JNS - Growing Chorus of Leaders Calls for Punitive Action against Omar for Continued Anti-Semitic Tropes
JNS.org cited B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin's response to Rep. Ilhan Omar's continued use of anti-Semitic tropes in her criticisms of Israel.
In response to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s latest anti-Semitic tweets, some groups have already called for official action against her by the U.S. House of Representatives, similar to that against Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) over his remarks on white nationalism.
On Sunday, Omar accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest pro-Israel lobbying organization, of paying members of Congress to back Israel.
“Anti-Semitism in any form is unacceptable, and it’s shocking to hear a Member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money,’” said Rep. Elliot Engel, in a statement Monday. Engel is also the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which Omar sits on.
Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.) called on House Democratic leadership to condemn Omar.
“As Members of Congress, we are deeply alarmed by recent rhetoric from certain members within our Caucus, including just last night, that has disparaged some members and called into question their loyalty to our nation,” they said in a letter. “We urge you to join us in calling on each member of our Caucus to unite against anti-Semitism and hateful tropes and stereotypes.”
“In recent weeks, we have had conversations with multiple members of our Caucus who share our concerns about this rhetoric; we have also raised these concerns with Democratic leadership,” they added. “We must speak out when any Member—Democrat or Republican—uses harmful tropes and stereotypes, levels accusations of dual loyalty, or makes reckless statements like those yesterday.”
House Democratic leadership responded and labeled Omar’s “anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” as “deeply offensive” and called on her to “immediately apologize for these hurtful comments,” but fell short of calling for her to be censured.
“Anti-Semitism must be called out, confronted and condemned whenever it is encountered, without exception,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján, Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries and Caucus vice chair Katherine Clark in a statement.
“We are and will always be strong supporters of Israel in Congress because we understand that our support is based on shared values and strategic interests,” they continued. “Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share.”
“As Democrats and as Americans, the entire Congress must be fully engaged in denouncing and rejecting all forms of hatred, racism, prejudice and discrimination wherever they are encountered,” they added.
Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, Democratic Majority for Israel, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, the Zionist Organization of America and B’nai B’rith condemned Omar’s latest anti-Semitic remarks.
“We call on the House leadership to take immediate action, so that the message is clear: Anti-Semitism will not be tolerated,” said ADL CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt.
“Unfortunately, making insensitive statements toward the Jewish community is not new for Rep. Omar,” he continued. “These tweets are part of a disturbing pattern of behavior that must end. The congresswoman needs to understand that these comments promote dangerous stereotypes and are hurtful to her Jewish constituents and Jewish Americans throughout the country.”
The ZOA called for punitive action against Omar.
“These tweets below from Rep. Ilhan Omar, along with several comments that she has made over the years, are pure, unadulterated, evil, frighteningly dangerous anti-Semitism,” said ZOA national president Mort Klein.
“The Zionist Organization of America calls on House Democrat leadership to (i) immediately remove Rep. Omar from her committee assignments; and (ii) call an immediate vote on Rep. Lee Zeldin’s H.Res 72, rejecting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred in the United States and around the world,” he continued.
“We call on the House leadership to publicly rebuke Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for her anti-Semitic tweets implying pro-Israel lawmakers are paid by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,” said B’nai B’rith international president Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Dan Mariaschin. “Members of Congress are pro-Israel because the constituents they represent, like Americans across the country, overwhelmingly support the Jewish state.”
“Her anti-Israel stance is merely political cover for her anti-Semitic beliefs,” they added.
Mark Mellman, president and CEO of Democratic Majority for Israel, said: “Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent statement reveals both woeful ignorance and flagrant bigotry. America’s long-standing support for Israel reflects shared interests, shared values and the wishes of the majority the American people.”
He added that “by suggesting pro-Israel views are paid for, Congresswoman Omar has driven headlong into the gutter, slandering America’s pro-Israel community and the vast majority of her colleagues of both parties, in the House and the Senate, who back a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”
“Rep. Ilhan Omar’s decision to publicly repeat an anti-Semitic trope suggesting that Jewish money is directly correlated with political influence is deeply offensive and painful,” said JDCA executive director Halie Soifer. “At a time when anti-Semitism is increasing at home and abroad, it is vital that members of Congress speak out against bigotry in all its forms, and not repeat hateful conspiracy theories and tropes targeting any one religious or ethnic group. We have repeatedly condemned [U.S. President] Donald Trump and other Republicans for condoning and encouraging anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of discrimination, and we hold all public officials to the same standard.”
