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B’nai B’rith International is a partner of Jewish American Heritage Month. The monthlong celebration in May includes more than 250 educational centers, archives, libraries, museums, cultural, religious, advocacy and government institutions that offer people around the country the opportunity to discover nearly four centuries of American Jewish experience. Scroll down to see highlights of our role in Jewish American history over the past 180 years.

Early Artifacts

The membership charter of the Blytheville, Ark. Lodge, dated 1918. Note the elaborately rendered vines and numerous species of flowers, which may have had symbolic meanings.
One of the earliest membership certificates, from the Euphrates (later Sam Schloss) Lodge in Memphis. From its imagery, the altruistic mission of the lodge is made clear to all.

Did you know that one of B’nai B’rith’s first presidents, printer Julius Bien, a leader for more than three decades, has been called America’s greatest cartographer?  The work of this German immigrant was vital to the exploration of the west. It’s possible that he might have designed some of the early B’nai B’rith graphics.

Invention of Blue Jeans

Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. Photo: Levi Strauss & Co. Archives
A plaque dedicated to Davis can be seen at the former site of his shop in Reno, Nevada. Photo: Levi Strauss & Co. Archives

When Western mines opened in the mid-19th century, B’nai B’rith lodges bolstered communities that grew up around them. Its members were Jewish men who arrived with their families, opened shops, managed banks and theaters, worked as sheriffs, invested money in the mines and sometimes wielded a pick themselves. At his Reno tailor shop, Latvian-born Nevada Lodge member Jacob Davis used rivets to reenforce pants fabricated from heavy-duty canvas made by Levi-Strauss in San Francisco. Davis, who held the patents for the design, partnered with the textile company, and prospered in California, but continued to pay his Nevada Lodge dues for many years.

B'nai B'rith at the 1939 World's Fair

Futuristic architectural icons identified with the 1939 World’s Fair, Perisphere (right) and Trylon, illustrated its theme, “The World of Tomorrow.” Photo: Wikipedia

After a highly anticipated opening, the 1939 World’s Fair’s success was thwarted by a big roadblock, as the fear of war in Europe grew. While exhibits predicted a future where flying cars made life a dream, anxiety in the present reached new heights, and attendance dropped. When a deadly July 4 bomb exploded in the British Pavilion, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked for the nation’s prayers.

B’nai B’rith Day exercises at the Fair’s non-sectarian Temple of Religion included the singing of patriotic hymns; a speech about democracy was delivered by B’nai B’rith President Henry Monsky, who afterward laid a wreath at the Eternal Light inside the “Palestine” Pavilion.

B'nai B'rith at the South Pole

Scientist and lodge leader Murray Weiner, a member of Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s groundbreaking Antarctic expeditions, plants a B’nai B’rith banner in the ice at the “Little America” basecamp in 1941. Also on the Byrd team was daredevil flyer and explorer “Ike” Schlossberg, who hailed from a B’nai B’rith family. Lasting years, these South Pole trips required courage and sacrifice.

The most famous man of his generation, idolized for his heroism and determination, the parka- clad Byrd and his dog, Igloo, are honored in this memorial sculpture seen in his hometown, Winchester, Va.