B’nai B’rith members and supporters from across the United States and the world gathered in Washington, D.C., Nov. 8 to 10 to learn how B’nai B’rith is at the forefront of today’s most pressing issues; engaging with high-level speakers on topics such as U.S.-Israel relations, the rise of global anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel; and making their voices heard on all things related to B’nai B’rith’s global agenda.
Those in attendance were joined by a number of high-profile speakers, including Nancy Spielberg, producer of the documentary “Above and Beyond;” Alan Gross, who was imprisoned in Cuba for five years; founding editor and publisher of The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report Stuart Rothenberg; officials from the State Department and Treasury; and several ambassadors.
Gary P. Saltzman Elected President
Gary P. Saltzman, of Centennial, Colo., was elected president of B’nai B’rith International by the Board of Governors at its annual meeting in conjunction with the Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. Saltzman immediately begins a three-year term leading the world’s oldest and most widely known Jewish humanitarian, human rights and advocacy organization.
“It is a unique privilege to add my name to the list of presidents who have served this venerable organization during its 172-year history,” Saltzman said. “Throughout my decades of service to B’nai B’rith, I have been directly involved in all aspects of our core mission at the local and global levels: From advocating for human rights, to supporting Israel and fighting anti-Semitism, to speaking out for seniors and to providing aid to the victims of disasters. I am eager to honor the roots of this organization while advancing its mission in new ways.”
In 40 years as a member of B’nai B’rith International, Saltzman has demonstrated leadership and unwavering dedication at the local and international levels of the organization through an impressive range of roles and responsibilities.
This weekend also produced another significant event for Saltzman and his family: Saltzman’s grandson Ori Barsheshet was declared a Ben Brit, a child of the Covenant of B’nai B’rith, which bestows lifetime membership on recipients. The Children of the Covenant Life Membership Program for children or grandchildren of B’nai B’rith members provides them with life membership in B’nai B’rith when they reach their eighteenth birthday. Ori is the son of Rebecca Saltzman Barsheshet and Oded Barsheshet. Rebecca is the recent chair of the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Network and a winner of the B’nai B’rith Label A. Katz Young Leadership Award. Ori received a certificate and pewter Kiddush Cup engraved with his name and birth date, signifying him “Child of the Covenant.”
Peter Perlman of West Bloomfield, Mich., Appointed Chairman of the Executive Committee; Senior Officers Elected
Peter Perlman was appointed chairman of the executive of B’nai B’rith International by the newly elected Saltzman. This is the number two volunteer leadership position in the organization. It is Perlman’s responsibility to serve as direct liaison between staff and volunteers and carry out other internal and external responsibilities of the organization. Perlman, whose B’nai B’rith involvement dates to 1970, will represent B’nai B’rith at a variety of domestic and international venues.
In addition to Saltzman’s election as president and Perlman’s appointment to chairman of the executive, B’nai B’rith also held elections for the positions of senior vice president, treasurer and chief justice. B’nai B’rith’s newly installed senior vice presidents are: Eric Engelmayer, Luxembourg; Shel Marcus, Morton Grove, Ill.; Sheila Mostyn, Toronto, Canada; Marvin Siflinger, Framingham, Mass.; Robert B. Spitzer, Seattle, Wash.; Eduardo Weinstein Gottlieb, Santiago, Chile.
Taking over the role of treasurer is A. Michael Gellman of Potomac, Md.; and Chief Justice William Peirez of Great Neck, N.Y., was re-elected.
State of the Organization: Allan J. Jacobs, Former International President and New Honorary President
“Where did the time go?” asked Allan J. Jacobs, former B’nai B’rith International president and current-honorary president, as he delivered his final “State of the Organization” address to commence this year’s policy forum. Jacobs highlighted the organization’s dogged efforts against the Iran deal and the U.N.’s hypocrisy on the issue of human rights and the State of Israel.
Jacobs also discussed the recent B’nai B’rith mission to India, the organization’s work with the Jewish community in Cuba and the importance of Holocaust remembrance—mentioning B’nai B’rith’s work on Holocaust Remembrance Day and the program Unto Every Person There Is a Name.
Jacobs noted in his final formal address to Policy Forum attendees: “B’nai B’rith’s persistence and perseverance in our core areas has been relentless. At 172 years old, our stride is steady and with purpose.” And he also noted he was proud that B’nai B’rith “has long been a voice of truth and reason, even when sitting across from a powerful world leader.”
Making Sense of the Middle East
B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin tackled the issues in the Middle East, particularly the Iran nuclear deal, during his opening address. He highlighted the concerns with the agreement, such as the fact that Iran will have enough material to produce nuclear weapons in 10-15 years, the 24-day separation between international inspections and Iran’s history of serial human rights abuse.