On Monday afternoon, Omar apologized: “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.”
“We have to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity,” she continued. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
“At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry,” added the congresswoman. “It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.
In this op-ed for the Times of Israel, B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin delves into the distressing history of dual-loyalty tropes peddled by Rep. Ilhan Omar in her comments about Israel.
As an American Jew, it is more than distressing to watch the congressional gymnastics surrounding US Rep. Ilhan Omar’s charge that those who support Israel are disloyal to the United States.
She’s not the first member of Congress to make such a charge this year. It didn’t take long into her first term for Rep. Rashida Tlaib to launch her own classic anti-Semitic canard, only four days after being sworn in. Said Tlaib, “They forgot what country they represent.”
Questioning the loyalty of American Jews is indeed an old tactic of anti-Semites, but the chutzpah of Tlaib and Omar, with their message amplification through social media, is a deep cause for concern. That these words tumbled out from members of Congress only serves to legitimize the use of such language not only by confirmed anti-Semites, but by others who will be drawn in by their slightly-veiled dog-whistle rhetoric.
Make no mistake. This is not about criticism of Israel. The worst thing you can say to us, after our experience in this land over three centuries, is that we have no attachment to it.
As a youngster, I remember my parents discussing the charge, being made in the 1960 presidential campaign, that John F. Kennedy should not be elected because he would owe his loyalty to the Vatican. What Kennedy was subject to resonated loudly in our community because of our own experience of being on the receiving end of such tropes.
I never thought, nearly two decades into the 21st century, and after the presence of Jews in North America for 365 years, that we would have to remind the likes of Omar and Tlaib and those in their corner, of the great contributions that the Jewish community has made to this country. Jews have fought in every one of this country’s wars; indeed, more than 250,000 did so in World War I (of whom 45,000 were immigrants) and 500,000 in World War II, a proportion far above our numbers in the population.
In science, medicine, law, academia, entertainment and so many other fields, you will find Jewish names amongst those who have given so much to their fellow citizens. And, yes, we actively participate in our political process, an opportunity denied those who came before us from some of the darker recesses of Europe and elsewhere.
These recent remarks from members of Congress are not uninformed comment, or a slip-of-the-tongue. I have personally heard foreign diplomats, some government officials and even some clergymen refer, in conversation about Israel, to “your country.” Oftentimes, a tactful reminder that “America is my country, but we are strong supporters of Israel” is enough to clarify the situation. We are identified with Israel, and it is possible that among some, there is confusion, since most of these folks do know we are Americans. But Tlaib’s and Omar’s intention was not only to injure Israel’s standing in Congress, and in the country, but to castigate Jewish loyalty as well.
The eminent jurist Louis D. Brandeis understood this issue early on. In a speech delivered in 1915, Brandeis said, “Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with Patriotism, Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent. A man is a better citizen of the United States for also being a loyal citizen of his state…every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement in Palestine…will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so. There is no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry.”
Two years before that, in 1913, my mother — then a 12-year-old immigrant from Lithuania — was asked to speak at a celebration for the new building of Bangor, Maine’s Congregation Beth Israel, representing the young people of the community. In her remarks, quoted in the Bangor Daily Commercial, she said: “Our purpose is to help once more uplift the Hebrew flag, without wishing in any way, to detract from the greatness of, or letting it in any way, affect our allegiance to, the Stars and Stripes.”
Indeed, that is the American way. Ethnic Americans — Irish, Greeks, Italians and so many others — hold strong ties to ancestral homelands. Those connections are not just cultural; in support of close bilateral ties with the United States, these communities often lobby Congress, take out advertisements online and in print, mount demonstrations and sponsor parades and celebrations marking annual national days and other important dates on the calendar. That they can openly and actively engage in such activity is what has separated the United States from the rest of the international community.
The good news is that most Americans understand this, and see it as not only normal, but a valued part of our lives as Americans. The not-so-good news is that, to borrow a line from the Passover Haggadah, “in every generation there are those who rise against us.” By bringing the bilge of dual loyalty to the surface, Omar and Tlaib and their backers have already signaled an interest in doing all they can to demonize Israel and those who support it, and especially to mark those supporters as disloyal to our country.
