Alfred M. Cohen, President of I. O. B. B., Pleads for Harmony and Unity in Jewish Ranks
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Alfred M. Cohen, President of I. O. B. B., Pleads for Harmony and Unity in Jewish Ranks

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A review of the outstanding issues in the life of American Jewry today from a non-partisan and fraternal viewpoint, was given by Hon. Alfred M. Cohen, president of the Independent Order B’nai B’rith, in an address delivered last Sunday night at the Hotel Astor, where a dinner was given in his honor by District No. 1 of the fraternity, including the states of New York, New England and Eastern Canada.

Over 800 persons, members and guests, listened to the impassioned utterances of the president of the most influential American Jewish fraternity when he, coming from Cincinnati, paid tribute on Mother’s Day to the mother district of the Order, for it was in New York that the Order was founded eighty-three years ago.

Bringing with him a message of the Jewish communities throughout the United States, where the B’nai B’rith is the leading factor in all Jewish communal affairs, Mr. Cohen reviewed the growth of the fraternity, the development of which was parallel to the growth of the Jewish community in the country.

"Whenever a history of the Jew in America is written, the activities of the B’nai B’rith will loom large therein," he declared, ennumerating the activities of the Order, accompanying the growth of the community and its expansion into the various fields of activity. The B’nai B’rith, he stated, ministers to the weaknesses of the community, when such appear and to its strength and virility.


Alfred M. Cohen, as the president of the I. O. B. B., which includes in its membership Jews of all shades of opinion and affiliation, made a plea for greater unity in the ranks of American Jewry, emphasizing the activities of the Order in this direction.

In his address Mr. Cohen said:

"This is Mother’s Day. May I be permitted to assume that this fine gathering is a tribute of love to the mother district of the Order. If I may be so permitted, then figuratively, but none the less endearingly, as head of the Order, in behalf of its tens of thousands of loyal members scattered all over the world, I bring to and lay at the feet of the mother district – the home of the Order’s founders, a wreath of immor-telles as a symbol of their undying love and unqualified filial devotion.

"Four score and more years ago in a little store in Grand Street, New York, a group was in the habit of meeting to discuss matters of Jewish interest. In October 1843, twelve of these men met in Essex Street and organized a B’nai B’rith lodge. These men were not equally educated nor of one nationality, but they were unanimous in the conviction that something ought to be done for the elevation of the social, moral and intellectual condition of our people in this country and to effect, as far as practicable, a union of Israelites, first in New York and, if possible, throughout the United States, with a view of making Judaism honored and respected by the citizens of all faiths.


"From this small beginning, the Order has grown so that it covers besides the United States, eighteen countries, thus literally throwing a girdle around the world.

"When the B’nai B’rith was organized there were not 25,000 Jewish souls in all of the United States, men, women and children. This condition is difficult to envisage when we know that there are more than three and a half million of our people in the United States at the present day, of whom nearly one half are residents of the community that I am now addressing. In those days there was little misery and misfortune to relieve. It goes without saying that there was no orphan asylum, home for the aged and inform, or hospital bearing a Jewish name.

"The smallness of their numbers must, however, not be taken as an indication that Jews have played an inconsiderable part in the development of our country up to that time. Of course, it is well known that there were five Jews in the fleet of Christopher Columbus. It is equally well known that the money that made possible the voyage of Columbus was furnished by a Jew, contrary to the old idea that it was Queen Isabella’s jewels that were responsible therefor. Of course, it is known that one of the aides of General Washington was a Jew and that another Jew was the leading individual financial contributor to the funds that made the Revolutionary War possible. And in every succeeding conflict in which our country has been involved, the Jew has assumed a proper place. In the late World War, General Pershing took pains to say of Sam Drebbin, a Russian immigrant, that he was the bravest and best soldier that he had ever met in all his long career. Of seventy-eight medals of honor granted by the Congress of the United States, three were awarded to Jews. In the army there were 11,000 commissioned officers and 250,000 in the ranks who were Jews. In times of peace the contribution of the Jew to the progress and welfare of the country has been no less noteworthy. The career of the late Oscar S. Straus is a shining example of such contributions and it may be remarked that this great man and his parents came to this country as immigrants. One can not escape thinking that if the present restrictive immigration laws had been in effect at the time the Straus family came to this country, unless they were within the given numerical quota, the gates of America would have been closed to them, and I cannot help asking who would have been the loser?

