70 years of B’nai B’rith

May 11, 2015 by J-Wire Staff
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Victoria’s B’nai B’rith will celebrate its 70th anniversary at the end of May.

bnaibrithThe lights of the B’nai B’rith Menorah were snuffed out across Europe in the late-1930s, when the forces gathering to inflict the tragedy of the Holocaust disbanded the organisation. The majority of European B’nai B’rith members perished in the Holocaust, but a handful managed to find safe havens in various corners of the world, including Australia.

It was certainly not easy for these refugees. Their dislocation in language, customs and culture was, for many, a very traumatic experience. As well as having to struggle with a new language and the difficulties of trying to earn a modest living, most of them faced the ignominy of being classed as ‘enemy aliens’, despite the fact that they had been the victims of European fascism.

For a time, their freedom of movement and rights of association in Australia were severely restricted. Under such uncertain circumstances, they yearned for the important support that familiar institutions and organisations had provided in their lives in Europe.

One source of that support had been B’nai B’rith. The spark of brotherhood and friendship was still alive and possibly even stronger in the face of a difficult new environment. Once they started to settle in their new land, they sought to transplant that spark.

Two small advertisements placed in the local Jewish press generated a response from some 40 former B’nai B’rith members principally from Germany and Austria. A decision was reached to organise a get-together in the upstairs hall of Pinczower’s Coffee Lounge in Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, owned by one of the B’nai B’rith members who replied to the advertisement.

It almost could be seen as a positive omen since, a century earlier, the very genesis of B’nai B’rith came from a gathering of twelve men in Sinsheimer’s Café on New York’s Lower East Side. The Melbourne meeting generated a warm atmosphere, where many new friendships were formed which were to last a lifetime.

Resulting from this meeting, Melbourne Lodge No. 1547 was instituted on 20 May, 1945, which followed the institution of Sydney Lodge No. 1546 in 1944 and, over the ensuing decades, a number of other Lodges (for men), Chapters (for women) and Units (for men and women) were created in Victoria. Now 70 years on, B’nai B’rith is still going strong with a wide spectrum of projects and programs.

The year 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of B’nai B’rith in Victoria. Since its inception, B’nai B’rith has had a significant and continuing impact on both the Jewish and broader Victorian community. Thousands of people have benefited through the efforts of hundreds of members, encompassing countless projects and much fundraising.

The Victorian B’nai B’rith Council was established in 1958; in recent years, the Council was renamed B’nai B’rith Victoria Inc., the roof body for the following constituent groups:

Units – Akiba, Gesher, Hatikvah, Re’ut, Raoul Wallenberg, Shalom Menorah, Yitzhak Rabin  and Melbourne Mitzvah Lodge

Courage to Care Inc.

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