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January 24, 1986 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-01-24

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24 Friday, January 24, 1986



Can The Nation's
Oldest Jewish

B'nai B'rith is 142 years old and its structure
has been likened to a family. But the "father
knows best" era is over, and there are signs
that the parent organization
has lost. itsvitality.


- Special To The

B'nai B'rith International is the coun-
try's oldest Jewish membership organiza-
tion. During its 142-year history, Ameii-
can society and Jewish communal life have
changed many times over, and it might be
assumed that any organization that could
endure those changes would have its finger
on the pulse of American Jewish life. And
if this were a society in which old age was
automatically equated with wisdom and
venerability, B'nai B'rith would be the
revered patriarch of Jewish service
But old age also implies deterioration
and stagnation. The fact is that B'nai
B'rith International, which , claims a
membership of 500,000 (including men,
women and youth worldwide), is losing
about 22,000 members a year through
death or attrition. Critics.charge that if the
organization were livelier, it would attract
more and younger members. One insider,
who deplores the bureauCratic sluggish-
ness which he clainis "embalms new ideas"
and creates .the appearance but not the
fact of change, likens working at B'nai
B'rith to "moving deck chairs on the
Titanic." -
But B'nai B'rith leaders often use the
analogy of a family when speaking about
their organization and its many branches.
They hope to convey feelings of loyalty
and cooperation, attributes of traditional
family life. But, if the truth be told, the
family of 1985 is beset with problems such
as divorce, children's rebelliousness and
financial worries. In evoking the family im-
age, B'nai B'rith leaders may be closer to


The Logo

Since 1843, when the founders of
B'nai B'rith mentioned it in their con-
stitution, the menorah has been the
organization's predominant symbol.
The publishers of the earliest B'nai
B'rith publication called their maga-
zine The Menorah, and until 1978,
various versions of the symbol served
as logos for different B'nai B'rith
departments. In 1978, B'nai B'rith's
directors decided that one menorah
logo should represent the entire
organization. They chose a seven-
branched candelabrum which had
previously served as the Membership
Department's logo, because it had a
"contemporary" look, -


describing their own situation than they
would like.
B'nai B'rith International today seems
very much like the father of a thoroughly
modern and often fractious family. Some
of its branches easily fit the roles of spouse
and children, all at various stages of in-
dependence, maturity, and rebelliousness.
One thing is certain: the "Father Knows
Best" days are a mere memory for this
organization, whose viability is being ques-
tioned by its own rank and file as well as
by the larger community.
Like any family, B'nai B'rith would like
to keep its problems private, and for a long
time it has succeeded. A recent internal
study showed "that the B'nai Brith image
has the greatest luster in the non-Jewish
community and the lowest within our own
ranks, with a middle perception in the
Jewish community at large." Only the im-
mediate family, it seems, is privy to the
organization's internal battles, though
close "neighbors" cannot help but hear an
occasional outburst from behind closed
doors. This high degree of confidentiality,
some maintain, springs from the 'respect
which the family members feel for the
household leader. Despite their dif-
ferences, they agree that airing dirty laun-
dry will not speed the hoped-for rapproche.
went. Another view of the tight-lipped, 116;
complaining front is less benign. If `the
head-of-household maintains the purse
strings, then rebelliousness risks a lost
allowance. This view sees the sequestering
of complaints as a rule imposed from the
top, a bureaucratic fix-it.


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