"In all that the Jew has done, he has done not one whit more than he should. If he had done less, he would have been unfaithful and recreant. But these facts are given merely to indicate the injustice of charging the Jew, as he frequently is charged, with being incapable of being a patriot.


"The B’nai B’rith, with the increasing number of coreligionists in this country, has grown and has expanded, and it has expanded its field of usefulness. Whenever a history of the Jew in America is written, the activities of the B’nai B’rith will loom large therein. It has established, or assisted in establishing, eleemosynary institutions of every character, ranging from orphans homes for the care of children who have never known the warmth of a mother’s love, to other homes that care for the dying octogenarian who, deserted by his own kith and kin, finds therein a haven of refuge in his declining years. These institutions are so conducted that the diverse views of those cared for are never offended.

"This district has its Home for the Aged at Yonkers, its hospital at Liberty and its camps scattered over the East. In the district in which I live, we have the wonderful Cleveland Orphan Home, always caring for half a thousand boys and girls. This institution has sent out, without number, men and women who have been useful members of their various communities. Rabbis, doctors, lawyers, merchants, social workers, artisans there received their early instruction and encouragement. In Denver we have the hospital for consumptives. This institution occupies a campus of many acres. On it is a group of buildings, among them what is known as a preventorium, occupied by children who are "eligibles" for the white scourge. But for this, or some similar institution, many of these children would become vicitims. However, by tender nourishment and nurture, they are built up so as to be in the main immune from that which would be their inevitable fate. Another building is given over to research work. Day in and day out skilled scientists are at work in an endeavor to discover the cause of tuberculosis and means wherewith to stamp out one of the worst enemies of mankind. In other buildings are found the patients in every stage of the horrible malady. Some will go forth, rehabilitated and rejuvenated, to occupy their former positions, while others are being soothed in entering the yalley of the shadow that leads to eternity. These two institutions are but example of what the Order has provided in various parts not only of this country, but of all the countries in which it functions.


"The Order, for a lifetime, has been the champion of the Jew whenever the rights of the Jew have been infringed merely because he is a Jew. The late Simon Wolf was its representative in this field for several decades prior to his death. He has been worthily succeeded by Maurice D. Rosenberg who gives himself, as did his predecessor, unstintingly to the work. The presence of Dr. William Filderman of Roumania in this country at this time on a mission seeking relief for our coreligionists in that country recalls that largely at the insistence of the B’nai B’rith the position of Consul to Roumania was created in the early ’70s of the last century by the United States Government. No emoluments were attached to the position and our Order, through its lodges, supported the Consul during the first five years of its existence.

"In making the appointment of the first consul, President Grant in terms that could not be misunderstood, let it be known that the office was created for the sole purpose of voicing the protest of the United States against the ill treatment of the Jews in Roumania. I believe this is without parallel in the history of governments. The first consul was Benjamin F. Piexotto, a distinguished member of the B’nai B’rith.

"The Order, through many of its lodges, conducts classes for the newly arrived in this country in preparation of them for participation in the life of their new environment, particularly in inculcating in them the spirit of America. It is the aim of the B’nai B’rith to make of every immigrant try shall be fit for American citizenship and if, God forbid, there be found once in a while a Jew who is unfit for citizenship in the United States, the Order will be among the first to help send him back whence he came. Above all, the Order teaches that obedience to the laws of the land is the supreme duty of every one of our faith who lives under the protection of the Stars and Stripes.

"There was a time when, if a Jew or Jewess was found in a correctional or penal institution, everyone asked, ‘How come he or she there?’ Unfortunately, such a state of affairs no longer continues. To our deep regret we have all too many in such places. Our Order ministers to these. Visits are made to those who have lost their way in the world and through attention and service, they are made to feel that though for the time being they are cut off from society, they are not forgotten or neglected. The vision of a better future is opened up before them. Through kindness and encouragement they are impressed with the fact that the thought in the mind of the Ben B’rith who visits them, that fine adage of the Salvation Army, ‘a man may be down, but he is never out,’ is true. The ministration of the Order does not end with the release of the detained, but follows them and in many instances has served to reestablish them in a correct mode of life. We have unnumerable instances of permanent reestablishment of those who are leading correct lives.

