The Times of Israel published B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin's op-ed on former Secretary of State Colin Powell's 2004 speech on anti-Semitism. Powell died on October 18, 2021.
One of the 21st century’s first important speeches on antisemitism by a world leader was given by then secretary of state Colin Powell, in April 2004.
The occasion was the second dedicated conference on antisemitism, organized in Berlin, by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a group of then-56 countries whose mission is to “work for security, peace and stability” for the billion people living in Europe, Eurasia and North America.
I served as an advisor to the United States delegation to the 2004 gathering, which was headed by former New York Mayor Ed Koch. The host was Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister; the conference was chaired by Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, who was the OSCE chairman-in-office, the title given to the foreign minister of the country that chairs the OSCE that year.
The Berlin Conference, as it became known, materialized only three years after the infamous UN Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, which turned into a week-long hate fest of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. The rhetoric which spewed forth at that meeting, including branding Israel an “apartheid state,” also led to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign which has incessantly sought, to this day, to demonize and delegitimize Israel and its supporters.
Powell had planned to speak at the Durban conference, but decided against attending when it appeared that it would spin out of control, which it did. In the interim, as the antisemitism pot began to boil globally, the OSCE, whose agenda includes human rights issues, announced its conference in Berlin, tying the focus on antisemitism to the place from which the worst crimes against the Jewish people originated. Said Powell in his opening remarks: “Berlin is a fitting backdrop for our meeting. The firestorm of antisemitic hatred that was the Holocaust was set here in Berlin.”
“Now, in the opening years of the 21st century,” Powell said, “we…have come to stamp out new fires of antisemitism within our societies, and to kindle lights of tolerance so that future generations will never know the unspeakable horrors that hatred can unleash.”
Powell decried the dramatic rise in antisemitism that was occurring within democratic nations, saying, “We must send the clear message far and wide that antisemitism is always wrong, and always dangerous.”
He stated that “we must not permit antisemitic crimes to be shoved off as inevitable side effects of inter-ethnic conflicts. Political disagreements do not justify physical assaults, against Jews in our streets, the destruction of Jewish schools, or the desecration of synagogues and cemeteries. There is no justification for antisemitism.”
And then, perhaps the most telling line in the speech: “It is not antisemitic to criticize the policies of the state of Israel. But the line is crossed when Israel or its leaders are demonized or vilified, for example by the use of Nazi symbols and racist caricatures.”
The “crossing the line” concept was groundbreaking. Hitherto, those who engaged in castigating Israel for racist policies had hidden behind the “legitimate criticism of Israel” fig leaf. Now, Powell had lifted a veil that would more easily reveal the antisemitism intentions of those who engaged in such rhetoric. The Berlin Declaration, issued at the conclusion of the conference basically incorporated the secretary’s very words: “…International developments or political issues, including those in Israel or in the rest of the Middle East, never justify antisemitism.”
Powell’s speech would help to pave the way for important advances in the fight against antisemitism. In 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a consortium of now-34 countries committed to programs of remembrance, research and education, adopted a “working definition of antisemitism.” It serves as an invaluable baseline for addressing classic antisemitic stereotyping and tropes, accusing Jews of collective guilt and dual loyalty, denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, or accusations that Israel is a racist endeavor.
In recent years, the definition has attracted the endorsement of an increasing number of nation states, provinces, non-governmental organizations, universities, sporting associations and others. After hundreds of years with no frame of reference to define this ancient hydra of hatred, the IHRA document has been, and will continue to be, an essential tool in combating it.
Powell closed his speech with a prescriptive for the future: “It is especially important that we instill in our children values and behaviors that can avert such calamities….Tolerance, like hatred, is learned behavior passed from one generation to the next unless the new generation is educated differently. Let tolerance be our legacy. May future generations of schoolchildren read that in the early decades of the 21st century mankind finally consigned antisemitism to history, never to darken the world again.”
Seventeen years on, no truer, or more prescient words, were spoken. Powell’s words are more relevant—and more needed—today, perhaps—then they were in 2004. Driven by social media, by doctrinaire politics and by extremists from the left, right and the Islamic world, antisemitism is seemingly veering out of control.
It’s good today to recall Powell’s speech, with its incisive analysis and his instinctive understanding of how to confront the problem. His voice may have been stilled, but the message he left is as meaningful as ever.