To say that with regard to anti-Semitism, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” would be to minimize what is happening. That more than 350 years since Jews arrived on these shores, we still must deal with a dual loyalty charge, and nearly 75 years after the Holocaust, we are seeing a dramatic increase in anti-Semitism in the continent which saw the greatest tragedy to befall our people, clearly demonstrates how important it is that we substantially increase our efforts to beat back the virus of hatred in the 21st century.
That it took days to formulate what should have been a simple resolution condemning such egregious language speaks to how little those who should know better have learned about us — and about the story of America as a nation of immigrants, which has given all of us the right to love our country and to celebrate our own unique origins.
Op-Ed by CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in The Hill - 40 Years of Iranian Threats against Israel and Few Pay Any Attention
B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin wrote the following op-ed in The Hill about the Iranian regime's unrelenting legacy of flagrant anti-Semitism and calls for the elimination of Israel.
Last month a conference in Warsaw brought together high ranking officials from 60 countries, called to discuss the current chaos in the Middle East, and to zero in on the threat posed to the region by the regime in Tehran.
This year, as Iran observes the 40th year of its revolution, its geostrategic objectives remain unchanged. But one other constant that has been in place since the fateful day that a triumphant Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini left France for Tehran is Iran’s incessant call for the elimination of Israel.
It didn’t take long for the regime in Tehran to send its message on this subject. I was involved in efforts in 1979 and 1980 to save the lives of Iranian Jewish leaders Habib Elghanian and Albert Danielpour, both of whom were summarily executed because of contact with Israel and Israelis. Among the charges against Elghanian was “friendship with the enemies of God;” against Danielpour it was working to form “the Zionist government in Israel.”
Over these four decades, hardly a day has passed without threats against Israel. The level of vitriol has remained essentially the same over this period, spouted by religious and military leaders at the highest level.
There was former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “As the Imam said, ‘Israel must be wiped off the map,’” delivered in a speech to a “World Without Zionism” conference in 2005.
This past June, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel a “cancerous tumor,” which “must be eradicated,” a favorite theme he has used for years. In August Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, in remarks at an Al-Quds Day rally, organized each year as an anti-Israel-fest, said that “the life of the Zionist regime was never in danger as it is now.”
Mohsen Rezaee, who formerly led Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatened last February that Iran would “level Tel Aviv” if Israel attacked Iran. And just a few weeks ago, another Revolutionary Guard commander, Brig. Gen. Yadollah Javani, announced that “we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa” should the United States attack.
Underscoring its verbal threats, Iran always makes sure to mark the sides of the missiles it tests with the threat “Israel Must Be Wiped Out.”
Iran’s demonization of Israel extends to Jews generally. For years the Iranian regime has sponsored a cartoon contest focused on Holocaust denial. A 2016 winning entry depicted an old-style cash register topped by the gates and tower of a concentration camp. The register drawer, with the words “Shoah Business” on the outside, was filled with cash, with the number 6,000,000 showing just above the drawer. The key to the register, fashioned into a Star of David, contained the words “B’nai B’rith.”
When the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev famously announced that “we will bury you,” at a 1956 gathering of Western ambassadors at the Polish embassy in Moscow, we took him seriously. To us, the Cold War was very much about Soviet nuclear capability and its desire to bring the West down. The West mobilized all its resources to meet the threat, led by NATO and a consensus among the world’s democracies that the Soviet threat must be met.
Today, Israel is the only country to be incessantly threatened with annihilation. There are numerous border disputes in the world between neighbors, and trade wars which flare up and die down. But where in the world, except for Israel, is any country’s major cities threatened with being razed, or its very existence called a “cancerous tumor?”
Some years ago, there was an attempt by leading Western legal figures to bring Iran to the International Court of Justice on the basis of the militant language against Israel, asserting its threats constituted “incitement to genocide.” That effort, which seemed to have stalled, should certainly be reignited.
In his State of the Union speech this year, President Donald J. Trump called out Iran when he said “We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ and threatens genocide against the Jewish people.” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley regularly castigated Iran on its threats to Israel.
Yet in the rest of what we used to call the civilized world, most seem not fazed in the least by Iran’s genocidal language. Some dismiss it as rhetoric for home consumption, and some just see it as Iranian bullying-as-usual, or as just “Israel’s problem.”
