By Sam Seifman
At this year’s Leadership Forum, B’nai B’rith Vice President of Programming Rhonda Love moderated a panel titled “Presenting B’nai B’rith: Bring Something Back to Your Community.”
“We need to be able to explain ourselves,” Love advised the audience. “We need to be able to tell people what we do.” At the Forum, B’nai B’rith leaders did just that.
William Berger, president of B’nai B’rith Denver, discussed his lodge and the 20th anniversary of its Leadville Cemetery cleanup program. Those attending also heard from B’nai B’rith Europe Senior Vice President Eric Engelmayer on increased involvement across the continent, with B’nai B’rith events in 315 cities across 35 different countries.
In the United States, B’nai B’rith International lodges are working to strengthen their local communities.
The Harvest Lodge in New York City, meeting three to four times a year, sponsors an annual golf outing. With help from grocery distributor Krasdale Foods, the lodge sells tickets and raises money for B’nai B’rith’s Project H.O.P.E. (Help Our People Everywhere). Lodge President Neil Gewelb, also a vice president at Krasdale, helped facilitate the connection between the two organizations.
Every Passover, as a part of the Project H.O.P.E. program, Harvest Lodge (with aid from Krasdale) provides 800 households with about $50 worth of food for the holiday.
“There are a lot of people who do a lot of work to make this all happen, especially Neil Gewelb,” said Harold Mitchell, president of B’nai B’rith’s MetroNorth region and Harvest Lodge board member.
B’nai B’rith of Monroe Township in New Jersey, incorporated five years ago, was the result of a merger of three other lodges (Clearbrook, Concordia and The Ponds). Today, the lodge is thriving with more than 200 members. It supports local groups, such as the Jewish Federation, Community FoodBank and The First Aid and Rescue Squad. It also raises funds for an emergency medical alert system, five separate college scholarships and lodge retreats. Its biggest fundraiser is an annual fall gala. In June, members went to the Pearlstone Center, near Baltimore and heard lectures such as “Pioneers of Comedy” by Ira Epstein, a former professor at Brooklyn College and current lecturer, and “Goldberg’s Believe It! Incredible Facts About History” by M. Hirsh Goldberg, author of “The Book of Lies” and former press secretary to former Maryland Gov. Harry R. Hughes.
“We are dedicated in supporting B’nai B’rith International and their global activities worldwide,” said lodge President Marshall Klein. “Locally, we are happy to be part of the Jewish community in Monroe Township.”
Members of the B’nai B’rith Tucker, Grant, Zager Stone Lodge in the Great Lakes Region are mostly couples. Social events include screenings of vintage films, at the Redford Theatre, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and speakers, including Karen Tintori, author of “Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family.”
The lodge is also involved in community service. Twice a year, it holds bingo games at the local Veterans Administration hospital, supplying prizes and volunteers. Annually, it joins with the Great Lakes Region to provide a scholarship to a local student. It also supports local food banks and special needs schools. Its main event every year is a Chanukah party, to which 75 local special needs children are invited, treated to latkes and other traditional Chanukah fare and given gifts from the lodge and community. To raise money, the lodge holds auctions and a “games evening,” when guests pay to play board games, card games and mahjong, and socialize.
“My goal is to make a place where people can feel comfortable and at home,” said lodge co-President Lana Jacobs (the other co-president is Harvey Olson). “You can belong to an organization and not be involved. But our members are personally involved.”