"In every calamity that has viisted this country and in many that have visited other countries, the B’nai B’rith has been among the first to extend substantial relief, whether it was the yellow fever epidemics that formerly visited the south, the fires of Chicago and Boston, the floods of Galveston and Johnstown, the hurricane at Pueblo, the earthquake in San Francisco and Santa Barbara, in all alike, the warm heart of the B’nai B’rith was expressed in material succor and personal attention.


"The world war bereft hundreds of thousands of children of one or both parents. These were thrown upon the charity of the world. The B’nai B’rith lodges in America have adopter 1,000 of these unfortunate children and continue to care for all such as have not yet reached the age of self support.

"Nothing that vitally concerns the Jew can be alien to the thought of the B’nai B’rith. As head of the Order I found pleasure in sending representatives to the great meeting it Philadelphia last fall, which set in motion the $15,000,000 campaign under the auspices of the Joint Distribution Committee and likewise to the meeting held shortly after in Baltimore that organized the United Palestine Appeal for $5,000,000. As evidencing the Order’s interest in the reconstruction work in Palestine, the Executive Committee has voted to assist, as soon as possible, in the construction of a B’nai B’rith community center in Tel Aviv.

"The closing of the gates of the United States, through the restrictive immigration laws, has been followed by the arrival in Mexico of a very considerable number of immigrant coreligionists. Doubtless many who came were induced to do so by misrepresentations made to them that the close proximity of Mexico to the United States would make admission to this country a compaartively easy matter. The B’nai B’rith, for the double purpose of preventing the infringement of the laws of the United States and because of the dire necessity of the newly arrived in Mexico, has established a foundation in Mexico City. In this foundation, the newly arrived who are in necessitous circumstances, find a refuge and a home. The Order has established a clinic with a competent physician and trained nurse in charge. It has a sympathetic social service man always on the job, who looks after the stranger and helps adjust him to his new surroundings.


"Through its Anti-Defamation League, the Order is protecting the fair name of the Jew and Judaism from the assaults of the slanderer, libellor and calumnist. Its successes are noteworthy and offences are constantly becoming less frequent. The League is actively cooperating with the Federation of Churches of Christ, made up of millions of members united for the purpose of creating a better feeling and better understanding between Jews and Christians. Such utterances as are frequenly made by Dr. Cadman of Brooklyn and Dr. John W. Herring, executive secretary of the Federation, cannot but be productive of great and beneficial results.

"Praiseworthy as are all of the former undertakings of the B’nai B’rith, necessary and essential as they are, nevertheless, it must be stated that many of them have had to do with the infirmities and failings to which mankind is heir and thus they have really ministered to the weakness of the human family. The latest of the Order’s interprises ministers to Israel’s strength and glory.

"Education has ever been a Jewish ideal. How old the institution of the Beth Ha’medrash, the school house, it is difficult to say. The high place education occupies in the thoughts of the Seers is clearly seen in the sayings of he rabbis of old. You will recall the prayer of Solomon after he was made King in which he asked not for riches and for long life, but asked for himself an understanding heart to discern judgment and he was given an understanding heart such as none other had and besides, that which he did not ask, riches and glory.

"The B’nai B’rith, realizing the woeful lack of knowledge on the part of all too many of the Jewish youth, men and women in the institutions of higher learning, concerning the ideals and heritage, the history and the traditions of their ancestors, has established in three universities thus far, the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation. These are located at the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Ohio. At this time preparations are being completed for the establishment of a similar foundation at the University of Michigan.

"You will, perhaps, be surprised to learn that these foundations owe their origin to the influence of Christian members of the faculties of universities. We learned from them that the only class of people whose sons and daughters in the student body received no attention of a religious and spiritual nature were Jews. What a terrible indictment this is against the People of the Book! These were young men and women of sufficient mental attainment to enter the Universities, but all too frequently devoid entirely of religious knowledge and training. As evidence of this demoralizing situation, the director of the Hillel Foundation at the University of Illinois informed me that prior to the establishment of the Foundation, out of 600 Jewish boys and girls enrolled, only half acknowledged they were religiously what they were: Jews. After two years of the Foundation, only six blinked their eyes at their Judaism.

"The Hillel Foundation at each of these universities, maintains a community center where the Jewish boy and girl is equally at home, as is the Christian student in his denominational house on the campus. Services both orthodox and reform are held weekly. The students resolve themselves into committees to assume various duties of interest to the young men and women. In short, the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation is preparing these young men and young women who, logically, will be the leaders of their respective communities, so that when they lead they shall do so conscious of their Judaism and proud of it, instead of being ignorant of it and apologetic for it.