The United Nations Humans Rights Council will open its new session next week, and the question of the Iranian threats will not be on the agenda. Countries will simply look away, as many did three generations ago when similar language directed then at Jewish communities in Europe went unanswered. Not completely analogous, but close enough to cause us very deep concern.
Can it be that there are no leaders in the international community worthy of the name who will stand behind Israel? Will Israel have to continue to face these existential threats virtually alone?
Those who continue to swear by Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal) are whistling past the graveyard. The list of concerns about Iran is well known: the support for terrorism, the military build-up in Syria, the rockets shipped to Hezbollah, the theft of Lebanon’s sovereignty and the extension of malign influence in Iraq and Yemen.
The Iranian call for the elimination of Israel never seems to make that list. After all that history teaches us, what a verdict that is on the notion of decency and scruples in the international community.
The Warsaw gathering is an important development in the campaign to develop a consensus on the threat to the region, and beyond, from the Iranian regime. The genocidal talk emanating from Tehran should be placed high up on the agenda when these countries meet again. In the meantime, those who continue to cling to the JCPOA at the expense of all else should be ashamed of their indifference to Israel’s continually being on the receiving end of such hatred.
The Jerusalem Post interviewed B'nai B'rith International President Charles O. Kaufman regarding the decision by the United States government to advocate the severing of ties between German banks and accounts that support the BDS movement.
The US government, via its powerful ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, urged German banks this week to shut down accounts they hold on behalf of organizations that support the BDS campaign against the State of Israel.
“Germany’s Bundestag passed a resolution condemning the BDS movement and calling on the federal government to resolutely oppose it,” Grenell told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “German banks should therefore cut ties with all organizations linked to the BDS movement. Organizations and people that undermine Israel’s security should be condemned.”
Grenell, a prominent supporter of Israel, issued his statement in response to reports in the Post about an account in the German Bank for Social Economy that belongs to a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement organization and deemed to be antisemitic by the nearly 100,000 member Central Council of Jews in Germany.
Numerous Post queries to Harald Schmitz, the CEO of the Bank for Social Economy, have been ignored. The account in question belongs to the organization, Jewish Voice for a Fair Peace in the Middle East, and is used to raise funds to promote BDS. There has been a growing trend since 2016 among German banks such as Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Postbank, PayPal in Germany,and the Munich-based DAB bank to close the accounts of BDS entities. However, the Bank of Social Economy has defied calls since 2018 from the Israeli government and a host of German and American Jewish organizations to sever ties with the BDS group.
Pro-Israel organizations have called on a part-owner of the bank – the Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany (ZWST) – to divest from the bank and relocate its business to a bank not engaged in enabling BDS activity.
“No Jew and no one who has a sense of decency should do business with these unteachable people,” Daniel Killy, vice president of the German-Israel Friendship Society – one of Germany’s most important pro-Israel organizations – told the Post. “Show solidarity with Israel, cancel your accounts!”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper mirrored Killy’s words, and said that “it is extremely important that Jews and every Jewish institution take their business elsewhere.”
Berlin’s Jewish community has an account with the Bank for Social Economy, but its president, Gideon Joffe, refused to say whether the community plans to terminate its account. Sigmount Königsberg, the Berlin Jewish community’s representative to combat antisemitism, punted questions to the ZWST, which also refused to respond.
The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Mort Klein, told the Post that “especially in light of Germany’s monstrous history of genocide against the Jews, one would expect a German bank to absolutely refuse to deal with a BDS group whose official goal is destruction of the Jewish state. We urge that all refuse to do business with this bank until this bank’s policy is changed.”
“We are long past theoretical discussions, with evidence overwhelming and beyond dispute, that BDS is an antisemitic movement that promulgates hate and has direct links to terrorist organizations,” said Arsen Ostrovsky, executive director of the Israeli Jewish Congress. “Given the painful history of German banks in the past, including in the [enabling] of crimes committed during the Holocaust, no German financial institution should today in any way be aiding and abetting BDS groups by providing financing in order to enable them to promote the boycott of the Jewish state and Jewish institutions.”
