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Summer 2020

Andrea Cure
Director of Development, B’nai B’rith International

Summer 2020

Dear Friends,

It is incredible how quickly COVID-19 changed the world we live in. Over the last few months, the entire world has had to swiftly adapt to a new normal, and so did B’nai B’rith International.

As you will see, it was with remarkable speed that B’nai B’rith mobilized around the globe to come to the aid of those in need, making sure medical supplies, food and support services were available to the most vulnerable. Our advocacy programming and one-to-one exchange were quickly brought online, resulting in an extraordinarily rich cache of webinars, interviews, podcasts and more, to keep our members and supporters engaged and informed. What became clear is that while we may have to remain apart physically, we are all very much connected as part of the B’nai B’rith family.

You are a steadfast partner in all that B’nai B’rith does each day. Together, we will continue to ensure stability for older adults, provide aid to those in need and support Israel and the Jewish people. Together we will get through this – as a family.

Andrea Cure
Director of Development
B’nai B’rith International


Bringing the Conversation to You

Daniel S. Mariaschin
CEO, B’nai B’rith International

With stay-at-home orders stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, we have had to re-focus how we go about the important work of B’nai B’rith, to influence global policies and to enlighten and engage our supporters and members. We’ve added new programs to our schedule profiling our work, like our new One-On-One video interviews and webinars. This programming, added to our three-years-and-going strong podcasts, enables you to see inside our work.

I view the podcast as a 21st century incarnation of the radio and TV interview program. This format, with very little equipment, has allowed us to bring directly to you our engagement with our own experts and others from around the world.

I confess to having a special interest in the genre: when I was in high school and college, I worked as a disc jockey and news announcer at a 5000-watt radio station in my hometown in New Hampshire. I worked weekends and summers, and in addition to news programs, I hosted twice daily, 15-minute interview programs: “Coffee at the Crystal” in the morning, done live from a local restaurant, and “Monadnock Scrapbook,” from the studio.

The guest lists were filled with everyone from authors, to those organizing church suppers, to folks promoting athletic or community events, to students who had just returned from a year abroad in Europe. It was interesting subject matter — and it was fun to do.

Today, the guests and subject matter have changed, but the format is essentially the same. In radio, we were mostly confined to about thirteen-and-a-half minutes of interview per program, allowing for a minute-and-a-half of commercials. One great benefit of podcasts is that the time is your own: they can run as long or as short as the host wishes. Ours usually run 25-30 minutes.

I welcomed Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Elan Carr to our Washington, D.C. office for a podcast in November.
On tour with The Band’s Visit at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Israeli film, theater and television star Sasson Gabai made another visit—to B’nai B’rith—when he joined me for a podcast.

We think these quick but meaningful policy discussions are a perfect way to digest some of the biggest issues of the day, as well as some of the more fun topics. Our guests have covered the gamut but tend largely to subjects that focus on areas of interest to the Jewish community and which might be on the B’nai B’rith agenda. Among the more than 70 podcasts in our library are interviews with the United States Special Envoy on Combating anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, and Israeli entrepreneur and author Irina Nevzlin. Author interviews are among my favorites: we’ve covered sports (Jane Leavy, author of a biography of Babe Ruth); music (James Kaplan, who has written a new biography of Irving Berlin); and the presidency (Professor Jonathan Sarna, of Brandeis University on President Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews).

We’ve even had Broadway come to us: one of our guests last year was the much-lauded Israeli actor Sasson Gabai, who starred in the Tony-award winning musical The Band’s Visit when it played at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center. Acclaimed documentary maker Aviva Kempner came by to discuss her film about Jewish Major League Baseball player and spy, Moe Berg.

And of course, we’ve not neglected the important public policy issues that rate high on B’nai B’rith’s agenda featuring my B’nai B’rith colleagues. We’ve discussed bias against Israel at the United Nations, the Israeli elections, anti-Semitism in Europe and around the globe and issues affecting the Jewish communities of Latin America.

There are believed to be about 115,000 podcasts available in the United States today. You can find us wherever you get your podcasts, or right on our website.

For now, of course, we cannot have the in-person diplomacy meetings, which are such an important part of our work. But we have expanded our program options to include on-screen interviews, in our One-On-One format as well as live webinars. We have hosted  Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the U.S. Javlon Vakhabov and Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism on our webinars, and Israel’s Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi as well as MEP Sergey Lagodinsky, a member of the European Parliament for Germany since 2019.