“The international community should stand firm in its determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We must also agree to counter Iranian support for terrorism and confront Iran violation of ballistic missile protocols and international human rights violations,” Mariaschin said. “And defenders of human rights everywhere must take more seriously Iran’s stated desire to eradicate Israel and its repeated use of anti-Semitic invective and Holocaust denial. Iran’s repeated threats to destroy the State of Israel must be viewed with the utmost gravity, particularly in light of Iran’s ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons and its unswerving sponsorship of terrorism. The regime’s behavior has already provided ample evidence of why a nuclear Iran presents not only a threat to Israel, but to the entire region and beyond.”
He also discussed the recent, alarming attacks on Israeli Jews by Palestinian terrorists and the biased reporting that surrounds it. Mariaschin expressed his extreme disappointment in the United Nations for criticizing Israel for defending itself against these vicious attacks.
“The message from the Palestinians has been the same for 15 years: Don’t blame the Palestinians when terror ensues; blame only the Israelis for refusing to surrender themselves and their country,” Mariaschin said. “And much of the international media has complied, potentially swaying the tenor of discussions on Israel by leaving out crucial details. Through this entire crisis, many in the media have gone to great lengths to avoid using the word ‘terrorists’ to describe the Palestinian perpetrators in the wave of murderous attacks on Jews and describing Israel’s response in defending its citizens as ‘excessive.’”
Nancy Spielberg’s “Above and Beyond”—Film Presentation and Panel Discussion
Producer Nancy Spielberg screened her film “Above and Beyond” for attendees. The film tells the story of a group of American men willing to break the laws of their own country to help create and train pilots of the Israeli Air Force, just a few years after the horrors of the Holocaust.
After the screening, a panel discussion was held, featuring Spielberg, Lt. Col. Bruce Lichtman of the U.S. Air Force and Col. Shai Katav, air force attaché and deputy defense attaché for the Israel Defense Forces.
“I feel connected to the families. I fell in love with his dad (Licthman),” Spielberg said after the screening. “I feel like we’re relatives, like we’re cousins. But no one sent me any birthday presents!”
Lichtman added even more dimension to his father, Gideon, who was prominently featured in the film and lovingly nicknamed “Bad Grandpa.”
“One of the wonderful things Nancy did was capture these guys. That’s my dad!” Lichtman said.
Katav provided insight on the current state of the Israeli air force and the effect these men featured in the film had on Israel today. Amir Eshel, the Israeli air force chief, ordered that all members of the air force watch this film.
“No matter how many times I’ve watched this movie before, it brings many emotions.” Katav said.
Town Hall Meetings: B’nai B’rith’s Domestic and International Policy Agendas
A town hall meeting on the first day of the forum included a broad discussion of B’nai B’rith’s domestic policy agenda. Mariaschin served as the moderator, while B’nai B’rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield and Director of Aging and Health Policy Rachel Goldberg, Ph.D., discussed immigration, voting rights, gun reform and aging. The panel noted that with positions on both sides of the political aisle hardening, there is less inclination to compromise than there used to be, leaving consensus too often out of reach. Panelists noted B’nai B’rith’s resolve to advocate on our core issues, despite conditions on Capitol Hill.
A second town hall session, on international issues, included Mariaschin moderating and Fusfield speaking, along with Senior Vice President Daniel Citone of Rome, Director of Latin America Affairs Eduardo Kohn, Director of B’nai B’rith World Center – Jerusalem Alan Schneider and International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy Assistant Director Sienna Girgenti. The panel discussed the singular mistreatment of Israel at global institutions and the problems of anti-Semitism masking as criticism of Israel. The group noted that a global working definition of anti-Semitism is that political events in the Middle East or elsewhere can never justify anti-Semitism. The panel also discussed B’nai B’rith’s humanitarian work in Cuba and new U.S.-Cuba relations.
Terrorist Financing and Emerging Middle East Threats
Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing Daniel Glaser discussed the Treasury Department’s role in American anti-terrorism efforts. Glaser develops and implements policies to combat terrorist financing networks for terrorist groups like ISIL, Hezbollah and al Qaeda. He explained how he works to obstruct the financing of their activities, whether it may be through donations, self-funded or state sponsored.
A Conversation with Alan Gross
In 2009, Alan Gross attempted to connect the Cuban population to the internet and was arrested by the nation’s government for using American communication equipment. During Gross’ five years in prison, Bruce Pascal, a member of the B’nai B’rith Executive Board of Directors, visited him four times. At this year’s policy forum, the two reconvened for a conversation in which they discussed the nature of his arrest, the treatment he received in prison and his thoughts on the future of Cuban-American relations.
Nicholas Dean, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, U.S. State Department
B’nai B’rith had the privilege of being joined by Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Nicholas Dean from the U.S. State Department. He discussed the ways that he and his staff, with the help of groups such as B’nai B’rith, work to make sure Holocaust victims receive their proper restitution, currently focusing on central Europe. The State Department also works with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to create educational and awareness programming to ensure the atrocities committed are never forgotten.
