I had explained how caring about the people of our community and doing things that helped someone could be a profession and something that they and their families can do as volunteers. I also explained why we as Jews care about society because of something we call “tikun olam,” repairing our world.
We recently gave a similar challenge to leaders of B’nai B’rith at the 2016 Leadership Forum, held in Washington, D.C. We assembled a panel of experts who are the chairs and community leaders who deliver community programming year after year. They were given the task to describe in just five minutes their program and provide a take away to provide information on how it is done. The subject matter was diverse and each representative was able to deliver a message from their own heart and experiences and in record time. The time limit was to provide an “elevator speech,” about what can be said to involve people in what we do. The audience in that “elevator” or in your office or living room, is a potential participant, donor or member. If one can describe what a program or mission is all about in this short period, you have done justice to the cause and project you represent.
The content of this workshop was a diverse list of topics. Programs were presented to promote adult learning, provide opportunities for participation in activities such as sports and community service projects. It also described the Holocaust remembrance and awareness program, “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” held on Yom Hashoah. The programming is done each November for the annual observance of the anniversary of Kristallnacht, held in Latin America. They heard about the European Days of Jewish Culture, a vehicle to explore Jewish Culture across Europe. The secret to raising funds through community award dinners (recognizing community leaders and spotlighting B’nai B’rith) was shared. The audience also learned how the lodge and unit structure provides meaningful programming in many communities and how the Young Leadership Network is reaching out to young people with unique opportunities to participant in the B’nai B’rith agenda.
This week we were honored to hold a rededication for the Memorial to the Six Million that is located in the New York office of B’nai B’rith. It was originally dedicated 40 years ago, on November 10, 1976 by a Holocaust committee in New York comprised of representatives of three survivor groups: Leo Baeck Lodge and Chapter; Joseph Popper Lodge and Chapter; and the Liberty Lodge and Chapter.
The memorial is made of oak with the Hebrew words, Zahor (remember), and the first lines of the Mourner’s Kaddish (Yitgadal v'yit kadash sh'mei raba) engraved.
We chose Nov. 1 as the date of the rededication to recognize the anniversary of Kristallnacht (“the Night of Broken Glass”). A candle lighting ceremony was included to remember the 91 Jews who were murdered on that night, 78 years ago, and the 30,000 more who were arrested and sent to concentration camps where hundreds of them died. This gathering was the commitment of one generation to continue to support future generations with an allocation of funds for educational programming for young leadership. The rededication gift was made by the Lissner and Friedman families on behalf of the Leo Baeck Unit, which now also include the members of the Popper and Liberty lodges and chapters.
In B’nai B’rith, programs in observance of Kristallnacht, are held throughout the world, especially those coordinated by B’nai B’rith in Latin America. In 2012, it was hosted by Pope Francis, who was still a cardinal at the time, at the Cathedral in Buenos Aires.
In 2015, the attendees at the B’nai B’rith Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. participated in a commemoration ceremony in remembrance of Kristallnacht. After comments by B’nai B’rith leaders about their personal family experiences and the Holocaust, we shared an audio tape that featured the Children’s Choir of the synagogue of Worms, located in Worms, Germany. On the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht—the Memorial Committee of Jewish Victims of Nazism from Worms decided to reunite the members of the children’s choir in New York led by Cantor Kurt Wimer. Cantor Wimer was the cantor of the synagogue in Worms from 1933 until the synagogue was destroyed on the night of November 9, 1938. This tape was presented to B’nai B’rith in 1988 after that anniversary event, by a member of B’nai B’rith who was also in the choir to be added to our collection of Shoah awareness programming. The choir sang melodies of the Friday evening synagogue service they had sung as children and described their remembrances of Worms, and the events of Kristallnacht. They dedicated the tape to their families and the other children who were murdered during the Shoah. They knew they were leaving a legacy of memories behind, and a lesson for the world as the tape was also presented to the city of Worms for their archives.
Our candle lighting ceremonies and programming events exist to not just remember the victims of the Holocaust, but to also honor the survivors— eye witnesses who have shared the horror of their experiences with us to remind us to never forget. They rebuilt lives and communities determined to create a future for their children and grandchildren. We depend on future generations and the dedicated members of B’nai B’rith who bring community programming for Holocaust education and awareness to never forget. Educational and cultural programs held throughout the year, help us remember and honor the heritage of the Jewish people lost in the Holocaust and B’nai B’rith’s loss of 175 lodges in Europe.
At this time when our world sees rising anti-Semitism and attacks against Israel, we must remember that there was no Israel at the time of the Shoah. We need to credit the survivors of the Holocaust who helped build the Jewish homeland and their descendants that protect and defend Israel.
I have been fortunate to get to know many people while working for B’nai B’rith. It is a people organization, and I am especially grateful for the connection to the survivors and their families who have made B’nai B’rith a part of their lives. We have much to learn from them and their families. I recall one survivor, sharing what they do when they address students at high school programs. The survivor asks each student to hold her hand, so the students remember that they touched the hand of a Holocaust survivor. She tells the students that there will come a time that they will not be on this earth, and that the students must tell others that they touched a survivor who was real—that they heard and saw this eyewitness to the Holocaust.
Thank you to the Friedman, Lissner and members of the Leo Baeck Unit and all of the survivors and their families who are part of our B’nai B’rith family for touching our lives and making sure we remember.
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