[eJP’s December 28th post, What Was B’nai B’rith Thinking?, has triggered a tsunami across parts of the Jewish world. Here, the leadership of Jewish Women International – born in 1897 as B’nai B’rith’s first auxiliary – weighs in.]
To the Editor:
We are writing to protest and condemn the recent Chanukah lighting ceremony sponsored by B’nai B’rith International at the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem, a synagogue site where women are not welcome. How ironic and worrisome that B’nai B’rith International, a secular organization ostensibly open to Jews of all stripes and persuasions chose to celebrate Chanukah in a sex segregated venue, just as some of our haredi brethren are practicing violence and intimidation of women and girls. One should be additionally concerned when the head of the organization doesn’t recognize the error. In response to questions posed by eJewish Philanthropy concerning the exclusion of women, Schenider said, “The ceremony was held under the guidelines of the Hurva Synagogue, which included separate seating sections.” True; but why the Hurva in the first place?
Gender equality has become an especially hot-button issue in Israel recently. B’nai B’rith World Center, if holding true to their long established mission – which includes working for Jewish unity – should never have scheduled the candle-lighting at the Hurva. Responding that, “The decision to hold it there was taken months ago, long before the issue became explosive,” is unacceptable, at best.
Jewish Women International was formed out of B’nai B’rith Women, and our long-standing members did the hard work of ensuring that women’s voices were at the table and heard. B’nai B’rith Women spoke out loudly to ensure gender equality on a variety of issues and as the heir(ess) to that august organization, as the daughters and granddaughters of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ organization, our 75,000 voices speak out loudly protesting the audacity of B’nai B’rith to support an organization that would prefer that women remain invisible. In this time, when gender segregation and violence against women and girls is in the forefront of so much of the news coming from Israel, it is deeply disappointing to add this lack of sensitivity on the part of an American organization to the laundry list of concerns.
The reconstruction of the Hurva was a much anticipated event, but its reality has proven to be a deep disappointment to women, to tourists, to secular and observant Jews – operating a small kollel in the synagogue site prohibits tourists from visiting that site, reservations and paid entrances are required to tour the building, and the small women’s section in a gallery so far above the synagogue below that women are effectively unable to be part of the services led by men.
Looking at the roster of B’nai B’rith International’s directors, which includes only one woman, as well as at this recent event, we ask, When B’nai B’rith International spun off its women’s division, did it spin off women as a whole? Sadly, the answer appears to be “Yes.”
Susan W. Turnbull
Chair, Board of Trustees