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NEWS of B'nai B'rith

February 3, 2015


This past fall in Salonica, I spoke on sacred ground about the past and future of Greek Jewish history.

Once home to the largest Ladino-speaking Jewish community in the world, Salonica (Thessaloniki), the second biggest city in Greece today, lost nearly all of its Jews as a result of the Holocaust, during which the Nazis deported close to fifty thousand people to their deaths at Auschwitz. Almost all the remnants of the centuries-long Jewish presence in this once cosmopolitan city—from the more than three dozen synagogues to the vast Jewish cemetery—were obliterated, partly at the initiative of local Greek Orthodox residents and leaders themselves.



Holocaust survivors gathered along with several world leaders today to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation by the Soviet Red Army of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Poland where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson tells our Newscast unit that "among the leaders who will be attending the Auschwitz ceremony are the presidents of Germany and Austria, the nations that gave rise to the Nazis and have since tried atoning for their sins. But more attention is being paid to who isn't at Auschwitz today — Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose countrymen liberated the concentration camp."

She adds: "Russian officials accuse the Polish government of snubbing Putin by not inviting him as they did in the past. Organizers say no country's leaders were invited but rather, countries were asked who they planned to send."

A decade ago, about 1,500 Auschwitz survivors attended the commemoration. Today, the number was around 300.

As Soraya says: "It is likely the last decade anniversary where significant numbers of actual survivors of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps will attend. This year, the youngest of the 300 who traveled to Poland for the ceremony are in their 70s."

Paula Lebovics of Encino, Calif., recalled how a Russian soldier who was among those who liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945, took her in his arms and rocked her tenderly with tears coming to his eyes. She was 11 at the time. Now 81, she told The Associated Press it was a shame Putin wasn't among those at the today's ceremony.

"He should be there," she said. "They were our liberators."

Another survivor, Eva Mozes Kor, told the AP said she will not miss Putin, "but I do believe that from a moral and historical perspective he should be here."

Besides the leaders of Germany and Austria, French President Francois Hollande was at today's ceremony in Auschwitz. Russia's delegation is being led by Sergei Ivanov, Putin's chief of staff; the U.S. delegation is led by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/27/381862479/holocaust-survivors-mark-70th-anniversary-of-auschwitzs-liberation

This past week, on Sunday January 18th, 2015, at the Bernardins College in Paris, France B'nai B'rith France held the symposium: "Jews and Christians – A Mutual Understanding & Issues at Concern through a Common Reflection on Our Society". It was a full day of open dialogue about culture, for all who wonder about the meaning of life and the future of man.

Serge Dahan, the President of B'nai B'rith France gave the opening speech, and asked participants to observe a minute of silence in tribute to the 17 citizens murdered in Paris. He reminded that anti-Semitism, intolerance, and rejection of others has not disappeared and today more than ever we need to understand the urgency and specificity of Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Mr. Dahan continued by stating that we need to be conscious of our responsibility, role and power of interfaith dialogue to fight against this fanaticism, together and united to say no to hate, not to barbarism, yes to Christian-Judeo values of love of respect the other and yes to republican values of freedom of expression.

B'nai B'rith Europe President Erika van Gelder was was also present and was part of the last afternoon panel discussion. She stressed the importance of education, and mentioned the Bulgarian Holocaust education program in high schools as well as the project Bridges of Tolerance. Bridges of Tolerance stresses that the best tool for combating prejudice, discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism, is education. Knowledge about your neighbor's culture would promote understanding and mutual respect. It would, in turn, create bridges of tolerance.
We live in a multi-cultural society where the European citizens of different backgrounds, histories and mentalities all create our common European cultural heritage. Jewish culture, philosophy and traditions are part of this heritage.
At the end of the symposium President van Gelder stressed the importance of keeping an open inter-faith dialogue and the fact that we, Jews, know the feeling of "being Charlie" since we are the "Charlies" of the world for many centuries. She stresses that we should not forget the scale in which the government and the general public reacted in comparison to the recent terrorism attacks, to past attacks (re: Toulouse 2012) and the feelings of isolation for appearing less relevant compared to a non-Jewish attack. The "other" among us today , could be "everyman" tomorrow.

Amongst the notable speakers were the Chief of France Haim Korsia, and the representative of the Vatican, Father Norbert Hofmann. This conference will also allow our communities claiming the same God, but with different conceptions of the vocation of man, to move forward. It will allow us to further our pursuit of "living together" based on the recognition of the authentic plurality.