B'nai B'rith Letter to Marriott Regarding Anti-Semitic Treatment of Gil Ofarim and Marriott's Response
German Jewish singer Gil Ofarim was recently denied entry to the Westin Leipzig for wearing a Star of David. When Ofarim spoke out about his inexcusable, anti-Semitic treatment, we immediately sent a letter to parent company Marriott International. Read our letter to Marriott.
We appreciate Marriott's response to us and swift investigation into this horrific anti-Semitic act. Read Marriott's letter responding to us.
The Jerusalem Post quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin concerning the fall of Afghanistan and the strategic, regional uncertainty that it has unleashed – particularly with regard to Iran, the Palestinians and the future of the Abraham Accords.
WASHINGTON — US Jewish organizations were following closely as the drama was unfolding. Even before Thursday’s terror attack, it was already clear that the Afghanistan withdrawal will overshadow the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. But the deadly attack near the Kabul airport made it clear that the administration’s attention is currently elsewhere, as the President and his close staff monitored the developments from the situation room, postponing the meeting to a later timing.
William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, told The Jerusalem Post that “as we watch the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the alliance and partnership between the United States and the State of Israel is more critical than ever.”
Speaking about the meeting, Daroff said that he expected the two new administrations “to make significant progress on issues of mutual and fundamental importance to all Americans and Israelis during Prime Minister Bennett’s first US trip to Washington since assuming office — the first opportunity for the two leaders to meet face-to-face during their many years in public service.”
“These priorities include sharing knowledge and resources to counter the COVID-19 virus and its variants, how best to deter Iranian aggression and hold its nuclear program accountable and in check, and defending and promoting Israel’s security, peace, and stability,” he said.
Dan Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, told the Post that with the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and all of the strategic uncertainty that it has unleashed, “events would hopefully dictate a further closing of the ranks between Washington and Jerusalem on Iran and the Palestinian issue.”
“This is clearly no time for risk-taking with Iran, including sanctions relief, especially given the election of Ebrahim Raisi, Tehran’s ratcheting up enrichment and other aspects of its nuclear program, and its malign behavior throughout the region,” said Mariaschin.
“With regard to the Palestinian issue, the PA’s pay-for-slay program and its incessant efforts at the UN and elsewhere to demonize Israel suggests more business-as-usual in Ramallah,” he continued. “There should be no rush to proffer additional incentives to the PA —such as re-opening of the PLO office in Washington and certainly not re-opening of the consulate in Jerusalem — in the face of its zero-sum recalcitrance.”
“Finally, we hope that the success of the Abraham Accords will move the administration to proactively seek out, together with Israel, new partners for peace and cooperation in the region, to join those already committed to this camp,” Mariaschin said.
Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) CEO Halie Soifer released a statement on Thursday morning, saying that the meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Bennett is the first meeting between a new US president and new Israeli Prime Minister in more than a decade. “It ushers in a new chapter for the United States and Israel, and reaffirms the strength of our historic and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship,” she said.
“President Biden entered office with a longer and stronger record of support for Israel than any of his predecessors, and has been steadfast in his support for Israel’s security and right to self-defense,” she said.
She went on to say that The United States and Israel “share a common goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. With the future of a renewed Iran nuclear agreement remaining, at best, uncertain, we welcome close collaboration between the US and Israel in ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Jeremy Ben Ami, President of the progressive group, J Street, said in a statement on Thursday that “while the US builds common ground with the new Israeli government in a number of areas, we also must make clear that the “status quo” is too dangerous to accept.”
“J Street is urging President Biden to make clear in [the] meeting that a strong, enduring, bipartisan US-Israel relationship demands fidelity to our shared values of democracy, peace and respect for human rights,” said Ben Ami. “That means pushing for an end to harmful settlement expansion; an end to discriminatory evictions in East Jerusalem and demolitions in the West Bank; an end to the policy of perpetual occupation; an end to the twin erosion of Israeli democracy and Palestinian hopes for self-determination,” he said in a statement.
JNS and the Cleveland Jewish News covered the opening of a permanent exhibit on the historic Entebbe raid at the Jewish Museum of Oporto, which was inspired by a B'nai B'rith Portugal Jewish young adults conference in Oporto in June that B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin and President Charles O. Kaufman attended.
The Jewish Museum of Oporto in Portugal on July 19 opened a permanent exhibit dedicated to “Operation Thunderbolt,” Israel’s historic 1976 hostage-rescue raid in Entebbe, B’nai B’rith International announced.