With seniors so hard-hit by the coronavirus, our Center for Senior Services has shed light on some of the biggest issues facing seniors right now. Our senior housing program, which provides affordable, non-sectarian housing to seniors in communities around the United States, has been featured a number of times in our new programming formats. I am especially proud of our senior housing staff, whom I have interviewed during the COVID-19 crisis, who work with our building managers to provide a safe and healthy living environment for thousands of senior residents of our properties. Visit our Extra page to watch some of these conversations.

B’nai B’rith has always been an organization that views Jewish life through a multitude of lenses. To some, Jewish life means culture; to others, politics, and to others still, volunteerism and helping those less fortunate. In other words: The totality of the Jewish world, and worldview. The use of myriad platforms, to inform discussions about these and so many other interests and issues, is another way of connecting to us.

As we say at the end of our podcasts: “Like what you hear so far? Make sure you never miss a show by clicking the “subscribe” button wherever you get your podcasts.”

Remember the old expression, “we’ll see you on the radio”? These days, we’ve made a slight amendment, but the idea is the same: “See you on our podcasts, our webinars and our One-On-One video interviews.” A world of information awaits.

Snapshot: B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services and Senior Residences Overcome Fallout of Coronavirus Isolation

When life is normal, B’nai B’rith’s Center for Senior Services works to protect the wellbeing of and advocate for the interests of our most vulnerable citizens – older adults.

In the face of an emergency, the center ramps into high gear, evidenced during the beginning months of the coronavirus pandemic, as life dramatically changed for inhabitants of B’nai B’rith’s senior independent living apartments.

During that time, our Center for Senior Services personnel stayed connected with the dedicated staff at B’nai B’rith housing properties and kept Capitol Hill legislators informed of their constituents’ special needs. These efforts were recognized and valued by residents.

Essential employees, carefully relying on requisite health and hygiene protocols, made residents’ welfare their first priority. The goal was to have tenants feel connected and to experience as little anxiety as possible. In a thank you note to management, Hannah Rosner, who lives in the Deerfield Beach, Florida, B’nai B’rith Apartments, was mindful of what had been achieved: “The staff has kept the residents here as safe and healthy as possible. The effort you have put into cleaning and sanitizing the buildings, as well as the regulations you have implemented are GREATLY appreciated. You have kept us informed and directed and managed the staff to ensure the best outcome possible….I am very grateful to be living at B’nai B’rith under your leadership.”

Together, B’nai B’rith and residence management teams not only ensured that members of the buildings were given optimal support both physically and emotionally but maintained the preservation of community values. Mark D. Olshan, director of B’nai B’rith’s Center for Senior Services emphasized that residents’ quality of life is what keeps everyone involved motivated: “We developed a real understanding of what works. These facilities are not just brick and mortar; they are more than that.”

Luz Gallego, service coordinator at the Gerd and Inge Strauss Manor on Pantano in Tucson, Arizona, uses these bags to deliver groceries to residents who cannot leave their apartments.
Personnel at the Robert Cottingham Property Management Company fabricated and hung this “Stay Strong” banner at the Sam J. Stone B’nai B’rith Apartments in Peoria, Illinois.

The largest national Jewish sponsor of non-sectarian low-income housing, including some 5,000 residents in 38 buildings across the country, B’nai B’rith has, for more than a half century, partnered with the Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], the federal agency that grants funding to non-profits for the construction of low-income apartments. Local B’nai B’rith district leaders assumed responsibility for administrating a property’s planning, design and building, and remained involved as board members, consulting with and assisting both its employees and inhabitants.

A recent change has resulted in an important beneficial outcome. In some of the larger buildings, an added position—the service coordinator—connects seniors with community partners including food banks, government subsidy programs and health aid workers, all of which resulted in better and longer independent life for many residents. With state governments assuming the immense costs of convalescent home care, this positive “aging in place” saved millions of dollars annually.

Responding to management needs, B’nai B’rith has led emergency training workshops for building administrators, and has also addressed preparedness issues with residents who participate in its bi-annual summer camp retreat focusing on individual and community empowerment.  