In the end, the full symposium was of high quality and of great interest, with a large and beautiful moment of reflection at a time when tolerance, freedom and living together are both undermined in our society
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
New York, NY
January 22, 2015



In Judaism, the Sabbath is a holy day of rest and spiritual reflection, when Jews remember the miracle of Genesis and the exodus that followed their ancestors’ liberation from slavery. For many Jews, the ritual centers on Shabbat dinner, which begins at sundown on Friday night. Families come together to light the candles and sing the blessings over wine and challah.

January 9, 2015, the day a terrorist attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris, was a Friday. Yoav Hattab, a 21-year-old student from Tunisia, stopped at the market to pick up a bottle of wine to bring to the hosts of his Shabbat dinner. Philippe Braham, age 45, went there after dropping off two of his kids at school; his wife, Valerie, had asked him to pick up some food for Shabbat. Yohan Cohen, age 22, worked at the market, and was saving up for his wedding to his fiancée, Sharon. Yoav, Philippe, and Yohan were all in the market when the terrorist walked in. Francois-Michael Saada, a 64-year-old retiree, arrived after the attack started. He reportedly asked to be let in so he could buy loaves of challah.

Yoav, Philippe, Yohan, and Francois-Michael were all killed in the attack. All four were casualties of violent anti-Semitism – targets because they were Jews. All were killed playing some role in preparation for the celebration of Shabbat – a core practice of their faith.

As you all know, Jews were not the only targets in the Paris attacks; the violent extremists who launched coordinated attacks that week also went after satirical journalists and police. Nor were they the only victims. The families of those killed are victims as well. Thousands of children attending France’s 717 Jewish schools – little kids who now have to walk to class through phalanxes of heavily armed soldiers – are also victims. So too are Jewish worshippers who congregate in synagogues that increasingly feel like fortresses, with blast walls and foot patrols outside. Any Jew in France, in Europe, or anywhere in the world, who fears putting on a kippah before walking out in public, or thinks twice about shopping in a kosher market, or putting a mezuzah outside their door, or living in a Jewish neighborhood, for fear of being attacked – he or she is also a victim.

Yet it would be a big mistake to think that this is just a European problem. This is a global problem. It is a problem in the United States, despite our long and proud history of religious freedom and our thorough efforts to combat anti-Semitism. According to a 2012 report by our Federal Bureau of Investigation, nearly two-thirds of religious-driven hate crimes in the United States target Jews. Two-thirds.

While Jews in Europe may feel increasingly fearful or even threatened, we must not forget there are communities – and even entire countries – where attending a synagogue or Jewish school is impossible, because they do not exist. Or that there are entire nations where once-vibrant Jewish communities have been driven into exile by harassment, threats, and attacks. We cannot forget that, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, Holocaust denial is still commonplace and accusations of “blood libel” are routinely circulated in the press, including by official news services. Or that there are violent extremist groups who preach a radical form of Islam and believe they are doing God’s work by killing Jews.

These attacks are not only deplorable in their own right and not only a threat to Jews worldwide; they are also a threat to some of the rights that we hold most sacred – the rights of freedom of religion and expression. And their defense across faiths and cultures is fundamental to pluralistic societies. Rising anti-Semitism is rarely the lone or the last manifestation of intolerance. When the human rights of Jews are repressed, the rights of other religious and ethnic groups are often not far behind. The group that calls itself the Islamic State aims to kill Jews, but it also hunts down Yazidis, Christians, and Muslims of different sects.

Today we are taking a historic step by holding the first-ever meeting in the General Assembly on tackling this long-standing and growing problem. The United States is proud to have joined 36 other nations in calling for this meeting last October.

But unprecedented as this step may be, and in addition to the commitments that we hope countries will announce today, we urge everyone in this room to return to their capitals with the urgency and energy this monstrous global problem demands, to turn words into long overdue actions. Governments cannot do this alone; we have to rally civil society partners around this effort, including diverse religions and ethnicities, human rights groups and civil rights groups.

As you know, when the attack on the kosher market began, Lassana Bathily – a 24 year old Malian immigrant who worked at the store – quickly hustled 15 people into a walk-in freezer, where he hid them during the attack. When the attack began, Lassana did not see the people in the market as Jews. And the people that followed Lassana and his lead did not see a Muslim. They saw each other as fellow human beings, there for each other in a time of danger. And in the case of Lassana and Yohan Cohen, who worked together, they saw each other as friends.

