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January 24, 1986 - Image 25

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

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THE DETROIT. JEWISH NEWS • . Friday, Jandery 24, 1986 25

Ascertaining the accuracy of either pic-
ture is a job complicated bythe organiza-
tion's size and decentralized structure.
BBI claims 500,000 members. Branch bud-
get and membership figures touch at
many points, with whole areas (such as
Hillel membership), being mere approx-
imations. B'nai B'rith International has
seven commissions (the Anti-Defamation
League, Hillel, Youth Organization, Career
and Counseling Services, Adult Jewish
Education, Community and Volunteer Ser-
vices and the Israel Commission). In ad-
dition, there is an international council,
several committees (planning and
research, cults, senior citizens' housing,
members' insurance and the Klutznick
museum), and three cabinets (leadership,
fund raising and membership). B'nai
B'rith women today is wholly separate,
having its own structure and funding.
Jewish public awareness of BBI doesn't
begin to comprehend this structure or the
interaction of its part& Many people are
more cognizant of the organization's past
directives than its current thrust. This, ex-
plains BBI president .Gerald Kraft, is
because "after World War II, B'nai B'rith
made a conscious decision to remove itself
from areas of concern covered by other
organizations ... and move on to something
A fraternal organization succoring ,
widows, orphans and the needy at its
outset, B'nai B'rith turned its attention
overseas and to relief work around 1875.
In the early 1900's it downplayed the
fraternal order and developed various
branches, emphasizing community and
volunteer service, during the war years.
Today it is strongly, in the field of senior
citizens housing, being the single largest
owner of such units in the country.
Along with a sometimes antiquated
perception of its work, BBI has another
image problem. The branches, or family
members, that most people know about
are the ones that have field staffs and the
ones that have drawn the most "press?'
Hffiel, the Youth Organization, Career and
Counseling Services and ADL all have
field workers. ADL, Hillel, B'nai B'rith .
and - Ernai B'rith Women get the most
coverage, for good and bad reasons.
B'nai B'rith currently has 200,000 mein-.
bers with an average age of 67. Members
participate on one or many levels, starting
with the local lodge or unit, and pyra-
miding to councils (i.e. greater Baltimore),
states, districts (a total of seven in the
U.S.), and the international (active in more
than 40 foreign countries). Fixed, per
capita dues go to the international ($22)
and the district ($11-30), but lodges levy
their 'own dues, which may be as high as
$100 and are a turnoff to many prospec-.
tive and current members. The three dues
are lumped into one annual bill, which the
lodge member pays, often being unaware



Wise Free Synagogue in New.York, thinks
this isn't the case. "A split between ADL
and B'nai B'rith is emerging quite clear-
ly," he says. As evidence, he points to
ADL's recent resignation from the Inter-
national Jewish Committee for Inter-
Religious Consultation. "B'nai B'rith has
stepped in to cover the hole," which reveals
the animus between the two organiza-
tions," reasons Brickner. "ADL doesn't
want to put itself under the discipline of
a community," Brickner further opines.
"It wants to be what it has always been
— a maverick."
A member of the B'nai B'rith family
with less financial independence is Hillel.
Established 63 years ago, this B'nai B'rith
arm serves college and university students
on-campus. Hillel claims all Jewish
students on campus as members, but Rab-
bi Sam Fishman, Hillel's national
associate director, points out that Hillels
operate with varying degrees of success,
'having fulltime professionals on only 100
campuses: Another 200 schools, those
B'nai B'rith International
with less Jewish presence, have less Hillel
headquarters on Rhode
Island Ave., N.W. in
Hffiel, says Fishman, naturally does bet-
Washington, D.C., was built
ter on residential campuses with "quality"
in two stages; the first wing
Jewish students. Not surprisingly, these
opetie.41 in 1957. Shortly after
successes 'correlate with communities that
the second wing opened, in
have strong Jewish federations wiling to
•• March, 1977, the building
chip in financially. Starting in the '70s,
was the scene of a Hanafi
federations increasingly assumed respon-
Muslim takeover in which
sibility for Hillel staff salaries and
one person was killed.
operating budgets, though their contribu-
tions are usually funnelled through B'nai
B'rith. On the University of Maryland
of how the money is apportioned or what campus at College Park, for' example, the
is happening beyond the local level.
correct name for the organization is the
The most notable BBI "offspring" is the
B'nai B'rith Hillel-Federation Jewish Stu-
Anti-Defamation League, a "matured"
dent Center. It recently moved into a new
child that has reached financial in-
building which was funded by B'nai B'rith,
'dependence The 73-year-old ADL once
the UJA in Washington, and the
•received $300,000 from' BBI yearly, but Associated Jewish Charities in Baltimore,
now gets only half that amount. ADL's
but not without conflict — over name and
associate director, Abe F,counan, calls the ownership.
present BBI allocation "more symbolic
With their mUltiple funders, rabbis at
than meaningful," when compared to Maryland's' Hillel have salaries that "at
ADL's total budget of $24 million (40 per-
least approach the 'level they should be
cent of which comes from non-Jews). All ,at," says executive director, Rabbi Robert
B'nai B'rith members are automatically
S aks. But the College:Park rabbis are in
ADL "constituents," or contributors, but
sympathy with Hillel rabbis elsewhere,
the reverse is not true. (ADL says it is not who are underpaid by congregational stan-
a membershiporganization, but has
dard& Hillelleaders contend that starting
60,00Q, supporters in addition to its salaries are $6:7000 below thOseoffered by
200,000 BBI constituents.)
synagogues, and the fact that B B'rith
- "The number one reason for affiliation
employs more rabbis than any other or-
with B'nai B'rith (given in a question-
ganization is small consolation.
naire), says. Foxman, "is ADL 'Work.
The Youth Organization was founded
That's'the sexy item." Even though half - concurrently with Hillel, but better fills
the members of ADL's policy-making na-`" the role of family "baby," everybody's -
tional commission are not BBI members,
favorite. BBYO is clearly identified with
Foxman says the two groups are totally B'nai'B'rith and receives the bulk' of its
identified with each other; "We are they,"
funding ($3.1 million this year) from the
he claims, "the membership does not ex- parent organization. Its members are all
perience competitivenes& Problems, if high school students, 25,000 in North
_ they exist, are at the top levels." .
America and another 10,000 overseas. The
Rabbi Balfour Brickner, of the Stephen youth programs accentuate community


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