Charles Kaufman, president of B’nai B’rith International, told the Post, “Israel is a diverse society, a free-market economy, an entrepreneurial wonderland. Why would a bank, even one claiming to be a socially moral one, want to do business with a group that opposes such a robust social and economic environment? Surely the bank understands that BDS fails to contribute to peace. It is economically perilous to Palestinians, as the tactic merely works to coerce businesses operating in West Bank industrial parks to close, costing countless jobs to people who cry out for employment.”
JTA cited the press release sent by B'nai B'rith International in response to anti-Semitic floats having been used in a parade in Aalst, Belgium.
The mayor of the Belgian city whose annual parade featured puppets of Jews and a rat atop money bags defended the display, telling the local media that “In Aalst it should be allowed.”
Christoph D’Haese told the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper that “it’s not up to the mayor to forbid” such displays, and that “the carnival participants had no sinister intentions.”
Jewish groups and international organizations including the European Commission condemned Sunday’s float at the Aalst Cranaval.
“It is unthinkable that such imagery is being paraded on European streets 70 years after the Holocaust,” a spokesperson from the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, told reporters on Tuesday, according to Het Laatste Nieuws.
Also Tuesday, B’nai B’rith International issued a statement saying the organization “is disgusted with the anti-Semitic puppets” that were on display. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Shimon Samuels, wrote to a Belgian Cabinet minister saying that his group is “sickened” by the display.
The float, titled “Shabbat Year,” was prepared by the Vismooil’n carnival group. It featured two giant puppets with sidelocks and streimels, hats favored by some Orthodox Jews, in pink suits. One is grinning while smoking a cigar. That puppet has a white rat on his right shoulder. Both puppets are standing on gold coins and have money bags at their feet.
On a wheeled platform directly behind the float, several dozen people dressed like the puppets danced to a song about full coffers that are “Jewishly beautiful” and about “getting extra fat.”
The annual carnival featuring the display was added in 2010 to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO. The organization has not replied to numerous critical questions about the Aalst event on social media and on Tuesday had not issued any statement on the subject.
A spokesperson for the carnival group told a blogger last month that the display was meant to address how “everything has become so expensive.”
The carnival group’s president did not immediately reply to a request for comment by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Vismooil’n created the display as its 2019 theme for the Aalst carnival, the local edition of celebrations that take place throughout parts of Europe and Latin America annually in anticipation of Lent, the 40-day period before Easter. Participants prepare floats and dance routines, parading them through town on Carnaval.
In 2013, a different group designed a float resembling a Nazi railway wagon used to transport Jews to death camps. The people who designed the float, known as the FTP Group, marched nearby dressed as Nazi SS officers and haredi Orthodox Jews. A poster on the wagon showed Flemish Belgian politicians dressed as Nazis and holding canisters labeled as containing Zyklon B, the poison used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews in gas chambers in the Holocaust. UNESCO condemned that display.
The Montclarion published an interview with artist Marley Goudie, a student at Montclair State University who won B'nai B'rith International's 2018 Diverse Minds Writing Challenge in the Southern New Jersey region.
Marley Goudie is a freshman illustration and animation major at Montclair State University. She is an artist who specializes in drawing. She has also published a children’s book with original artwork and writing. Goudie spoke with The Montclarion Editor-in-Chief Haley Wells about her artistic inspirations and her published book.
Q: How did you get into art?
A: I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember. I didn’t have cable when I was a kid, so I think I needed something to spend time on. My mom was an artist and my grandpa’s an artist, so I think it just kind of was something that came naturally.
Q: How would you describe your artistic style?
A: I like to use a lot of graphic lines and smooth lines and bright colors and things like that.
Q: What are usually the subjects of your art?
A: Definitely mostly people. I think they’re the funnest to draw because there’s so many things a person can do.
Q: What inspires your artwork?
A: I usually draw people, and I think that’s because I like people-watching. People will be doing something in the moment, and it’s kind of like a candid where they look like they’re having fun or it’s something they’re thinking. There’s a lot of interesting mannerisms a person can do, so it’s always interesting to draw a person because it can be new every time.
Q: What kind of writing do you do as well?
A: Well, the first thing I got published was a kid’s book. It was very lighthearted and had a simple message. I’m working on something that’s more of a comedy for [millennials and Generation Z] right now. It’s got, like, some darker themes but for the most part, it’s lighthearted.
