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January 24, 1986 - Image 27

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

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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THE -DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Friday, Uanuary 24, 1986 27

CONGREGATION SkIAA2Ey ZEDEK

13 ETH 1MJELEt

DAy CAMP

JUICE 23 - ALIQUST 1 • 1936

AGES: 21 to 6 years of age

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planning and research, is not alarmed by
the membership statistics. He says got
during WWII, when BBI membrfship
peaked, American Jews felt their B'nai
B'rith participation was a way of con-
tributing to the war effort. The destruction
of Nazism, adds Baer, reduced the need for
Jews to identify with co-religionists. A
post-war decline in membership, he con-
cludes, is a commonality shared by all
Jewish organizations.
Baer explains the older membership as
a result of the population curve, not an in-
ability of programs to attract individuals.
He contends that 18 to 30-year-olds are
"still engaged in getting training and
education. (They are) dating and mating
and establishing families and careers. It is
wholly unrealistic for anyone in that age
group to join any organization at that
time. They join ad hoc organizations on-
ly." Lew Hamburger, BBI membership
director, adds his opinion that "B'nai
B'rith reflects the trend everywhere. There
is a lack of cause out there ... no national
movements to fire the imagination of peo-
ple under thirty."
Dr. Daniel Thursz, executive vice presi-
dent of BBI, is not so sanguine about the
loss of public image and membership.
"Think of the Jewish community as a
triangle," he says, "with the synagogues,
the federations and the national organiza-
tions (standing for) each point. The Jewish
community does best when the three
groups have equal power.
"The federations have more (power) in
America today. It is not a healthy situa-
tion. Diplomacy and containment are
necessary to a healthy competition. The
federations are not the whole Jewish com-
munity ... They are not organized as
membership organizations. They skim off
the top to get the economic elite. They are
undemocratic in the nature of their fund-
raising. There is no national, constitutional
body of federations. They are not a move-
ment like B'nai B'rith."
When Thursz speaks of "movement," he
means the overall sense of mission which,
in theory, holds together BBI's decen-
tralized structure. Within this structure,
the various levels — lodges, districts, etc.
— have a large degree of autonomy. And
when Thursz speaks of democracy, he
means the system whereby individuals
declare themselves presidential candidates
and campaign for the job. BBI's officers
are elected every two years and may be re-
elected once. Any BBI member is eligible
to run for president and be elected by
delegates at an international convention.
Considering the large sums of personal
funds and time spent on recent campaign
(past candidates have even traveled the
country by private jet), some people
wonder just how "democratic" the system
is. Such a costly race could not be attemp-
ted by the average BBI member, who also

probably couldn't afford to be away from
his business as much as the president's job
requires. On the other hand, how many
other Jewish organizations — local as well
as national — hold elections with more
than one candidate running for office.
B'nai B'rith is often described, with
pride, as a department store of Jewish life,
offering something for everyone. In many
respects, such diversification is a source
of strength. A listing of lodge happenings,
published in the monthly B'nai B'rith
magazine, is a pot pourri of events
representing the interests of local
members. One lodge concentrates on suc-
coring senior citizens, another hosts the
Egyptian ambassador, a third reports on
a trip to Atlantic City, and others discuss
books or collect stamps together.
The lodges, it seems, go about their
business, contribute their dues, and are
largely unaware of doings at the top.
Thursz concurs that one of BBI's biggest

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Dr. Daniel Thursz

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"The federations are not
the whole Jewish corn-
munity...They are not
organized as member-
ship organizations. They
skim off the top to get
the economic elite."

challenges is maintaining a sense of the
whole. Not only is this a problem vertical-
ly, from lodge • to executive office in
Washington, D.C., but it is a struggle
horizontally, between branches.
And at the heart of this problem is
money. In 1982, Philip Klutznick, BBI
honorary president and head of a commis-
sion charting the future of B'nai B'rith,
charged that "we have given so much em-
phasis to finance that we have neglected
day to day program coordination."
Despite the fact that it has an operating
budget of $14 million, its largest ever,
"BBI lacks the funds to match its
dreams," says Thursz. (Last year, an in-
sider confided, BBI fell $1 million short of

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