in the garden


May 2009 Journal

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Letter from Israel:

The demise of an institution is almost as sad as the death of a person. This is what I felt when I attended the meeting of B’nai B’rith’s English-speaking Albert Einstein Lodge in Jerusalem on a cold night in December.

A handful of mainly elderly people gathered in the B’nai B’rith building to attend the lodge’s ‘special annual general meeting’, which was in fact its final and closing meeting. Cognisant of my late father’s close association with the lodge, the current committee kindly invited me to attend. The invitation was accompanied by the agenda for the meeting, the last item being the resolution ‘to continue and finalise the process of voluntary liquidation of the Amuta (non-profit association)’.

The letter brought back memories of the days and nights my father had spent as a member, and later president, of the lodge, dealing with its day-to-day running, recruiting new members, persuading existing members to join committees, and generally making it his life’s work after he and my mother moved to Israel in the 1980s.

My father once told me that his parents and grandparents had been members of B’nai B’rith in Hamburg, so I imagine he was eager to continue the family association. Consequently, when my parents moved to Jerusalem and my sister’s father-in-law, the late Rabbi Joseph Rosenfeld, invited them to join the lodge, they did so willingly. They were immediately taken into its warm bosom, acquiring many ‘brothers and sisters’ and making many close friendships.

The B’nai B’rith organisation in Israel fulfils many functions. It extends financial and practical aid to needy groups and individuals, it provides a social and intellectual framework for its members, and it also acts as a channel whereby newcomers to Israel can be helped to integrate. As is the practice in B’nai B’rith worldwide, each lodge is more or less independent when it comes to arranging meetings, lectures and social activities. Annual dues are paid to the head office in Tel Aviv and these are used to cover the various overheads.

The membership of the lodges for German-speaking members, which were established throughout Israel when immigrants from Central Europe first came to the country, is rapidly ageing and contracting, yet several continue to exist. The need for an English-speaking lodge in Jerusalem would seem to be as acute today as ever considering the large number of English-speaking newcomers to Israel.

But the incumbent leaders despaired of finding younger successors to take over the various committees and decided to close the Albert Einstein lodge. The process was not an easy one. Because the lodge was registered as a non-profit association it was subject to the supervision of a government-appointed regulatory body. The process involved extensive paperwork, which was attended to with characteristic thoroughness by one of the outgoing committee members.

When it came to the crunch, however, and the assembled members were called upon to vote on the closure, a knight in shining armour in the form of Rabbi Raymond Apple stepped forward. He objected to the procedure and suggested that what was to be closed was the non-profit association, but not the lodge itself. He put forward his proposal for a series of meetings and guest lectures, encountering only mild resistance from the other members. His was the only voice of hope that evening. While my sister and I expressed our readiness to help in this new endeavour, to date no one has approached us about this.

So it would seem that what was once tantamount to a second home in Jerusalem for many English-speaking immigrants has finally closed its doors.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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