Q: Can you describe the children’s book you published?
A: It’s called ‘Outside the Box.’ I did it for a scholarship for the B’nai B’rith [Diverse Minds Writing Challenge]. Basically, it’s a story about letting kids grow up playing with what they want to play with, whether it be stereotypically a boy or a girl’s toy. It’s important to their developmental time to find out who they are, and it’s not healthy if you just keep that down.
Q: Do you have any plans to publish more books?
A: Yes. Maybe not necessarily typed books and things like that, but more like web comics and graphic novels and things like that. Maybe more kid’s books because, obviously since I’m an artist and I like drawing pictures, I think that’s definitely something I want to have a lot of in whatever I write.
Q: How do you hope Montclair State will help further your artistic goals?
A: Montclair [State] has an access to a lot of computers and stuff, [which are] really helpful for learning animation and things. They have really top quality stuff that the professionals use in the real field, so I’m hoping that I get a chance to use the things and develop my skills before I go out into the real world so I have some experience.
Q: What are your plans for after you graduate college?
A: I want to try and live in New York City and work as a freelance artist or work as a storyboard artist under some kind of company that does movies or TV shows or something like that.
Q: Where can students view your work?
A: They can see it on Instagram. I have the start of a website, but most of the time I post on Instagram. I post under a pseudonym, @themetalhiro.
JBS reported on B'nai B'rith International's response to a report by the UNHRC report defaming Israel in the wake of 2018 violence at the border with the Gaza Strip.
In this article for New Hampshire Magazine, B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin recalls his memorable introduction to rock 'n roll via the classic song "Rock Around the Clock."
Just before we moved to Swanzey, New Hampshire, from New Jersey in 1955, one of my older sisters brought home a copy of “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets, which was played over and over on our second-hand Columbia 360 record player. It was my introduction to rock ‘n’ roll, and curiously pleasing to my 6-year-old ears.
We made the move when my parents bought a women’s clothing store on Central Square in Keene. We brought with us a 10-inch RCA Victor TV, but in the era before cable television, reception was poor, unless you had a serious antenna on your roof. We did have a trusty GE desk radio plugged in near our kitchen table, and I gravitated more to that than to the TV, notwithstanding it being, we’ve all later concluded, the golden age of television.
Before the move, my father bought that used record player in a fine wooden case, and a stash of used 78, 33 and 45 RPM records, covering the gamut from pop to show tunes to classical. My father’s tastes leaned more to opera and symphonies, but from that motley record collection I had my first and only course in music appreciation.
Occasionally, I’d buy new records at Beedle’s Music Center on Main Street, or at the Melody Shop, which was two doors away from my parents’ store. But it was that old collection of my father’s records that kept a musical hold on me.
As I got a bit older, I would put the old record player next to a Sears, Roebuck tape recorder my father had bought for me, and, together with one of my best friends, would make our own “radio programs,” playing records from our collection, and reading news and commercials from the Keene Sentinel.
Those programs led directly to our deejaying record hops at Monadnock Regional High School. Usually held on Friday or Saturday nights, we’d borrow equipment from the school’s audio-visual department, and records from a few of the students, one of whom seemed to purchase at least two or three new 45s a week.
While both of my sisters eventually gravitated to Calypso or to Viennese waltzes and classical piano music, I remained with rock. Our town had one radio station at that time, WKNE (for which I would later work as a disc jockey), but its format was Middle of the Road (MOR), featuring the likes of Patti Page, Jo Stafford, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. For the music I liked, I’d have to tune to Boston’s WBZ, or at night when the radio signals were better, to New York’s WABC. Later, Buffalo’s WKBW would be added to my list of 50,000-watt radio powerhouses that featured a Top 40 format.
For all the music that would follow, “Rock Around the Clock” remains, to me, the gold standard. From the “one, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock” opening, its driving syncopation, and its raucous blend of saxophone, bass and guitars, it was the perfect dance record. First recorded in 1953, it was re-released in 1955 in conjunction with its being on the soundtrack of the movie “Blackboard Jungle.” While critics and musicologists, professional and amateur, may debate which song actually spawned the rock ‘n’ roll age, Haley’s megahit could very well be the consensus choice.