Tommy P. Baer, Honorary President, Reflect on Kristallnacht
Born in Berlin before the start of the Holocaust, B’nai B’rith International Honorary President Tommy P. Baer has a much deeper understanding of horrors of Kristallnacht than most. On Nov. 9-10, members of Adolf Hitler’s SA paramilitary forces destroyed countless homes, schools, synagogues and other institutions.
“Among the littered glass were the shards of shattered hope.”
Baer’s grandfather was among the 30,000 people detained. The Germans would later blame the pogrom on the Jews, who received a one million marc fine.
Baer also pointed out this was a difficult time for B’nai B’rith. B’nai B’rith Germany, which began in 1888, was under threat from Nazi Germany. Although B’nai B’rith International President Leo Baeck, who married Baer’s parents, refused to disband B’nai B’rith Germany, it seemed to be out of his control. By 1937, one third of the lodges of Europe were either voluntarily disbanded or disbanded under distress.
Shortly thereafter, a telegram was sent back to the United States informing headquarters that the lodges had been disposed, the property confiscated.
“Memory is the way we give meaning to history. Thus not to repeat or countenance,” Baer said.
EU Diplomatic Panel: Current Issues on the Trans-Atlantic Agenda
As a sign of the esteem that B’nai B’rith is held in on the global stage, the Policy Forum was joined by three European diplomats to discuss a number of pressing issues. Ambassador of Bulgaria Elena Poptodorova, Ambassador of Croatia Josip Paro and German Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission Philipp Ackermann hit on a variety of topics including rising anti-Semitism in Europe, immigration and refugees, the European Union labeling West Bank products and the relationship between Europe, the United States and Israel.
The Situation of Religious Minorities in the Middle East
The State Department’s Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Middle East and South/Central Asia Knox Thames was the final speaker of the 2015 Policy Forum, giving attendees a look at a newly created role inside the federal government’s diplomatic arm. Thames led the conversation off by discussing the damage ISIL has caused in the Middle East and its attempts to wipe out religious minorities and religious history in the region. Thames also warned of the dire situation being faced by Christians living in the Middle East, and ramped up destruction and sale of religious artifacts.
Young Leadership Network Report
Recent Young Leadership Network Chair Rebecca Saltzman Barsheshet provided a report on the state of the Young Leadership Network. She informed those in attendance that the network is becoming increasingly digitally focused. Just that morning, young leaders participated in a virtual round table, discussing Israel, human rights, disaster relief and many other issues important to B’nai B’rith. During the Young Leadership Network Conference, held in the days prior to the Policy Forum, JSwipe founder David Yarus was the keynote speaker. Barsheshet also announced that Label A. Katz Award winner Ed Redensky would take over as Young Leadership Network chair.
Label A. Katz Award Winners
At the Policy Forum, B’nai B’rith gave out the Label A. Katz awards, named for the youngest person to achieve the office of international president of B’nai B’rith. The award goes to individuals under 45 who have demonstrated outstanding service to the totality of B'nai B'rith and have worked to achieve the goals of the B'nai B'rith Young Leadership program. This year’s recipients were:
The Policy Forum also provided an opportunity to recognize individual achievements of both staff and volunteer leaders. Outgoing Treasurer Seth J. Riklin of Sugar Land, Texas, received the Moe and Berdie Kudler Award for outstanding volunteer service. Riklin, who served two terms as B’nai B’rith treasurer, was recognized for exemplifying the B’nai B’rith mission of “uniting the Jewish people in the work of promoting their highest interests and those of humanity.”
Staff members were also recognized at the Policy Forum for their professional excellence with the bestowal of the Sidney H. Closter Award and the Julius Bisno Award.
B’nai B’rith Conference on Senior Housing
B’nai B’rith Senior Housing managers and board members participated in the B’nai B’rith Conference on Senior Housing, which was held alongside the Policy Forum. Those in attendance participated in training sessions and seminars, which included best practices for managers and boards, as well as critical updates on Department of Housing and Urban Development activities, legislative developments and the current budget environment.
Attendees also visited B’nai B’rith Homecrest House in Silver Spring, Md., meeting with an outstanding resident council and touring the facility.
Finally, dozens of attendees went to the Capitol Hill to meet with key congressional offices about investing in affordable senior housing for the future.
Young Leadership Conference
The B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Conference took place from Nov. 6-8 in Washington D.C. Participants engaged on Nov. 6 with representatives of the French embassy, Olivier Gauvin and Sean Jean Francois, to discuss the current relations between France, the United States and Israel, as well as the state of French Jewry.
On Saturday and Sunday, attendees heard from David Yarus, co-founder of the dating app JSwipe. Yarus delved into the origin story of how JSwipe was created and gave a presentation on marketing to millennials. Participants from around the country enjoyed their time in the District.