and the fight
B'nai B'rith International.
ON THE ROPES
JAMES D. BESSER
'nai B'rith International may be likened to
an elderly relative: somewhat creaky, but
with an honorable past and a future that —
in the interest of good taste — is rarely dis-
That's because 148 years after its birth,
B'rith is an organization in serious cri-
f* MiZ IMM :n1,7 M-a .
sis. The problems are manifold and could result, within the
next decade, in the demise of the nation's oldest Jewish com-
The problems begin with B'nai B'rith's antiquated lodge
system and broad, ill-defined focus, both of which hold lit-
tle appeal for younger Jews. Moreover, years of sloppy man-
agement and a plodding, conservative lay leadership have
left the group poorly equipped to cope with today's chal-
lenging financial environment.
Whatever hopes remain for B'nai B'rith's survival appear
to rest with the organization's current leaders, who seem
determined to confront the forces eroding the organization's
B'nai B'rith President Kent E. Schiner is optimistic that,
despite recent layoffs and hints of still more to come, he can
transform B'nai B'rith into a lean, forward-looking organi-
"B'nai B'rith, if we could put it in medical terms, had a
grave illness," Mr. Schiner, a Baltimore insurance execu-
tive, said during a recent interview at the organization's
northwest Washington headquarters. "There had to be cer-
tain moves made in order to get the patient on the road to
"That has been my challenge, to move the organization
in a direction where it will not only survive, but be even
more viable within a different framework."
B'nai B'rith was created in 1843, according to historian
Arthur Hertzberg, by a group of young Jews who had been
rejected for membership in the Odd Fellows Lodge. They
dealt with it by forming their own fraternal organization --
complete with secret passwords and mysterious rituals.
In 1992, however, that fraternal model, despite having
been greatly modified over the years, accounts in large mea-
oil coney II IIV 4 1000
YOU WANT TO MAKE ENEMIES, TRY TO
President Woodrow Wilson
( 185 6-1924)
B'nai B'rith's survival rests on the shoulders of its president, Kent Schiner.