I only recently learned that the Michigan-born and Pennsylvania-raised Haley had a Keene connection. For a brief time in the mid-1940s, he joined a western swing group called the Down Homers, and later formed his own group, the Range Drifters, that performed on WKNE. For a while, he was a disc jockey at the station. When I arrived at the station in 1966, the MOR format was still in place, and the Beatles era was into its seven-year run, played out in Keene on a competing station featuring a rock-only format. Haley and his contemporaries had been unceremoniously pushed aside, only to be re-discovered years later with the popularity of the TV show “Happy Days” and the motion picture “American Graffiti.”
I worked parts of six years at WKNE, on weekends, summer vacations and during the Christmas holidays. I even entertained the idea of making radio announcing a career, but the pull of public service moved me in a different direction entirely. I went to University of New Hampshire and received a degree in history (and did some announcing on WUNH on the side), and then went on to Brandeis University, where I received a master’s degree in contemporary Jewish studies.
With that, I embarked on a career in Jewish community relations, working for such organizations as the Jewish Community Council in Boston and the Anti-Defamation League. For the past 30 years, I’ve been at B’nai B’rith International, the oldest Jewish service organization in the US; the past 19 years as its CEO.
Today, I must have “Rock Around the Clock” on a dozen oldies compilations that I keep in my car to play on my way to work. Rather than sounding like a musical dinosaur, its incessant beat remains as fresh as it did the day my sister announced she had bought a new record that was all the rage. Sixty-plus years later and counting, it conjures up record hops and dancing with abandon to a new sound. Haley died too young, at the age of 55, in 1981, yet he lived long enough to see his infectious hit become a national musical icon.
The Jerusalem Post covered B'nai B'rith International's role along with several other Jewish organizations in presenting the European Union with the first-ever action plan to combat anti-Semitism.
The European Jewish Congress (EJC) has called on EU Member States to adopt in full the IHRA Working Definition on Antisemitism as part of a joint Action Plan to Combat Antisemitism on the continent.
As a steep rise antisemitism continues to plague the Europe, the EJC together with the American Jewish Committee’s Transatlantic Institute and B’nai B’rith International, have presented a first-ever action plan to combat antisemitism to the Council of the European Union and the EU’s Coordinator on combating antisemitism Katharina von Schnurbein.
This comes after the Council Declaration of December 6 on the fight against antisemitism and the development of a common security approach to better protect Jewish communities and institutions in Europe.
In November, CNN released a poll, which found that antisemitism was alive and kicking throughout Europe. According to the CNN survey, one in five said Jews have too much influence in the media and too much influence in politics, while more than a quarter of Europeans polled believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance. Seven countries were surveyed including Austria, Germany, the UK and Poland.
The document makes several recommendations to the EU and its Member States, which include using the IHRA Working Definition on Antisemitism “as a reference tool to better grasp all manifestations of contemporary antisemitism”, bettering its assistance to Member States “in providing hate crime training to law enforcement”, having closer cooperation with communities on security issues, and creating common guidelines “for countering antisemitism in education that will provide long-term positive effects for Jewish communities in Europe.”
Following the plan announcement, EJC president Dr. Moshe Kantor called the action plan “an excellent and detailed document which we hope the EU Council will adopt in order to make our communities safer and more secure.
“This is what we, European Jewry, require to reverse the disturbing trend of rapidly and horrifyingly increasing antisemitism across our continent,” exclaiming that this document is “our answer to hate and intolerance against Jews.
“If there is to be an end to the current deluge of antisemitism then it requires a holistic, strategic and forward-looking response,” Kantor emphasized.
Part of the plan also encourages the European Union to address antisemitism within its Human Rights Dialogues with third countries. “Regular and timely reporting and monitoring of antisemitism in third countries, especially where Jewish communities are under threat,” is needed to “help to increase awareness internally.”
It added that “strengthening the collaboration with Israel and the US in countering antisemitism worldwide” could play a large role, adding that “condemning systematically antisemitic remarks publicly at international forums such as the UN.”
Meanwhile, November’s CNN poll also found that one in twenty Europeans surveyed knew nothing or very little about the Holocaust, especially among those aged between 18 to 34.
Such concerns prompted the action plan to include suggestions that will ensure the EU and its Member States properly address Holocaust education and remembrance in the next MFF, and that “support for projects currently funded through the remembrance strand of the Europe for Citizens Programme is increased.”
