school newspaper and published an op-ed in March 2021 titled “The anti-Semitism of the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement” for the Huntington News. The article was an elaboration of the criticism that the BDS movement singles out Israel’s political record as the world’s only Jewish state, and thus promotes anti-Semitic messaging. Jake faced a strong backlash on his posts sharing the story, including personal attacks. Huntington News elected to take down its promotions of the article on twitter, a first for the paper despite controversies surrounding other pieces going against mainstream opinions at the university.
“I worry which of the strangers around me thinks I support genocide. I fear that one day, one of these people will act on their belief,” he wrote in response to his situation. I share his worry. With the exponential rise of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide, these fears are not unfounded. Just a few weeks ago, a rabbi was stabbed outside a Jewish school by a college student in Brighton, a neighborhood west of the Northeastern campus in Boston.
It is still difficult for me to understand why all these people—people I know—continue to support a biased narrative that encourages anti-Semitic hate crimes while excusing the violent actions and violations of the other parties to the conflict. I’ve come to question whether I should be worried about going back to campus in the fall as a Jewish student. Can I mention to an acquaintance that a large part of my family was born, raised and lives in Israel? Should I hide the fact that I am hoping to do a Birthright trip to the country with my Hillel Chapter in the spring?
With the rise in tensions and violence toward Israel and Jewish people in the past months, it is unclear what the return to campus means for Jewish students like me. With universities like Pomona College beginning to refuse funding to mainstream Jewish organizations like Hillel and Chabad, safe spaces for our community on college campuses are actively threatened. Whether or not individual Jewish students support Israel, the criticisms against the state affect all of our safety and security at schools across the country. And the extent of student activism for minority groups seems to end at the Jewish community, right when it’s needed most.
Dianne Strauss works as a summer intern with B’nai B’rith International. She attends Johns Hopkins University as a rising Sophomore.
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.
(June 27, 2021 / JNS) Young adults fresh out of school understand the anxiety associated with taking a test. The amount of preparation can be daunting. But when it comes to taking a test about anti-Semitism, Judaism or Israel, how much do young adults really know these days? I framed this question at the first B’nai B’rith Portugal European Young Leaders Program on June 21 at the new Oporto Holocaust Museum, the first such institution in the country.
The adults in the audience, young and older, certainly could relate to the universal pressures of taking an important test, whether their subjects were marketing, management or dentistry. But in a time when young adults generally are far less knowledgeable or savvy about such matters as Judaism and the Jewish state, one wonders more broadly how prepared the next generation is to handle the challenges facing them on college campuses or in the workplace, where Jews have felt pressures heaped on them recently by antagonizing and attacking anti-Israel/anti-Semitic forces.
Sadly, most students are woefully ill-prepared or ill-informed about such matters, leaving them vulnerable to believing whatever they are told by peers, and fearful as to what attacker may lurk around the corner. Perhaps students, armed with the truth, would be able to defend themselves.
Clearly the Jewish people have been tested through time. They have survived adversity through great civilizations, tyrants, impossible circumstances, expulsions, pogroms and gas chambers. Amid all of their wondrous achievements and successes, they have faced inexorable pain. Portugal witnessed 20 percent of its population evaporate in 1497 from the Inquisition and expulsion of Jews, and Europe lost at least 33 percent of its Jews from 1933 to 1945.
For thousands of years, Jews have absorbed being demonized, persecuted and subjected to blood libels that stripped them of their humanity. The defense in common libel matters of American jurisprudence is the truth.
So, the young adults in Porto’s Holocaust museum this day were advised that the truth is readily available, and that they must pursue it to counter—and hopefully reduce—damaging falsehoods. The test for which they must prepare will require time and commitment for study. They must have the mentorship and guidance of an older generation, thus making this process something that is delivered from generation to generation.
The Porto conference taught them about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism from Ambassador Luis Barreiros, Portugal’s delegation head to the IHRA committee. The definition has been adopted by more than 30 countries, universities, organizations, large businesses, even premier sports leagues.
However, some groups, even Jewish groups, have considered it “not perfect,” as it is “misunderstood and misused” because of its support for the existence and defense of the State of Israel. “But it is the best tool,” Barreiros said, “to fight the scourges of anti-Semitism, so let’s use it.”
He added that the definition helps identify warning lights and signs against Jew-hatred. “Half-truths are more dangerous than a full lie,” he said.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, whose organization endorses and promotes the IHRA definition, praised the measure and actually participated in the earliest meetings in Stockholm during the late 1990s.
“Israel’s enemies and those who seek to undermine it consistently hide behind the “free speech” argument,” Mariaschin said. “Theirs is surely not critical opinion; it is the equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater. Their language is that of incitement. When one says that Israel is an ‘apartheid state,’ that it engages in ‘state terror’ and that its security fence is akin to the Warsaw Ghetto, they are deliberately engaging in what amounts to anti-Semitic smear tactics.”
Other red lines crossed, Mariaschin said, included a U.N. resolution in 1975 equating Zionism with racism, suggesting that if you are a Zionist—someone who identifies Israel as the eternal homeland for the Jewish people—then you are a racist. The effects of that resolution are very much with us today. He said that Jews need to re-double efforts at educating ourselves about Jewish and Israeli history to counter the verbal assaults.
