In 1863 Nashville was an occupied city. Conditions were chaotic. A group of Jewish men established a lodge to help those widowed and orphaned by the war. They petitioned and became part of the parent organization, The Independent Order of B’nai B’rith and were chartered by the state of Tennessee as Maimonides Lodge. The lodge owns the oldest charter of any Jewish organization in Nashville.
From the beginning, the lodge achieved its local obligation and contributed generously to the endeavors of the parent organization – The Cleveland Orphans Home, The Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Denver, the Leo N. Levi Hospital in Hot Springs, the Memphis Home for the Aged, the Anti-Defamation League. The very successful programs of AZA, for the boys, and BBG (BB girls) were always a source of pride of accomplishment.
My involvement began in 1961 when I returned to Nashville from active duty in the United States Marine Core. My father had been a past president of the lodge and insisted I become involved.
Although some services are no longer offered, the lodge has provided programs most beneficial to many groups. Already mentioned were the youth programs of AZA and BBG, monthly visits to the VA Hospital to entertain the patients, programs to recognize Jewish veterans on Veterans Day, monthly visits to Jewish prisoners at the State Penitentiary, establishment of the Camp for Blind Children. Though the camp is no longer in operation, the lodge provides offers services to the blind by sponsoring the Braille Challenge and Academic Challenge at the Tennessee School for the Blind. Through work with the Tennessee School for the Blind, a scholarship fund has been established to provide assistance to students who are legally blind and plan to attend a post-secondary educational institution. The Visual Aid Closet provides needed equipment to support daily activities for adults and children who are visually impaired. Continuing outreach to the general community Maimonides Lodge has held an annual dinner with the Knights of Columbus for 40 years.
Maimonides Lodge #46 has a long and distinguished record of service to its members, their families, the Jewish community, and the community at large. The lodge has certainly fulfilled its mission of unifying persons of the Jewish faith in the work of promoting their highest interest and those of humanity. Our members are proud to be part of that history and tradition.
A History of B’nai B’rith Maimonides Lodge #46
Maimonides Lodge #46 of the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith was founded in 1863. In the midst of the devastation and destruction of the Civil War, the lodge emphasized helping the sick, the distressed, the hungry, the widowed, and the orphans in Nashville’s then Jewish community of 350. Orphaned boys were sent to the B’nai B’rith Home for Boys in Cleveland. Girls were sent to the Jewish Widows’ and Orphans’ Home in New Orleans. Some of Nashville’s most outstanding Jewish professionals, among them Joe Simon and Nathan Cohn, were raised in the Cleveland orphanage.Over time members dedicated themselves to supporting eleemosynary endeavors like the tuberculosis sanitarium in Denver and hospitals and homes for the aged as well as working to Americanize the flood of eastern European immigrants from the 1880s on.B’nai B’rith Maimonides Lodge had defended the Jewish name against calumny and caricature in local publications with anti-Semitic overtones and challenged local publishers to delete the material.Through the years the lodge has proudly supported the youth organizations – AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) for boys and BBG (B’nai B’rith Girls) for girls.In 1958 the lodge honored Chancellor Harvey Branscomb of Vanderbilt University with the B’nai B’rith Humanitarian Award.In 1963 the lodge celebrated its centennial anniversary with great pride in its long record of both community service and promoting programs of the parent organization. In 1971 Elaine Parker, with the State Services to the Blind, suggested to President Stanley Frank that there was a need for a summer day camp for blind children of lower income families. The lodge embraced this suggestion and successfully sponsored the camp for thirty-seven years.2008 end of campAt the suggestion of Rabbi Randall Falk the lodge began an interfaith outreach in . B’nai B’rith has continued this annual partnership known as “The Cohens and the Kelleys” with the local Knights of Columbus Lodge.The lodge has a long history of honoring Jewish war veterans with programs shared with the entire community. Martin Levy, a World War II veteran, has done a fine job of coordinating these events.Starting in the years when the Veterans’ Hospital was still on White Bridge Road, a dedicated core of members provided monthly entertainment and recreation for Jewish veterans. They provided patients with fellowship and a fun-filled game night. Among the game masters were Richard Isaacs, Harold Capitel, Larry Koch, David Manas, Morris Levine, and Eric Rosenfeld.When Rabbi Falk suggested B’nai B’rith not forget a few Jews in the state prison system, a group of B’nai B’rith members began making monthly visitations to provide spiritual support and even hold seders behind bars replete with matzoh and grape juice. In the eighties B’nai B’rith sponsored the MaCabee games for the religious school children of the three congregations.For a time in the early 2000s the lodge collected computers and donated them to area nursing homes. The lodge has conducted initiatives to educate about organ donation.A series of brunches open to the entire community featuring expert guest speakers considered such issues as the future of medicine and crime in our local community.Maimonides Lodge annually sponsors the Braille Challenge at the Tennessee School for the Blind. This challenge rewards those successful in writing Braille. Academic Challenge was added several years ago.In 2012 the lodge established an annual scholarship with the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to be given to a student who is legally blind for college. 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Nashville’s oldest Jewish service organization!
If you would like to share your thoughts about memorable B’nai B’rith milestones and influences on your B’nai B’rith experience, please email them to Steve Smiga, 175th anniversary chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org or to B’nai B’rith International President Charles O. Kaufman at email@example.com.