Many who live and work at the properties had participated in these workshops, preparing them for action when local earthquakes, tornadoes and floods could result in a total breakdown of services. But the COVID-19 pandemic raised new issues: With forced confinement, the closing of communal rooms, the limitation of regular maintenance and the necessary elimination of face to face interaction with employees, many family members and neighbors, how could personnel meet residents’ increased needs, while mitigating a sense of loneliness and isolation? That this task was met is reflected in the words of Jeff Cottingham, the property manager for a company which oversees the Sam J. Stone B’nai B’rith Apartments in Peoria, Illinois, who observed during a One On One program interview, which can be viewed below or on the B’nai B’rith Extra webpage:

“We tried to keep residents involved in day to day communication and the decision-making process as much as possible. Even in this difficult time, we have the residents expressing appreciation, and we have a wonderful board who has constantly given us words of encouragement.”

Cottingham described as “invaluable” the Center’s frequent zoom meetings that networked management from multiple buildings, when B’nai B’rith became the conduit for airing problems and sharing ideas. These discussions resulted in action that involved caring individuals who rallied as volunteers, as well as community partners who were able to help with food, medication and paper product deliveries. Board members often paid for catered meals, while they and others stepped up to make daily wellness phone calls to residents. Communication was opened through “old fashion” methods including the generation of paper newsletters and flyers, posted on apartment doors. Additionally, collaborations were fostered with new vendors for the purchasing of more affordable cleaning products and protective gear.

Forging deeper links among employees nationwide via these B’nai B’rith teleconferences, as well as developing innovative ways of “being there” for residents, has led to the perception that distancing has brought those separated by location and circumstance closer.

Through direct contact with residents, the Center for Senior Services oriented them to new technology, a lifeline for keeping up with friends, family and building administration, while board members were on hand offering support as needed.

The safety of dedicated personnel and their families was not neglected. Many also volunteered their time running errands for those unable to do so. Relationships with first responders such as the police and fire departments underscored during B’nai B’rith emergency training made employees and residents feel secure.

During this time Center for Senior Services staff talked and wrote to senators and congressmen to advocate for an increase in senior housing funding in the Coronavirus Stimulus Package, needed to meet the additional expenses of cleaning supplies and protective garments.

New B’nai B’rith programming initiatives included the delivery of fresh food donated by New York’s Metropolitan Council to the neediest residents of the B’nai B’rith property in Queens, New York.  

B’nai B’rith is honoring staff, facilities workers and volunteers on the front lines of its Senior Housing buildings with #HometownHeroes, a photo spread spotlighting individuals who went above and beyond, helping the community survive – and perhaps thrive – during the pandemic. It can be found on our CSS webpage and the B’nai B’rith Facebook page.



Hate Art Movement

Charles O. Kaufman
President, B’nai B’rith International

Most art movements are liberating. Picasso’s visual thinking broke the rules with flat, fractured figures to bolster a movement. Same with Jackson Pollock’s random splattering of paint. The list goes on with such isms as Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism, Impressionism.

Other art movements are constricting in their thinking, if not in technique. Several recent artistic expressions illustrate a rebirth of an old movement — anti-Semitism.

The Hate-ism Movement is actually an old art form. It didn’t begin in the 21st century, but it’s regaining momentum with modern media. It’s awkward to state that this Medieval expression, really beginning in the 12th century, is experiencing a renaissance, for this is no time for enlightenment. Forget for only a moment that the Nazi propaganda machine ginned out and widely distributed hate images.

The leader of Iran’s Caricature House said in celebrating the inaugural selections, “We will continue until the destruction of Israel.” Ten years later, Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance told New Yorker magazine it supports any program that will “enlighten people about the Holocaust.” Enlighten with darkness.

One such enlightened cartoon from 2016 featured a vintage cash register topped with the iconic entry of the Birkenau gateway and showing 6,000,000, and an inserted key in the shape of a Star of David bearing the name B’nai B’rith. The 150 entries that year came from more than 50 countries.

Hateism is spreading. The oeuvre of Portugal’s Vasco Gargalo is skillfully executed in cartoons in Sabado Magazine. One of his drawings portrayed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dachshund with a Star of David dog collar being led around by a caricatured President Donald Trump wearing a yarmulke. It ran in the April 25, 2019 international edition published by The New York Times. The Times, in retrospect, acknowledged the cartoon was “offensive, and it was an error of judgment to publish it.” Some offenses can’t be remedied or undone with a simple apology. Such is the power of art.

Most recently, Giovanni Gasparro unveiled his masterfully painted work depicting the blood libel The Martyrdom of St. Simon of Trento for Jewish Ritual Murder. This painting has it all, hooked noses, bearded religious figures with snarly grins, delighting in the bloody torture of Somonino, an anguished child.