“The [exhibit] is aimed at educating young Jews who lack awareness of the many counter-terrorism actions that the Israel Defense Forces and Mossad have undertaken in the past and are prepared to undertake in the future,” said B’nai B’rith Portugal president Gabriela Cantergi.
“The idea of building a room dedicated to the Entebbe operation arose out of an event on June 21 in Oporto that brought together young Jewish leaders of various nationalities, and their main concern was whether Israel could stop a new Holocaust in any country in the world,” she explained.
Israeli Ambassador to Portugal Raphael Gamzou said that the exhibit teaches “that neither distance, logistics nor any other challenge would ever prevent Israel from doing the utmost to save the lives of its citizens.”
B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin concurred.
“The hostage-rescue operation in Entebbe exemplified Israel’s strength and resolve,” he said, adding, “Dedicating an exhibit to that historic moment enables all visitors to the museum to know that Israel protects its people, wherever they may be.”
B’nai B’rith International President Charles Kaufman said the raid was not only the greatest hostage-rescue operation in Israel’s history, but also represents Judaism’s “commitment to the value of preserving life.”
“’Operation Thunderbolt’ in Entebbe ushered in a new high watermark of recognition and admiration for the Jewish state throughout the world,” said Kaufman.
“Operation Thunderbolt” was carried out on July 4, 1976, by an elite unit of Israeli commandos, led by Yonatan Netanyahu, at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Netanyahu, the brother of Benjamin Netanyahu—who would become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister—was killed during the operation.
The Jewish Museum of Oporto says that its mission “is to inform about the historic and cultural importance of the Jews in Portugal and of Portuguese Jews worldwide, with particular emphasis on the Diaspora of Sephardic Portuguese Jews and the history of the Jewish community in Oporto that is older than the foundation of Portugal.”
The Jerusalem Post covered B'nai B'rith International CEO Dan Mariaschin's remarks at the 7th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Israel.
WASHINGTON – The interparliamentary task force to combat online antisemitism released its interim report on Wednesday, calling on social media companies to act with transparency and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition for antisemitism. The interim report is based on the task force’s work between the fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021, and the full report is expected to be released in the upcoming month.
Members of the task force included lawmakers from Israel, the US, UK, Australia and Canada. Former Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh represented Israel, and representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), Ted Deutch (D-Florida), Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) and Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Florida) represented the US.
The task force provided four key preliminary recommendations. First, it called on social media platforms to enhance transparency regarding algorithms, including “how content is removed, what content is removed, and what tools are used to direct users to certain sites or redirect users away from hate or harm and provide regular quarterly reports on these issues.”
“It is important that social media actually be a marketplace of ideas,” they added.
Second, they called on legislators to consider ways to make the online space safer for all “that respects their respective national laws, including through an independent oversight body or regulatory process where appropriate.”
The task force also urged legislators and social media platforms to “recognize the danger of disinformation online, and that antisemitism is an example of other forms of disinformation online, and should therefore both be considered within the wider conversation of online extremism.”
“National, state [and] local governments, as well as social media providers, should adopt a clear definition of antisemitism, for without first defining a problem, we cannot combat it,” the report reads. “As the international consensus definition, established after 20 years of democratic processes and adopted by nearly 30 countries, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition is recommended.”
“Over the last several years, there has been an alarming increase in antisemitic incidents across the globe, with many originating online,” the report reads. “As social media posts do not stop at international borders, members of the national legislatures of Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States have come together across party lines to launch the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.”
They noted that the report outlines the activities of the Task Force, “including meetings with technology experts and civil society groups.”
“Establishing consistent messaging and policy from parliaments and legislatures around the world in order to hold social media platforms, including Twitter, TikTok, Facebook and Google, accountable” is the main objective, they added.
“We created this inter-parliamentary task force because online antisemitism is a global problem that demands global attention and action,” Deutch said in a statement. “We’ve wasted no time trying to better understand the breadth and complexity of online hatred and extremism and what should be done by countries and companies to respond. This report offers a summary of our work to fight antisemitism and raises many of the questions that we intend to address in the future.”
Meanwhile, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder addressed the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism on Thursday, and said that, “today’s fight against antisemitism is a war, no less consequential than the Six Day War or the Yom Kippur War.”
The forum, held in Jerusalem from July 13-15, was organized by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “Israel has become the new excuse for the old antisemitism. And our enemies have free rein because there has been no commensurate response from Israel,” he added.