If there is a lesson in Lassana’s bravery, it is that we cannot leave the struggle against anti-Semitism to the Jews alone. Attacks on any religious or ethnic group are attacks on us all. Attacks on Jews are attacks on us all. And we must not only stand up together against these acts of violence, but also against the hatred, intolerance, and prejudice that helps lead to such acts. If we fail to expand dramatically the ranks of those fighting anti-Semitism, not only will we fail in our obligations to the Jewish people, but we will see the weakening in our own societies of the rights and bonds that tie us all together. Our common security and our common humanity demand that we do much, much more.

Thank you.
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B'nai B'rith International has issued the following statement:

Well before last week's attack on a kosher market in Paris that left four Jews dead, 37 countries sent a letter to the president of the United Nations General Assembly expressing concern over "the global outbreak of anti-Semitism" and calling for a session on combating violence and hatred directed toward Jews.

The attack that occurred last week only solidifies the need to have an urgent conversation about anti-Semitism in the world today.

The appeal from countries including the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia and all members of the European Union prompted the U.N. General Assembly to schedule a first-time meeting on anti-Semitism on Jan. 22.

B'nai B'rith International commends this effort by participating countries to take a focused approach to tackling the scourge of global anti-Semitism.

Bringing this issue to the U.N. General Assembly is one notable step in fighting this pernicious form of hatred and B'nai B'rith will look for it to be built upon with concrete, consistent action by governments, international agencies and civil society.


January 23, 2015


The Jewish community in Brussels, Belgium's capital, had a tense weekend, which saw the closure of educational institutions for a day. On Saturday, soldiers spread out around the city's Jewish institutions as part of the response to the raids. But although synagogues were open, many were afraid to visit them and chose to pray at home.

Rabbi Guigui described a strained and difficult atmosphere among his community – numbering about 42,000, according to the World Jewish Congress – since May 2014, when a shooting in Brussels at the Jewish Museum of Belgium killed four.

Rabbi Guigui also represents the Conference of European Rabbis, a union of Jewish religious leaders, in European Union institutions. He met last week with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, as well as the country's interior minister and justice minister – but he is not the bearer of good tidings."Security is merely a means," he told Ynet. "Someone who truly wants to do harm will do so regardless. Security did not prevent what happened in France, and it did not prevent what almost happened here."
"The Jewish community's leaders and the leaders of the Consistoire are furious at the fringe elements in the community who called for rabbis to be armed," the rabbi wrote in an official statement, following such reports. "It's a serious and unacceptable danger. "It is as though we would announce that we have no faith in the Belgian security forces who are committed to protecting our security. Tomorrow, heaven forbid, they will also ask the imams to carry weapons. It is an irresponsible declaration that brings disaster and anarchy upon us.
"We trust the Belgian government and security services to do their work as required of them, and this coming Monday, when the gates of the schools and educational institutions are opened – they will be secured by thousands of soldiers to protect the children and parents."

He called the closures "an appalling decision. I totally oppose it. Our strength was always in saying that despite everything, the institutions and synagogues would always remain open. Despite the terror threats, the community always functions properly. That's why I don't understand why they decided to close the synagogues and schools specifically now." Rabbi Guigui said he met with the director of Belgium's Jewish radio station on Friday. "Radio Judaica has been broadcasting every day for 35 years. It was the first Jewish station in Europe. The director, Morris Blibaum, told me with tears in his eyes that he was forced to close the station for the first time. I think it's a disaster. It's surrendering to the will of the jihadists."

Rabbi Guigui participated in memorial services organized by the Jewish community at the Great Synagogue in Paris, and has been trying to shake what he saw – and the anxiety that he and his colleagues share that terror has not spoken its last word on European soil, especially in the country that has gained the dubious title of the "number one exporter" of fighters to Islamic State frontlines.

Rabbi Guigui said he finds solace in the fact that the terrorism is not purely anti-Jewish, but rather an all-out war against the liberal powers in all of Europe. "What they want is not just to destroy the Jewish communities here. "They want to destroy the rule of democracy. They want to topple the principles of democracy on which Europe is built, and the war we are fighting today is not 'for the Jews', but for human rights, freedom, and liberty.


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