In 1475, a picture of the same subject led to the execution of several Jews. In 2020, it received a digital audience of an untold number of people. Gasparro is a marvelous painter who has been honored by the Catholic Church for his glorious Christian themes.

One might consider the birthplace of Hate-ism is Iran, where in 2006 the International Holocaust Cartoon Competition began. From a country in which little free speech is expressed and created ironically in the name of free speech, the mission in this competition was to create anti-Semitic cartoons using the Holocaust as the sole impetus for creating the State of Israel.

Anti-Semites have long looked for compelling ways to package their hate. When haters expose themselves in words, deeds or even through artwork, B’nai B’rith quickly strikes back, with direct and clear tactics to condemn such efforts. We expose such vile attempts through widespread use of social and traditional media, including podcasts, webinars and other online programing, or protest directly from our offices in Washington, D.C., New York, Brussels, London, Montevideo, Paris, Geneva and, of course, our World Center in Jerusalem. Among many notable, ongoing activities in the fight against anti-Semitism in the world is our constant vigilance from Brussels, sometimes partnering with Katharina von Schnurbein, director of the European Commission on Combatting Anti-Semitism. Not forgotten is old fashioned, direct correspondence, which remains a proven mode of impact as well. B’nai B’rith makes the world remember because we never forget . . . and never will.

On Jan. 5, 2020 friends and supporters of B’nai B’rith International marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest the rising number of Jewish hate crimes in New York City. More than 25,000 people took part in the “No Hate, No Fear” event.
A partner who stands with us in the fight against Hate-ism, European Commission Coordinator on Combatting Anti-Semitism Katharina von Schnurbein spoke to delegates attending the 2017 B’nai B’rith Leadership Forum in Prague, Czech Republic.

B’nai B’rith Impact connects you to what B’nai B’rith is doing in your community and around the globe. Read on to see all the ways B’nai B’rith is impacting your world.

Why I’m Involved: Millie Magid, Chair for U.N. Affairs

Recognized for her service and commitment to the organization B’nai B’rith United Nations Affairs Chair Millie Magid was honored with the organization’s new President’s Award at the Annual Leadership Forum in November 2019, where she also led a panel discussion. Photo credit:

In Profile: U.N. Affairs Chair Millie Magid

Millie Magid has served as B’nai B’rith International’s U.N. Affairs Chair since spring 2019. Millie and her husband, Larry, are active lay leaders who currently split their time between New York City, Florida and Jerusalem. Both are devoted philanthropists and passionate activists, involved with a myriad of humanitarian, educational and cultural causes.

For Millie Magid, the volunteer work she does with B’nai B’rith is rewarding and inspiring. She finds the internationality of the organization offers a unique chance to truly have an impact in how Israel is viewed on the world stage, and on Jewish identity and community.

Millie became involved with B’nai B’rith after traveling with the organization, recalling that CEO Dan Mariaschin invited her to join a B’nai B’rith Latin American Leaders Seminar in 2011. “I was extremely impressed by how active B’nai B’rith was in Latin America, and how this big international organization worked to build relationships around the globe and in their local communities.” Mille continued, “I was excited by the experiences offered by the organization: The exchanging and sharing of ideas, meeting with Jewish leaders and government officials and creating wonderful new friendships around the globe – this is all something I really enjoy.”  

And a global perspective is something that came naturally to her.

“Millie is an outstanding leader, caring about the issues on the Jewish agenda, giving of her time, always engaged, well-prepared and well spoken,” Mariaschin said. “B’nai B’rith is indeed fortunate to have her as our U.N. Affairs Chair, focusing on so many issues of importance to Israel and the Jewish people.”

The role of B’nai B’rith’s U.N. Affairs Chair aligns well with the hands-on relationship and dialogue-building opportunities she feels are so critical to educating others. As U.N. Affairs chair, Millie has met with many high-profile figures, including then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres.

Each September B’nai B’rith arranges high-level meetings on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Even before she assumed her current chair role, Millie was an active and engaged participant, where she made her mark during marathon meetings with heads of state and government officials. She credits face-to-face meetings for amplifying B’nai B’rith’s advocacy for fair treatment for Israel within the U.N. system, and as a vital tool in fighting the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism around the globe as well as other issues affecting Israel and the Jewish people. “It is easier to tell Israel’s story, represent the voice of the Jewish community and build consensus in one-on-one interactions.”  