“We live in a time when historical context is deemed expendable,” Mariaschin said. “We mustn’t allow those who seek to delegitimize and demonize Israel to selectively put forth wildly biased narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s why it is vitally important to know our own history, if we are to push back effectively in a time when Israel is demeaned daily, especially on social media.”
Raphael Gamzou, Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, reminded the audience that Israel was bombarded mercilessly with “moral equivalency arguments” in assessing responses to thousands of missiles raining down on Israel from Gaza.
“I never claim Israel is a flawless country, but the missile attacks were such a flagrant violation, and to follow up with comments about moral equivalency is outrageous,” he said. “There is no more moral army in the world than the IDF. Our enemies are going to complain that we have a weapon that not only keeps rockets from falling on its own people, but keeps rockets from falling on Palestinians. We wish we didn’t have to protect ourselves from missile attacks, but we do. This is war.”
Asked about the prospects of another Holocaust against the Jews and the rise of anti-Semitism, he said, “With Israel as a thriving nation, I see no option for another Holocaust against the Jewish people,” he said. “We will have to continue developing Israel as a moral and democratic country to encourage additional agreements, such as the Abraham Accords. And we will need to continue building bridges between the Diaspora and a healthy Israel. As for anti-Semitism, we’ve faced it for thousands of years, and I’m afraid it is here for the long haul … unfortunately.”
Jews will continue to be tested, so you are urged to study Jewish and Israel history very diligently. Only with such preparation will today’s and tomorrow’s generations be able to survive.
The conference concluded the next day with roundtable discussions and congratulatory messages from Porto community benefactors Michael Kadoorie and Jacob Safra.
Read President Kaufman's analysis on JNS.org.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
Two talented individuals from Israel channel their response to the natural world as the inspiration for their works of art. Raised on a kibbutz in Northern Israel, Zemer Peled is a maker of fine and decorative art who draws her imagery from the complex anatomies of fossils, flowers and marine life. French-born architect Ben Gitai incorporated raw materials from the Negev Desert to design and construct a shelter/observatory there intended for the contemplation of the night sky.
Dangerous, playful, brutal, sharp, soft, silky, furry, fibrous—all of these seemingly contradictory qualities can be used to describe Peled’s wildly colorful porcelain objects, plates and sculptures. In her hands, the shards, that fragment of glass or pottery unearthed at the archeological digs she often witnessed as a child, are transformed and enervated, becoming petals, leaves, tentacles, stems and thorns imbued with more than a hint of the animal or the human. From all this aliveness will eventually come decay and its aftermath, regeneration, a theme which Peled is constantly exploring.
In Peled’s temporary site-specific installations, process becomes inseparable from the environment that she envisions. For “Suspension” (2017), commissioned by the North Dakota Museum in Grand Forks, the artist built up dense tangles of tendril-like porcelain skeins and arranged them as cascading “spills” on the walls and near the ceiling of the space. The resulting effect of lightness and delicacy was an illusion that deceptively masked the precarious nature of the resulting constructions, all of which were in danger of toppling from their own weight. That the experience of “Suspension” was as ephemeral as music was demonstrated during a concert by Peled’s brother and collaborative partner, cello virtuoso Amit Peled, profiled in October 2018 during his concert “Journey with My Jewishness,” which was performed in the same space.
Peled studied at the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem and obtained a degree from London’s Royal College of Art. She is now based in the United States.
Words conveying the essence of Gitai’s work might include “transformative,” “elemental” and “pure.” He heads a team of architects and designers in Haifa and Paris who assume an interdisciplinary approach to the inside and outside of a space, conceived as a total aesthetic entity, and which is also mindful of the heritage and work of local artisans. These projects, according to Gitai, invite “us to think beyond the traditional frames of architecture, landscape and building models. This supposes us to be open to new perceptions of know-how and technologies that rely on life models, that is to say on exchanges between materials and their elements…”
Just large enough to hold two occupants, Landroom, commissioned by the municipality of Mitzpe Ramon, is the name of his 20-square-foot shelter/observatory in the Negev. Distinguished by an austerity, almost a naturalness, which seamlessly blends the structure with its environment, the building seems to have emerged organically from desert sand and rocky terrain at its location to the west of the Mitzpe Ramon Crater. It is made from “rammed earth,” a moistened mixture of sand, stone and other elements—which were taken from the Mitzpe Ramon Crater—that is forced into a mold.
Landroom has been situated to provide shade throughout the day, while its circular interior and roof opening offers an optimal view of the sky. Aside from the built-in bench, the only embellishment is a stone bell suspended from the top of the window, whose ring functions as an accompaniment to the sound and sensation of the blowing wind.
In recognition of the still-innovative thinking of Frank Lloyd Wright and other leaders of the early 20th century Prairie School, the Jaffa Roof House, completed by Gitai and his associates in 2020, envisions the surrounding land and sea views of the ancient port city as integral components of the apartment’s interior. Strategically placed glass windows and multiple balconies “create an in & out spatial experience, where the outdoor merges with the indoor to create a unique flow based on light and nature.” Both the exterior and interior of the apartment are constructed with soil, straw and lime plaster—building materials which were “sourced from the local area” and which continue to be associated with Jaffa’s history.
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