B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin addressed the forum as well, suggesting five approaches to fight antisemitism, including encouraging the endorsement of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
More American Jews are calling Israel an ‘apartheid’ state, and big organizations are struggling to fight the trend
JTA quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in its coverage of the recent No Fear Rally in Washington, D.C. and the narrative around the state of Israel.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Sharon Nazarian has a theory about why a recent Washington, D.C., rally against antisemitism struggled to reach as large an audience as organizers had intended.
The Anti-Defamation League, for which Nazarian is senior vice president of international affairs, co-sponsored “No Fear: A Rally in Solidarity with the Jewish People,” along with several other of the largest American Jewish organizations. But it drew just 2,000 people on Sunday. By comparison, a rally in 2002 at the height of the second intifada drew more than 100,000 participants.
Nazarian says the traditional mainstream organizational focus on, and lionization of, Israel is becoming a liability and turning people away.
“This narrative about Israel needs to be a more realistic one, one that [brings] attention to the strengths of the state, and to its weaknesses,” said Nazarian, a philanthropist who is president of a family foundation that funds research into education. She added that the rally was put together on short notice in the heat of the summer, at a time that the coronavirus pandemic is still a factor.
Two days after the rally, a poll of U.S. Jews was published with some surprising findings: 25% agreed that “Israel is an apartheid state,” 34% agreed that “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is similar to racism in the United States” and 22% agreed that “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.” The numbers only climb among younger Jews: More than a third of those under 40 gave Israel the “apartheid state” label.
The numbers are striking given American Jewry’s longstanding and steadfast support of Israel, even throughout times of right-wing governments, such as the ones led for years by recent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that have pushed policies that clash with the majority of their individual beliefs. But American criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza over multiple military conflicts in the last decade — most notably in 2014 and May of this year — has steadily grown harsher, and this year saw an unprecedented public outcry, accentuated by several influential celebrities. Many feel more comfortable agreeing with influencers and others who label Israel’s military response to rockets fired from Gaza as “genocidal” — even if human rights experts caution that the term is an exaggeration in this case.
“What we’re missing, even the centrist organizations, is that for years now we’ve been hearing these sensationalist labels, and the reason we didn’t engage with it was because it was on the fringe, it was taboo, and we thought it would stay there,” Nazarian said. “What has happened now as a result of the May conflict is the real mainstreaming of this language.”
Another factor over the last year, since the murder of George Floyd, is the burgeoning awareness of racial disparities among Americans. Many of Israel’s critics have increasingly framed Israel’s conflict as one of racial injustice.
“We have to understand the building blocks, the framing,” Nazarian said. “And really the conflation of a lot of what we saw in the post-George Floyd kind of anti-racism activism that we as a Jewish community of America participated in.”
Many “No Fear” rally speakers explicitly conflated some of the harsher criticisms of Israel with antisemitism, and that disinclined some groups from accepting the invitation to participate, including the liberal pro-Israel lobby J Street.
“Rather than engage with young people and try to put the reality of the situation in context, and admit problems that are going on, they’ve chosen to deny that there are problems, and to attack those who raised them,” said J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami. “That has resulted in polarization. Rather than engaging people who have questions and criticism, they push them away.”
Those who did participate in the rally and responded to a request for comment on the Jewish Electorate Institute National Survey of Jewish Voters doubled down on their assertions and emphasized education, arguing that the Jewish community needed to do more to educate younger Jews about Israel — and to push back against characterizations that they said originated with its enemies.
“A main source of disconnect between segments of American Jews and the reality of Israel is deficient education,” David Harris, the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, one of the rally’s sponsors, said in an email.
Harris pointed to an AJC poll last month that showed only 37% of respondents described their Israel education growing up as “strong,” and to separate data showing that young people increasingly are getting their news from social media “where untruths are rampant,” he said.
“Clearly, greater efforts at educating American Jews, especially younger cohorts, about all aspects of Israeli society, and connecting them with their counterparts in Israel, are critical for ensuring nuanced understanding about Israel and strengthening Israel-Diaspora relations,” he said.
Harris pointed to AJC programs aimed at reaching Jews under 40. So did Adam Teitelbaum, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of North America’s Israel Action Network. JFNA was also a sponsor of the rally.