Millie describes herself as a “Jew by choice” noting “I grew up in Peru going to Catholic school. When I met Larry, I was exposed to Judaism, and when I traveled to Israel for the first time on our honeymoon, I was so moved by what I saw, and felt fulfilled by the experience. I also saw how young people my age needed to serve in military and carry weapons. I looked into it, I learned about the responsibility of being a Jew, I learned about Zionism, and while I knew I could not serve in military, I could serve the community, and I felt a sense of responsibility to do so.” Millie and Larry both credit “a sense of responsibility” for motivation to stay involved with pro-Israel causes, she says. “A sense of responsibility was part of our identity. If we don’t do it, who else will do it? Who else will be there for us? We probably saw it in our parents, and also we wanted to make sure that our kids continue [our tradition of philanthropy] and have the same responsibility.”

Millie brings an extraordinary mix of talents to her role in B’nai B’rith. “Millie is a leader whose passion for the Jewish people, their wellbeing and their contributions to the world is inspiring,” said B’nai B’rith Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels. “We’re fortunate to have her playing a key role in B’nai B’rith’s singular U.N. work. Her international knowledge, commitment to Israel and gift at engaging with people of diverse backgrounds make her a real asset.”

When asked what impresses her most about B’nai B’rith International, Millie responded “From the beginning, B’nai B’rith was founded to help those in need, and this continues to this day both locally and around the globe. These relationships – assuming responsibility to advocate for those in need, social services, senior housing – it is all true to its mission from the beginning. This vision has served as the incubator for some of the most important Jewish communal institutions – ADL, Hillel, BBYO. B’nai B’rith was there with them, from the start.” Millie continued “now, more than ever, we need an organization that thrives in challenging times and environments, and throughout history, B’nai B’rith has proven that it does just that – B’nai B’rith has always been there to help, and to allow others to help.”

Helping Hands: How we are helping those in need during Coronavirus Crisis

B’nai B’rith has shifted its disaster relief efforts to focus on fighting the worldwide COVID-19 epidemic. As the coronavirus spreads around the world, we are working with our local partners to respond to whatever their communities need most, whether that is medical supplies, foodstuffs or other necessities.

Even in countries with strong health care networks, the coronavirus has caused shortages of personal protective equipment needed by medical workers. Italy was particularly hard-hit early on in the epidemic. In response to an urgent appeal from B’nai B’rith Italy, we facilitated the shipment of 27,000 personal protective face shields to the Lombardy Regional Government, a region that includes the city of Milan. These face shields were distributed to hospitals and medical staff.

As COVID-19 began spreading in Latin America, we worked with our Latin American affiliates to determine where we could help most. In conjunction with other Jewish organizations, we donated 50 oximeters, which measure heart rates and the oxygen levels in patients’ blood, to the Panamanian Ministry of Health to be distributed to hospitals around the country. Oximeters are vital tools for determining the level of care a coronavirus patient requires. We also donated 150 beds to Panama’s Ombudsman Office for use in the Center of Migrants in Panama City. The center is a shelter for migrants who come to Panama to find work. Due to the coronavirus emergency, most of them are unemployed.

In addition to facilitating the distribution of medical supplies, we identified vulnerable populations experiencing food insecurity in the crisis and have been working to ensure that no one goes hungry because of the pandemic. In Uruguay, we donated one thousand food baskets to a charity run by Uruguayan First Lady Lorena Lacalle and the National System of Emergencies. The baskets were distributed across the country.

Italian B’nai B’rith leaders Paolo Foa, executive board of directors, and Sandro di Castro, Rome lodge president, initiated a project that resulted in the organization’s April 14 transmittal of 27,000 face shields for patients and health care workers in the Lombardy region, all supplied by B’nai B’rith’s disaster relief projects partner, Brother’s Brother Foundation. Additional support and assistance came from the United States Consulate in Milan and a donor who covered shipping and insurance costs.
In April, B’nai B’rith in Uruguay sent 1,000 baskets of food to two philanthropies—Sembrando (Sowing), led by Uruguay’s first lady, Lorena Lacalle, and the National System of Emergencies—that were donated to government coronavirus relief efforts. Individuals who helped with this initiative were (L-R): Leticia Delgado, wife of the chief of staff of the government; Colonel Sergio Rico, director of the National System of Emergencies; Lorena Lacalle and Andrés Yusupoff, B’nai B’rith Uruguay vice president.

