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By Joshua Levi Steinke, B’nai B’rith member and 2024 Leadership Forum attendee who authored this guest blog about his experience attending this year’s forum in Washington D.C.

This year I joined my very first B’nai B’rith Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.

After being active in the Jewish community and advocating against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism for a few years, experiencing the Oct. 7 attack while on vacation in Israel made me even more passionate and I decided to join B’nai B’rith a few months ago.

When I got the invitation (I was in Tel Aviv with my girlfriend at that point), I immediately applied.

Even though I haven’t been in the U.S. for over 10 years and didn’t know anyone personally, I was excited to meet new like-minded people and talk about the ongoing situation.

Without wanting to spoil anything: I did not regret my decision to fly all the way from Berlin to Washington D.C. at all.

Saturday night we started with a lovely Havdalah ceremony, which is one of my favorite Jewish rituals. After a few welcoming words by our president, Seth Riklin, we had the chance to chat a bit.

Even though I was definitely one of the youngest (it was just one day before my 27th birthday) I quickly felt welcome and was delighted to meet Jewish activists from all over the world.

We ended the night with some casual socializing where I got to meet so many lovely members.

On Sunday the program was packed with interesting and educational contributions. First of all, I was delighted to see a nice bagel spread for breakfast, an easy way to make a Jewish heart happy.

Our CEO Dan Mariaschin gave his remarks about the current situation in the Jewish world after the horrific events of Oct. 7. In between the spoken contributions we got video insights of the phenomenal work B’nai B’rith does around the world.

We then got an analysis of the 2024 U.S. elections by the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Insider, Josh Kraushaar, with an emphasis on the role of Jewish concerns on the electoral outcome. As someone who has always been passionate about politics this was extremely educational and interesting. Learning about all the factors that play a role in American bipartisan politics was definitely very interesting from my European perspective.

This was followed by a presentation about the tragedy of the S.S. St. Louis: A ship filled with Jewish refugees that was forced to turn around at the American coast which resulted in the tragic death of two-thirds of its passengers in Nazi death camps. Growing up in Germany I was aware of these ships but there was never a big emphasis on those stories since there was a much bigger emphasis on the horrible events that took place on German soil. What made this contribution extra special were the three survivors of the S.S. St. Louis who shared their and their families’ stories with us. To me it’s always a huge honor to be able to listen to these firsthand accounts. It is so important for the younger generations to listen to these stories and to make sure they will never be forgotten!

After lunch we were happy to have IDF Brigadier General Asaf Vardi, who is Israel’s Deputy Defense Attaché and Air & Space Force Attaché to the U.S. update us on Israel’s defensive war in Gaza. He really gave us a valuable insight and was generous enough to answer all our questions.

The next speakers were three Jewish university students: A part of the program I was particularly excited about since I’m still in university myself and very active in the fight against anti-Semitism on campuses in Germany. So, getting a firsthand insight about the situation in the U.S. was definitely something I was looking forward to. Jessica Brenner from Barnard College/Columbia, Shabbos Kestenbaum from Harvard (whose work I’ve been following for a while) and Jamie Sharabani from the University of Miami told us about their experiences with faculty, staff and fellow students. As expected, their accounts were horrific but sadly not surprising since it was sadly similar to my experience in the European academic world. But seeing their resilience and strength really showed me that we’re all in this together and afterwards I had a quick chat with Shabbos who offered his support for the Jewish students in Europe and I obviously assured him that we will also always have the back of our American brothers and sisters.

We also had James Altman who came all the way from Australia to present the Courage to Care program. It’s a fantastic program that teaches young Australians to speak up about injustices they encounter, with the help of Holocaust survivors who share their stories and experiences.

During the following board meeting I raised the question how I can get other young Jewish people in Europe involved with B’nai B’rith and I’m excited to work with my fellow members together to make this happen!

All in all, I have to say there could have been no better way to spend my birthday!

On our last day we were invited to the Austrian embassy for a very touching Yom HaShoah ceremony to commemorate the Austrian victims who were murdered in the Holocaust. Following the tradition of Unto Every Person There Is A Name we read the names of those victims. The Austrian Ambassador Dr. Petra Schneebauer also gave a compassionate speech to honor those who were murdered by the Nazis.

All I can say is that it was absolutely worth it! Spending time with fellow Jewish people during those dark times is always a ray of light and the B’nai B’rith family welcomed me with open arms! I can wholeheartedly recommend other members (especially other young people) to join the next Leadership Forum. You won’t regret it!

A big thank you to B’nai B’rith International for inviting me and making this experience so outstanding! I can’t wait to meet everyone again!