“The best way to combat this phenomenon is to meaningfully and authentically engage young Jews with questions such as ‘what do you think apartheid means?’; ‘what is the best path forward?’; and ‘how can Israel address real security concerns while still fighting for peace?’,” Teitelbaum said. “Young people recognize that the situation in Israel is complicated. We at JFNA and through the Israel Action Network know that when Jewish Federations and Israel educators approach young people’s questions with compassion and authenticity, they engage meaningfully and elect to become changemakers themselves.”
The removal of subtlety from the discourse is what kept Americans for Peace Now away from the rally, said its president, Hadar Susskind, even though his group was approached to participate.
“Organizations look at many members of the Jewish community, including particularly younger ones, and disregard them, or, you know, answer them in ways that are at best dismissive and at worse, call them antisemites,” Susskind said in an interview.
Susskind said his group rejected terms like “apartheid” and “genocide,” but said that energy dedicated to countering those terms would be better spent by the Jewish community grappling with Israel’s status as an occupier of Palestinian areas and people.
“The answer to this isn’t another college fellowship to show people the sandy white beaches in Tel Aviv, it’s ending the occupation,” he said.
Some of the “No Fear” Jewish organizations reflexively say that they accommodate criticism.
“The No Fear antisemitism rally included a number of voices and was meant to be a broad tent,” Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, the CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement. “Our movement is firmly and proudly Zionist and supportive of the State of Israel and its people. Our movement is also a big tent and includes many different voices on Israel, all coming from a place of love and support for Israel, even when critical.”
Daniel Mariaschin, the CEO of B’nai B’rith, another of the rally’s sponsoring organizations, called for the classic strategy of playing up Israel’s strengths.
“We must restore pride by re-doubling our efforts at Jewish education: formal and informal, biblical to contemporary, in classrooms and at the dining room table, at summer camps and on excursions to Israel,” Mariaschin said in an email. “Are we celebrating, enough, Israel’s many contributions to contemporary civilization in innovation, medicine, and agriculture, and its wide open, but sometimes fractious democracy?”
Crosstabs of the recent survey shared with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by the pollster, GBAO Strategies, show that among those who described themselves as emotionally attached to the country, a substantial minority buy into the harsh criticisms. Among those with strong ties to Israel, 19% agreed that Israel was an apartheid state.
Halie Soifer, the CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, one of the sponsoring organizations, said she was frustrated attending the rally to hear most of the speakers condemn antisemitism of the left. The survey showed most respondents, 61%, perceived the antisemitic threat to come from the right.
Soifer, whose JDCA is affiliated with the group that commissioned the poll, the Jewish Electorate Institute, said the emphasis on anti-Israel rhetoric from the left at the rally was emblematic of why the establishment was failing in its outreach to younger Jews.
“To the extent that those at the rally focused on antisemitism emanating from anywhere other than the right, it demonstrates a disconnect between the focus of some Jewish organizations and the priorities of American Jews,” Soifer said.
CEO and Director of U.N. Affairs Letter in Financial Times: U.N.’s Israel Bias Outlives Ban Ki-moon’s Exit
The following letter appeared in the Financial Times in response to former U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon's false claims against Israel.
Having engaged directly with former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on multiple occasions, we are stunned by the one-sidedness of his piece (Opinion, June 30).
Ban — who hails from South Korea, a democratic country under existential threat from a neighbour — shows exceptional indifference to the unenviable circumstances of another small democracy, Israel. He calls for a fresh approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but recycles blame of Israel alone for the situation.
Ban claims Israeli “apartheid” against Palestinians — but Israel is by far the most humane and pluralist country in the Middle East. Is any other regional actor so described?
Ban fails to even mention the unrelenting terrorism and threats facing Israelis. How can he cite Israel for preventing a two-state solution but not Palestinian fanatics like Hamas, openly sworn to Israel’s destruction?
At the end of his tenure, Ban finally chided the UN’s structural obsession with condemning Israel.
In fact, the U.N. targets Israel more than all other countries. Sadly, old habits die hard.
Daniel S Mariaschin
Chief Executive, B’nai B’rith International
David J Michaels
Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs
B’nai B’rith International
Washington, DC, US
The Jewish Link covered B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin's meaningful conversation with the Torah Academy of Bergen County's (NJ) Israel Advocacy Club.
The Jerusalem Post covered the upcoming dedication of a symbolic synagogue at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) near Kyiv, which will be broadcast live. Along with two other leaders, B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin will participate in a panel discussion on the significance of the synagogue dedication and the dangers of rising anti-Semitism eighty years after Babyn Yar.