We are also addressing food insecurity in the United States, including in our own senior housing network, which provides affordable housing for seniors living on limited incomes. After the 268 residents in one of our buildings in Queens, New York, expressed difficulty acquiring affordable groceries while complying with New York’s strict social distancing restrictions, we organized a building-wide food distribution.

Our pre-pandemic programs have been forced to adapt to changing circumstances. Every year during Passover, Project H.O.P.E. distributes Kosher for Passover food to the poor and elderly, many of whom cannot afford to observe the holiday by purchasing specialty foods needed for the holiday. While we were unable to continue the program this year in some areas, like New York and Connecticut, other areas found ways to comply with social distancing measures while continuing to distribute food. In Philadelphia, Project H.O.P.E. volunteers redirected their distribution toward food banks, which already have procedures in place for safety during the crisis.

Our Bagel Brigade program in California collects breads and bakery items for the needy and disabled. Like the Project H.O.P.E. program, the Bagel Brigade continues to adapt and operate. Even in these times, the program brings these items to facilities that continue to serve children, such as schools open for food distribution and shelters.  

Our response to the coronavirus crisis is evolving. The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Committee, chaired by Senior Vice President Rebecca Saltzman, is evaluating our response to the pandemic to make sure that we reach people who need our help the most.

With help from the Jewish Federation and the Mitzvah Food Bank, B’nai B’rith was able to distribute its Project H.O.P.E. kosher food for Passover donations to more than 750 needy persons in Philadelphia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recipients picked up the packages at one of six food bank locations.

Backstory: How B’nai B’rith Helped Bring Nazi Dinko Šakić to Justice

By B’nai B’rith Honorary President Tommy P. Baer
Milestones are to be celebrated and memorialized. One such milestone for B’nai B’rith and the cause of justice is July 25, 2020, when on that date 25 years ago, a delegation I led in my capacity as president of B’nai B’rith International met with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to set in motion B’nai B’rith’s relentless pursuit of notorious World War II war criminal Dinko Šakić.

Šakić was the only known ex-commandant of a Nazi death camp still living. He was deputy commandant and then commandant of the notorious Jasenovac death camp in Croatia where tens of thousands of Serbs, Gypsies and Jews were brutally tortured and murdered by methods so barbaric as to shock even the Nazis. B’nai B’rith first learned that Šakić was alive and living openly in Argentina in January 1995, when we secured a copy of an interview that Šakić granted to the Croatian news weekly Panorama. This interview took place in Argentina in December 1994, at the time of Tudjman’s state visit to that country.

For more than three years, B’nai B’rith undertook an intensive effort to track down and expose Šakić, who, in the Panorama interview, expressed no remorse for his crimes and indeed seemed to suggest that his one regret was not having murdered more, so that there would be fewer people left to accuse him. B’nai B’rith invested considerable time, energy and expense into research and fact-finding, and I traveled to both Croatia and Argentina to meet with government officials, human rights experts, intelligence sources and potential eyewitnesses to Šakić’s crimes.

Tommy Baer, an attorney based in Richmond, Virginia, who led the fight to find and prosecute Dinko Šakić, served as President of B’nai B’rith International from 1994-98. He is pictured (r) with the late world-renown author and humanitarian Elie Wiesel, c. 2000.
Dinko Šakić, found guilty of atrocities he committed as commander of the Jasenovic concentration camp, with his wife, in 1944. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

For more than three years, B’nai B’rith undertook an intensive effort to track down and expose Šakić, who, in the Panorama interview, expressed no remorse for his crimes and indeed seemed to suggest that his one regret was not having murdered more, so that there would be fewer people left to accuse him. B’nai B’rith invested considerable time, energy and expense into research and fact-finding, and I traveled to both Croatia and Argentina to meet with government officials, human rights experts, intelligence sources and potential eyewitnesses to Šakić’s crimes.

On April 6, 1998, I had been attending a meeting of B’nai B’rith’s Latin American section in Buenos Aires as well as meeting with high-level Argentine officials. I was interviewed by CNN-Latin America about the Šakić developments and disclosed in some detail B’nai B’rith’s activities in connection with Šakić over the past three years. In that interview, I called on the Argentine government to order Šakić’s arrest. The next day, the Argentine government did indeed issue an order for Šakić’s arrest, pending an extradition request from Croatia.

I joined other B’nai B’rith officials to raise the case with Argentine President Carlos Menem, as well as the Argentine ministers of foreign affairs, justice and interior, urging the speedy apprehension and prompt extradition of Šakić.

