What Was B’nai B’rith Thinking?

Fortunately, it is not often that international Jewish organizations make such egregious decisions, that you sit-back, scratch your head, and wonder ‘what-ever were they thinking?’

Such was the case with the recent Chanukah candle-lighting ceremony celebrated by B’nai B’rith World Center at the restored Hurva Synagogue in the Old City. A synagogue that not only places the women’s section so high up opera glasses are helpful to see what is taking place, but has a policy of not allowing women in the main beit knesset at any time, even when no services are taking place.

Speaking at the event, B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider said, “This ceremony provides a rare opportunity for Israel and Diaspora communities to share a joyous festival together.”

Except, how can we share Chanukah together if women are not permitted to light candles? Has Scheider forgotten that his own organization, that “serves as the key link between Israel and B’nai B’rith members and supporters around the world … ” is dependent on women supporters and women donors; let alone the goodwill of the entire community?

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. Time for Schneider, and the Center he leads, to join the 21st century and speak out publicly about gender equality in Israel; perhaps to even lead by example. Otherwise, he may find B’nai B’rith finally relegated to the dustbins of history.

This opinion piece reflects the personal views of Dan Brown, the founder of eJewishPhilantrhopy.com, and should not be regarded as a statement of the views of eJewish Philanthropy, its volunteers, advisors or funders.