B’nai B’rith often notes the significance of dates on social media. On Jan. 6, 2022, B’nai B’rith commented on the meaning of the day, along with reporters, political analysists and historians. It was a sad anniversary, remembering the assault on the United States Capitol one year before. Many comments described the place with reverence and called it our nation’s Citadel of Democracy.
One that date, a year earlier, we saw the news coverage of that attack by a violent mob. The day is now remembered as a day of violence that assaulted the building, and the Capitol and D.C. Metro police who stood their ground to preserve and protect the location and all of the people inside. The attack was meant to stop the functioning of our democracy, as the agenda of Congress that day was to certify the November 2020 election.
Inside the Capitol there are statues and busts that honor important figures. In the Capitol’s rotunda, treasured public servants are honored when they die, as they lie in state in the place where they worked or had an impact on our society. The nation honors them for their service to our country.
The Capitol is more than just a place I see on the news. It is a building in the same city B’nai B’rith has its headquarters. It is the place where the advocacy that is done by B’nai B’rith takes place each and every day, focusing on issues that concern our organization. I see it when I arrive at Union Station when travelling to the B’nai B’rith office.
Being an advocate on important issues means that we make ourselves known as representatives of the Jewish people. Earlier this year, in an article in the Jerusalem Post, our CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin shared some of the issues on the legislative agenda this year. At that time, one of the pressing issues was the confirmation of Deborah Lipstadt for the position of the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. It had been stalled in the Senate and B’nai B’rith spoke out to press for the confirmation for months. As of this blog’s publication, the Senate hearing has taken place and we are awaiting the official confirmation. The position of the anti-Semitism special envoy is one that B’nai B’rith has advocated for since its inception, and we have had the honor of hearing from former special envoys at B’nai B’rith meetings.
A recent report by the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services points out efforts by B’nai B’rith to fight for the needs of seniors. This included support for legislation that includes funding for senior housing and the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda.
B’nai B’rith has had its world headquarters in Washington, D.C. since 1937. Inscribed on the building façade that B’nai B’rith owned on Rhode Island Avenue and then incorporated into its current space is the Hebrew inscription from Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, “The world stands on three principles, study, service and benevolence.” When you brand something into a building and carry these words wherever you go, you really mean it. This message has been a part of our mission for more than 178 years.
These words also describe the mission of our government—to study society and its problems and find solutions that serve the needs of the people, all while doing this with benevolence and care for the people it serves.
Until Sept. 11, 2001, B’nai B’rith held the Unto Every Person There is a Name ceremony on the steps of the Capitol Building. Representatives of B’nai B’rith, led by the Chesapeake Bay Region, read the names of victims of the Holocaust aloud with the participation of government dignitaries.
Working at B’nai B’rith, I have been privileged to visit the Capitol for a number of events. One was a senate hearing about funding prostate cancer research. Advocates addressed the importance of awareness and funding research. B’nai B’rith was invited to attend because of our involvement in prostate cancer education and awareness as part of a national coalition on the subject. Our efforts to educate men and their families about this disease was introduced by Honorary President Kent Schiner, who as a prostate cancer survivor wanted to make sure that others had the advantage of knowing more about the research, diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Over the course of the project, B’nai B’rith provided its members, supporters and the community with educational programming materials. We heard from individuals around the world, thanking us for bringing this important information to their attention and credited it with helping them take an important step to review this disease with their doctors to save their life.
B’nai B’rith also held several events and briefings at the Capitol for attendees of B’nai B’rith Policy Forums. Attendees at one gathering were addressed by Valerie Jarrett, an advisor in the Obama administration. I remember the process to come into the building, checking IDs, and the rush to provide names in advance to ensure security and entry for all into the building.
I have heard my colleagues, who visit “the Hill” to attend meetings and speak with legislators on domestic and international issues as part of their work, describe the process we refer to as advocacy. It is a life’s work for many, representing our organization that has made advocacy a major pillar. B’nai B’rith leaders have attended special missions to Washington to meet with their representatives in Congress on issues that concern us.
As a political science major in college, I took a course that brought my class to Washington, D.C. for a weeklong lesson about politics. This visit was planned to enhance the understanding of how government functioned. It took us beyond the books, into places such as the Capitol to observe Congress in action. I remember looking down from the gallery to see the chamber. Not part of the lesson plan, but a big thrill was when our paths crossed the filming of “All the President’s Men” when we visited the Kennedy Center. Somewhere in my college days memorabilia, I know there is a photo of one of the stars of the movie, Dustin Hoffman.
The Capitol will always be a special place for me. It is the place where, every day, people work to make the United States and the world the best it can be. How fortunate that B’nai B’rith can be a part of that noble endeavor.
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.