On April 14, 1998, I met with Croatian Ambassador to Washington Miomir Žužul to urge his government to vigorously follow through on an extradition request to Argentina and, once Šakić was captured and sent back to Croatia, to bring him to trial in accordance with the norms of international justice.

I emphasized that this was an opportunity for Croatia to dispel long-standing charges that it still identified with the Croatia of the 1940s, when it was a close ally of Nazi Germany.  The ambassador, with the authorization he had just moments before received from Tudjman by phone, assured me that Croatia intended to make Dinko Šakić stand trial for his crimes. He also conveyed Tudjman’s personal invitation to me to be an official observer at the trial as well as Tudjman’s request for B’nai B’rith’s “help and support in the search for evidence and witnesses.” The ambassador further said that Tudjman accepted B’nai B’rith’s conditions that the trial would be completely open to international observers, the media and all interested non-governmental organizations and that the safety and security of witnesses would be guaranteed.

It was on July 25, 1995, when I met with Tudjman and various Croatian government officials and others (including Branko Lustig, a Croat and producer of the film Schindler’s List) at Tudjman’s summer retreat on the Adriatic island of Brioni to discuss the Šakić case and other concerns that B’nai B’rith’s pursuit of Šakić went into high gear.

B’nai B’rith Honorary President Tommy Baer with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, 1999.

The president was gracious but uncomfortable discussing the Šakić case. I had been warned in advance that if that case was all B’nai B’rith intended to focus on with the Croatian president, the meeting would be canceled. Before the dinner, I met privately with Tudjman and was able to obtain his assurances that he would not permit the growth of anti-Semitism in his country; that fascism would not return to Croatia in any form and that Šakić would not be allowed to return to Croatia.

At the conclusion of the 1995 Brioni dinner meeting Tudjman pledged that once the war with Serbia was over, he would prosecute Šakić and any other World War II war criminals that his government could apprehend. The meeting was an overwhelming success.

The extradition request was transmitted on April 24, 1998; Šakić was arrested on April 30, 1998; and he was extradited on June 19, 1998, to stand trial in Croatia for war crimes. I continued to travel to Croatia during the trial monitoring the proceedings, appearing on Croatian TV and meeting with Tudjman and other Croatian officials.  

Šakić was convicted on Oct. 4, 1999 for crimes against humanity and sentenced to 20 years in prison (the maximum under Croatian law), where he later died.

July 25, 1995 was a good and memorable day for B’nai B’rith, and as it turned out, for the Jewish people.

Tommy P. Baer served as B’nai B’rith’s International President from 1994-1998. He is a refugee from the Nazi Holocaust in Germany. He practices law in Richmond, Virginia.


Helping Italy, Today and Yesterday

Allied troops in Rome, 1944. Photo: Wikimedia.

In the current coronavirus pandemic, B’nai B’rith reached out to assist people in hard-hit Italy. Now, during the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we remember a different time when B’nai B’rith members stepped up with another kind of disaster relief in Rome.

Even before the United States’ entry into World War II on Dec. 7, 1941, B’nai B’rith lodges were already engaged in the work needed to achieve victory. Running blood drives with the American Red Cross, raising millions of dollars for the purchase of war bonds, refurbishing soldiers’ dormitories and building recreational centers for the military: these were only some of the efforts for which the organization was honored. After the war, members supported overseas survivors suffering deprivation and psychic trauma in decimated countries. These gestures were appreciated long afterward.

After the Nazi occupation of Italy began in 1943, the Germans deported and murdered thousands of its Jews, but some also survived.

In 1945, Connecticut’s New Haven Horeb Lodge helped to make a difference there.

A city resident, sportsman Major George White, was an officer in the Army’s morale-boosting recreation division. He was stationed in Rome, a city in ruins where people were struggling to survive.

White also volunteered his time organizing teams for newly reconstituted Italian athletic clubs. From the item published in B’nai B’rith’s magazine, then called the National Jewish Monthly, it appears that he discovered the existence of a special club, comprised of Jewish girls and boys, most of whom had been imprisoned in the concentration camps, fought with the partisans or had been in hiding. They had no money to buy athletic gear, which at any rate was non-existent.

Jewish sports clubs, called “Maccabee Associations” were popular throughout Europe from 1900; B’nai B’rith often supported their activities.