Thursday, April 8th, marks the confluence of two significant events – the observance of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day throughout the Jewish world, and the dedication of a symbolic synagogue at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center near Kyiv, where 33,771 Jews were murdered in a two-day period in late September 1941.
The inauguration of the symbolic synagogue and prayer space at Babyn Yar will be part of the special broadcast on the Jerusalem Post website and Facebook page and the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center Facebook page on Thursday, Yom HaShoah.
On Yom HaShoah, April 8th (7 PM EST), Natan Sharansky, former Prisoner of Zion and Chair of the supervisory board at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, will participate in a panel discussion with Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Euro-Asian Jewry, and Dan S. Mariaschin, chief executive officer of B’nai B’rith International. The three leaders will discuss the significance of the synagogue dedication, the Ukrainian government’s support for the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, and the dangers of resurgent antisemitism eighty years after Babyn Yar.
Sharansky, who was born in 1948, recalled that as a boy, he and his friends were aware that something tragic had occurred in Ukraine but were never informed as to what had happened. “I was born in Ukraine a few years after the Holocaust,” he said. “Most of my Jewish friends had no grandfathers and grandmothers. We had very few uncles and aunts. It was clear that some awful tragedy had happened only a few years before we were born. We knew practically nothing.” The awful crimes of the Nazis, he said, were followed by those of the Communist regime, who attempted to erase the memory of what had occurred from the Jewish identity of the Jews of the Soviet Union. “For me,” Sharansky related, “the Babyn Yar Memorial is like the closing of a huge circle – of bringing back the memory of the world of our people and making it part of our history and our future.”
The importance of the support given to the project by President Zelensky and the Ukrainian government, he says, cannot be overestimated – not only for the Jewish people but for anyone who values the desire to live in a free world.
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Euro-Asian Jewry, echoed Sharansky’s words and stated that the dedication of the synagogue and the museum itself is a significant point not just in Jewish history but in the history of Ukraine and for the continent of Europe as a whole.
The Keene Sentinel with B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin – a New Hampshire native – about how he has reflected on the word "dayenu" (or, "it would have been enough") this Passover.
Dayenu. The Hebrew word, often translated as “it would have been enough,” is the refrain of a lively tune sung at Passover seder — a reminder to be thankful for what you have.
If an expression of gratitude seems ill-suited for Passover — which remembers the Israelites’ toil under, and exodus from, Egyptian slavery — well, that contradiction is the point.
After a particularly trying year for many people, due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Sentinel asked several members of the local Jewish community how they have reflected on the word dayenu during this Passover week.
Daniel Aronson is rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Achim, having joined the West Keene synagogue last summer. Cantor Kate Judd serves as spiritual leader of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community. And Daniel Mariaschin, a North Swanzey native, is chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Jewish service organization B’nai B’rith International.
Aronson and Judd responded to The Sentinel’s questions via email; Mariaschin was interviewed by phone.
Dayenu, the idea that “it would have been enough,” is a theme of Passover. What are you grateful for this year, especially given recent hardships caused by the pandemic?
Daniel Aronson: I am grateful that my [wife] Beth, my daughter Katie and I were brought to Keene by forces Divine, human and happenstance. We love the communities we’ve discovered at our places of work, i.e. Keene State College and Congregation Ahavas Achim, and at my daughter’s school and extracurricular activities. We also appreciate the natural beauty around us. Winter was magical with just the right amount of snow adorning the trees, and it was made even more magical by the frequent visits to our birdfeeders by an awesome assortment of hungry feathered neighbors ...
I am grateful that our parents have made it through the pandemic in good health and that they have all been fully vaccinated.
I am grateful that my daughter and adult son are thriving in all their endeavors.
I am grateful to be lovingly married to someone who is passionate about making the world a better place for all and who supports me in my efforts to do the same.
Kate Judd: I am deeply grateful that I met a wonderful life partner [Randall Silverman] during this crazy year. I’m also grateful for my wonderful congregation, the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community, which has remained vibrant throughout these challenging [times].
Daniel Mariaschin: I would say four things. The first is to be able to read the Passover story in an environment of freedom. There were many times in history when the reading of the story of the Exodus from Egypt was prohibited. To be able to sit at the table and read the story in freedom, about really history’s first example of a movement for freedom, is something I think we have to be grateful for.
