B’nai B’rith marks 70th year in Australia

By Garry Fabian

Garry Fabian

Garry Fabian

MELBOURNE, Australia — The lights of the B’nai B’rith Menorah were snuffed out across Europe in the late 1930’s, 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 they had been the victims of European fascism.

For a time, their freedom of movement and rights of association in Australia was 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 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 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 in 1843, the very genesis of B’nai B’rith came from a gathering of twelve men in Sinsheimer’s Cafe on the lower east side of New York.  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 was formed and formally instituted on 20th May 1945. Just a few month after the institution of Sydney Lodge in December 1944. Over the ensuing decades a number of other Lodges (for men) and 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 programmes serving both the Jewish and general community. These include Courage to Care, Anti-Defamation and a wide range of projects in Israel.

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Fabian is an author and freelance writer who has been active in the B’nai B’rith movement in Australia.  You may comment to him at [email protected], or post your comment on this website provided that you observe the rules below.

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