White wrote his friend in New Haven, B’nai B’rith leader David Richman, who rallied Horeb President Lester Hershman and Vice President Charles Henchel. Within two days, the men had obtained donations to procure needed equipment. They shipped 18 boxes of basketballs, tennis and soccer balls, sneakers, special athletic shoes and more to Italy. After his return to Connecticut, White was at Horeb headquarters to brief sports writers about the gift; shortly afterward, a silver plaque arrived from Italy inscribed “To Horeb Lodge, from La Associazione Sportive Ebraica, Roma, L’Amicizia Varca L’Oceano” (the Jewish Sports Association, Your Friends Across the Ocean).

Yom Hashoah Commemorations in the Time of Coronavirus

Every year, B’nai B’rith International commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah, with a reading of the names of victims who were murdered in the Holocaust. Since 1989, B’nai B’rith has been the official North American sponsor of the program under the auspices of Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust Museum and research center in Jerusalem.

During Unto Every Person There Is a Name, readers around the world recite the victims’ names, ages at the time of their deaths, birthplaces and the places where they were killed.

This year was no exception. However, the exceptional circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic made the day very different.

Sheila Mostyn, from Toronto, Canada, the chair of our Center for Jewish Identity and James Fleischer, chief executive officer, Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity from Indianapolis, Indiana took part in the virtual reading of names during the April 21 Unto Every Person commemoration.

On Tuesday, April 21, 2020 B’nai B’rith’s volunteer leaders took part in a virtual commemoration, compliant with social distancing guidelines. Over Zoom and Facebook Live, where viewers around the world could tune in, B’nai B’rith leaders read out the names from the safe distance of their own homes. Participating leaders included Sheila Mostyn, chair, B’nai B’rith Center for Jewish Identity, Toronto, Canada; Margie Steinberg, Memphis, Tennesee; Scott Knapp, chair, B’nai B’rith Connect and B’nai B’rith senior vice president, Fort Lauderdale, Florida; James Fleischer, chief executive officer, Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, Indianapolis, Indiana; Ira Bartfield, chair, B’nai B’rith Center for Community Action, Arlington, Virginia; and Charles Kaufman, president, B’nai B’rith International, Austin, Texas. You can view the recorded reading here.

In addition to remembering the Holocaust’s victims, B’nai B’rith recognizes the bravery of those Jews who stepped up to rescue fellow Jews during the Holocaust. It is especially striking that some Jews, facing persecution and grave danger themselves, managed to rescue fellow Jews. In 2011, B’nai B’rith and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust created the Jewish Rescuers Citation as a way to acknowledge the courage of these men and women. This year, the citation was awarded posthumously on April 21 to 20 Jewish rescuers. You can read about their extraordinary efforts to save lives here.

In the absence of the ability to hold the customary large ceremony that accompanies the awarding of the citations, volunteers in Israel took part, via Zoom and Facebook live, reading the names and backgrounds of these newest awardees from their homes.

Director of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Alan Schneider led the citation ceremony from the Martyrs’ Forest Scroll of Fire plaza. Normally this annual event has hundreds of attendees on the plaza. This year the imagery of Schneider standing there alone to recognize these heroes as the wind whipped around him underscored the solemnity of the occasion. You can view a recording of the awarding of citations, in Hebrew with some English, on Facebook here.

On April 21, a worldwide audience saw B’nai B’rith Director of the World Center-Jerusalem Alan Schneider conduct the Jewish Rescuers Citation awards ceremony at the Martyrs’ Forest, where he was joined via social media by volunteers in Israel who read the names and histories of the recipients.
Joseph Bau, posthumously honored as a Jewish Rescuer at the Martyrs’ Forest, was a graphic artist who forged documents for the Jewish underground in Krakow, and in Oscar Schindler’s factory camp in Brněnec, Poland. His wife, Rebecca, a nurse who risked her life helping Jewish inmates in the Płaszów concentration camp in Poland, also received the award.

Backstory: Our response to the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

Photo credit: B’nai B’rith Archives/Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Awakening terrified residents of San Francisco and surrounding areas at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906, a massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake and multiple aftershocks killed between 400 and 7,000 persons (causalities in the Chinese neighborhoods were never counted), destroyed infrastructure and ignited countless fires. More than 7,000 people, made homeless by the quake, suffered in the decimated city.

B’nai B’rith members nationwide answered the call to aid the disaster’s victims. Now housed at Cincinnati’s Jacob Rader Marcus Center, this letter sent by District 1 President Charles Hartman solicited donations from lodges in New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine.