These past months I have been going through files in preparation for my retirement at the end of December. As there is sand at the beach, there is B’nai B’rith in almost every piece of paper that I have reviewed. Each file offers insight into what was important to this organization as the issue came to light, discussed and then a decision made about what we would do about it. The notes I find describe collaborative efforts with the involvement of colleagues and B’nai B’rith leaders to find the right words to describe the current mission, history and future of B’nai B’rith. The information spans three centuries, beginning with the founding of B’nai B’rith in 1843 as the foundation of what we stand for, what we need to do today and what we want to be in the future. All of these words relate to areas of concern to the leaders, members and supporters of B’nai B’rith. I have been honored to be the one that had these files. Looking at every printed document, a structure emerges. We needed content to create the vehicle to inform, inspire and involve others who are committed to making the world a better place. They all believed that what happens to another Jew happens to them. They internalized the message of Tikkun Olam, pledged that concern needs action and the funds to pay for what we do. We recognized that we are an assembly of many voices and that we are responsible to go beyond our own community and care for others, as we are part of the place where we live.
The issues are diverse. Some very serious—the destruction of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, or the oppression of and a commitment to free Soviet Jewry. There are discussions to connect people to the support and love of Israel. They reference B’nai B’rith’s role in the 1800s before Israel became a state and take pride in its accomplishments in the modern world today. Readings were created to celebrate significant anniversaries of the establishment of Israel in various forms. Israel at 25, 50 and now almost 75 years offers a collection of meaningful commentary.
Format was important, as a I remember a committee debating the choice for videotape production of materials: VHS or Betamax? Some topics were meant to be fun, sharing a love of the Yiddish language with the story of Little Red Riding Hood in Yiddish to be premiered at a lodge meeting, discussing the importance of Jewish foods and holiday celebrations to preserving family heritage. Some were meant to help the individual stay healthy and happy with topics that discussed finances, the latest medical information, mental health and family issues. The topics literally covering everything from cradle to grave. If it was important to the member or supporter, it was important to the organization.
The menorah lighting ceremony and opening and closing of meetings and other events of B’nai B’rith were used to honor historical events, famous Jews or to recognize achievements of B’nai B’rith. The meaning of each candle is a reminder about what the founders of B’nai B’rith believed to be important. Using words found in the prayers of the Jewish people, they reflect being a good person and committing oneself to be an example of those good qualities. It reminds us that we need to bring peace, light, brotherly love, truth, justice, unity and harmony to the world. Those who lit the menorah were honored volunteers and dignitaries.
There are minutes from meetings of many committees, boards and focus groups. Official documents to preserve a decision or budget item. The comments from these groups helped us hear what leadership, members and supporters were thinking. Resolutions that were discussed and voted on to determine the stand that B’nai B’rith would take on important issues. They would result in media releases and be shared as projects and programs that would undertake the mission to do something meaningful about the issue at hand. They all had a common goal of collaboration and commitment. A determination to do and be the best at what was needed to get something done.
There are invitations for dinners and breakfasts that honored individuals and recognized causes. These events allowed B’nai B’rith to raise funds to continue to do its good work with the support of these devoted and important individuals. There were distinguished guest speakers, who recognized the work B’nai B’rith did by being a part of the event. Many shared their personal connection to B’nai B’rith.
There are photos of meetings and events that captured the work in action. Many are in black and white, because that was what the press wanted to be able to use in the news. Moving to color, they were the B’nai B’rith “family” album of conventions, parades and meetinsg. We used printers and copy machines. Typewriters made room for computers. I still remember when cc meant using carbon copy produced on carbon paper and you could not just delete or backspace. We kept Correct-a-Type and then the magic white liquid paper handy to fix any typos.
In addition to the paper that B’nai B’rith produced, there were articles on subjects that we could use as reference on the subject. Most of this has moved online, saving a good number of trees. We can still see these reference materials and connect to events in B’nai B’rith history.
The original black and white photos, the notes, the copy to be proofed and then the final document will remain a part of what I will hold dear, but now will label to preserve or discard.
I’ll take the essence of the words, people and the projects with me. I have been privileged to be part of the staff of B’nai B’rith for 45 years. Yes, it was all there in writing, contained in black and white space printed on paper, but the memories of this time in my life will remain golden.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B’nai B’rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B’nai B’rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B’nai B’rith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. Rhonda has served on the B’nai B’rith International staff for 41 years. To view some of her additional content, click here.