With Holocaust denial also on the up, the proposal says that “every threat to the remembrance of the Holocaust, such as Holocaust denial and distortion, should be rigorously called out and academic research be encouraged. Implementation of the Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia should be strictly monitored in this particular aspect.”
Kantor explained that as is the case “with all other minorities, the Jewish community should have the right to define hatred against it and assist in addressing ways to end discrimination at all levels and in all manner of new and manifold methods.
“If our leaders are serious about combating antisemitism then we cannot allow any gaps or loopholes for discrimination and exclusion,” he said, adding that “the battle against hate and intolerance needs to take place in the political, educational, legal, law enforcement, judicial and diplomatic arenas.”
The Advocate covered the B'nai B'rith Mitzvah Makers and the annual Mardi Gras parade that they organize for medical patients.
The Touro Medical Plaza is a labyrinth of office doors, painted in soothing shades of blue and gray. But Suite 48, the office of Dr. Hilton Marx Title, stands out. It’s festooned with shimmery purple, green and gold garland and two tiny Mardi Gras flags. A narrow, vertical window offers a glimpse of the Carnival decor inside.
Title, a family dentist, is the chairman of the B'nai B'rith Mardi Gras Mitzvah Makers — a group of costumed revelers and musicians who parade through medical centers every year and hand out Carnival throws and king cakes to the patients, their families and the staff.
“We bring Mardi Gras to people that can't make it to Mardi Gras,” said Title, a trumpeter in the troop’s brass band.
The Mardi Gras Mitzvah Makers will celebrate the 40th anniversary of their hospital parade when they meet Sunday morning in the lobby of Touro Infirmary on Foucher Street, off Prytania. From there, they’ll follow a parade route that winds through the hospital’s rehabilitation floors, the nearby Curahealth Hospital on Coliseum Street, and HomeLife in the Gardens on Aline Street.
“The event is not just for the children and the patients, although they're the primary mover, but the staff at the hospitals. They truly appreciate us,” said Andrew Polmer, who co-chairs the group with Avrom Denn.
“Some of the patients we see don’t seem responsive; they can't communicate,” he said. “But their families are there, and they appreciate the break in the solitude of sitting by a loved one who's in a vegetative state, or recovering.”
The Mardi Gras Mitzvah Makers were formerly known as B'nai B'rith, Unit No. 182. B’nai B’rith is an international Jewish service organization based in Washington, D.C. The organization helped operate an Uptown home for orphans from the mid-1870s through the 1940s and continues to sponsor local volunteer projects.
Title began running the hospital parade in 2005, when B’nai B’rith leader Dr. Emil Koretzky left New Orleans. Soon afterward, the Carnival krewe — a group of about 40 people — began calling themselves the B’nai B’rith Mardi Gras Mitzvah Makers. Mitzvah — a Hebrew word — refers to a good deed. The group kept “B’nai B’rith” for historical perspective, Title said, noting that they welcome participants of all faiths.
The parades were initially held on the pediatric floors of Charity Hospital and later University Hospital, which flooded after Hurricane Katrina. The krewe briefly paraded through Children’s Hospital before moving to their present Uptown route in and around Touro Infirmary.
Producing the jamboree is a team effort, Title and Polmer agreed.
Paper Doll Promotions lends the group Mardi Gras costumes, similar to the satiny, sequined costumes worn by float riders. Haydel’s Bakery donates king cakes.
The members gather on parade day with a collection of Mardi Gras beads, plush toys and other trinkets.
“It's a nice way to reconnect with friends that we've known over the years,” Title said.
His favorite part of the event, however, is witnessing the joyful reactions coming from people within the crowd, and sharing their excitement. One interaction in particular stands out, Title said.
“There was an amputee patient in a wheelchair,” he recalled. “All he had was a stub, and that stub was beating to the music, as if that person was just dancing away. And to me, that just made everything so worthwhile.”
Polmer said part of the fun is surprising the health centers’ staff.
“All of a sudden, there's music, and there’s people dressed up in these Mardi Gras costumes," he said. "And there's king cake.”
Within minutes, employees from different parts of the hospital show up and join in, clapping and dancing to the live music. Doctors, nurses, administrators and janitors become part of the party, Polmer said.
“It’s really about bringing the spirit of Mardi Gras to everybody,” he added.
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