The second thing would be gratitude for Zoom. It wasn’t that long ago that we did not have the technical ability to bring people together, even at times in this particular public health crisis ... So the ability to work with colleagues over Zoom, to be together with friends ... and also to have friends and family at seder. One of our seders was with family in Israel, so we were able to bring everybody together ...
The third thing is being thankful for the researchers who produced these vaccines. We need them ... It’s essential to getting everybody back up to speed. But it’s also very easy to take certain things for granted, and the people who worked so hard and so quickly to produce this vaccine is something that we always could remember and take note of.
The fourth thing for me, as one who works in a Jewish community and who supports an Israel which is at peace with its neighbors, we were very pleased back in September to have had the Abraham Accords — the normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and Sudan and [later] Morocco. These are extremely important, giant steps toward peace in the region and is something that we’re grateful for, but that we would like to see continue and expand to other countries, as well.
Has the pandemic made it more difficult to connect with family and friends for Passover this year? If so, how did you observe?
Aronson: The pandemic has challenged us to celebrate all kinds of events with our families and communities in creative ways. As such, I’ve found, we’ve been able to connect in ways that allow more people to come together than usual, that invite the inclusion of creative elements in our celebrations that we might not have considered under “normal” circumstances, and that break us free from the complacency that can dampen our joy and gratitude.
Last year, from our home in Houston, TX, my family and I joined my parents, siblings and their families by Zoom for a seder, the home-based ritual meal that commemorates the exodus from Egypt and the Israelites’ liberation from slavery. It was the first time in decades that we had all been together to celebrate Passover ...
This year, having thrown myself into creating what I hope was a joyful and meaningful online seder for the [Congregation Ahavas Achim] community, I didn’t have the energy to replicate last year’s family seder. Beth, Katie and I had a small seder at home and were joined by my son Jake, who Zoomed in “virtually” from Denver. Though I missed the excitement of last year’s family reunion, this year’s seder was no less special; the intimacy of the experience enhanced my sense of gratitude for my children and my spouse.
On the following night, I was thankful for the opportunity to come together with about 40 people from our CAA family. I included in the seder a video of our religious school children reciting one of the central pieces of the seder, known as the Four Questions ... I also included two music videos of traditional Passover songs prepared especially for the seder by super talented congregants, Rebecca Sayles and Eleanor Kaufman, respectively. It took a lot of work for Rebecca, Eleanor, and the children and their families to send me videos on relatively short notice, but I think the whole congregation was extremely grateful not only for their effort but for how they lifted up all of our spirits.
Judd: Most of my family is in Israel. Last year I had to return from Israel before observing Passover with them. This year, because of current medical challenges, I was unable to celebrate Passover. I said a blessing over some matzah, and sang a verse of Avadim Hayinu — “Last year we were slaves, now we are free people.” I hope we are all freed from COVID restrictions soon!
Mariaschin: I have two sisters and their families who live [in Israel]. My wife is Israeli, and her family is there. We normally go over for the holiday. So the distance, even with Zoom, could be felt because you really want to be with family. This is a family holiday. Passover, some people say, is the most observed holiday in the Jewish community. We missed something this year by not being there, but having Zoom made it a lot closer and a lot easier.
The seder typically ends with everyone saying, “Next year in Jerusalem.” What do you hope Passover looks like in 2022?
Aronson: At the end of our seders, we all said, “Next year in-person.” I pray that we are all well enough to make that happen in [Hebrew year] 5782/2022. Also, I pray that our seders happen against a backdrop of a world in harmony with itself, a world in which loving kindness, civility and justice in all its forms prevail. That is what “shalom” (peace and wholeness) looks like and that is the true meaning of “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Judd: Wherever I am, I hope I am celebrating with real live people!
Mariaschin: I hope, certainly, that the pandemic is behind us. That we can observe this holiday not only around the table, but that we can go out and not have to worry about all of the conditions and restrictions that we’ve been facing over the past year. Certainly, we want very much ... a year of peace for Israel together with its neighbors ...
The holiday story that we have is thousands of years old, but the basic message of this holiday remains the same. It doesn’t wax and wane with history ... [It is] freedom to be able to express one’s thoughts, one’s ideas, freedom of speech — all the freedoms that we enjoy. When you think about how far ahead of their time the ancient Israelites were under the leadership of Moses, in aspiring to that kind of freedom and to wander for 40 years in the desert in order to get it. It’ll be good to be back to normal, but the story, of course, remains the same, and we look forward to reading the story again next year.
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