"We have ever been the victims of prejudice and bigotry. In an unbroken chain, we have suffered thus from the days of the Pharaoah of the Exodus down to the Henry Fords and the Ku Klux Klan of our own time. But some-how or other, we have survived them all. In a way they have been blessings in disguise, because they have held us together. The foe that we have to fear is the foe within our own fold, the indifferent and worse than indifferent of our young, cultured, except in Jewish culture, who do not know that the best of modern civilization is the ethics of the Jewish prophets and seers, who do not know that whatever is worth while in modern culture comes from Judaism.

"Oh, that we might have a partial return to the spirit and fervor of our fathers who approached their places of worship with a hymn on their lips that ran: ‘I rejoice when they say unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord,’ who exultantly proclaimed: ‘Peace have they who love the law and there is no stumbling for them.’ And who, in the depths of despondency declared: ‘Unless the law had been my delight, I should have been lost in my affliction.’

"Oh, for a return of some of the love of the law which was a passion with our forefathers! Yes, love of the law. What other people has set aside a day each year, as did our fathers, for rejoicing in the possession of the law?

"Other peoples celebrate anniversaries of battles, inventions, discoveries, the birthdays of kings, emperors and potentates, but only the Jew has set aside a day to celebrate the giving to him and through him to mankind of the law, beautifully described as ‘a tree of life to those who lay hold of it. All its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are paths of peace.’

"The B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations are taking the first steps toward the return to a better day and future generations will rise up and bless the B’nai B’rith for its constructive work.

"But when all is said and done, the greatest of the Order’s purposes is to bring union to our people. It has been our sad experience down the ages to be divided. Sadder still it has required the mailed fist and the peril of persecution to bring us together. Every chapter of our long history down to the present day attests to this. In legend, we are told that when Jacob was on his deathbed, he summoned his twelve sons before him. He took the staff of each one from his hand and bound the twelve staves into one bundle. This he handed to each son in turn form Reuben, the eldest, to Benjamin, the youngest, and bade each in turn to break the bundle, but in vain. Then he gave back to each one his staff and bade him break it. This each did with little difficulty.

" ‘So is Israel,’ he said to them. ‘So long as you all hold together as one people, the world will be powerless against you and you will be strong and able to do the work for which God has chosen you. But if you separate and stand each by himself, you will be weak and the world will destroy you one after the other, tribe after tribe, and group by group until you will perish completely and God’s work will be unfulfilled.’

"So it has been throughout Israel’s history. When Israel was divided into two kingdoms, the Northern and the Southern, first the Northern Kingdom was destroyed and after it, the Southern. And when Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans, many believe it would never have been captured had it not been for the division, suspicion and enmity toward each other of the various groups and parties within the city. And the sages added: ‘The Messiah will never come until all Israel is reunited as one people and must become one even as God is One.’

"The founders of the B’nai B’rith wrote into its cardinal virtues: harmony, associating it with benevolence and brotherly love. Harmony does not require surrender of principle; it means merely the peaceful adjustment of differences. ‘That every man may live under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid’ does not require all to think alike, but merely that all alike shall have the right to think.

"An ancient fable tells of a feud among the colors, red, blue and yellow, which stood in open defiance. ‘Acknowledge me chief,’ said red. ‘I am ever the emblem of charity, all that is warm and redolent of comfort and kindness is arrayed in my tints.’

" ‘Acknowledge me chief,’ said blue, ‘I am the emblem of truth. All that is high and pure and just wears my hue. I rise and shine from yonder sky.’

" ‘Acknowledge me chief,’ said yellow, ‘I am the emblem of light and glory. Kings are crowned, palaces glitter with my lustrous color.’

" ‘Ah, my children,’ said the sun. ‘The very heavens weep at your dissension. Be reconciled, I pray, and show your strength of beauty where it must ever lie – in harmony.’

"And they rose and embraced in tearful clouds and the sun shone out upon them and glorious in loveliness was the rainbow they made.

"The preamble to the constitution of the B’nai Brith reads: ‘The Independent Order B’nai B’rith has taken upon itself the mission of uniting Israelites in the work of promoting their highest interests and those of humanity; of developing and elevating the mental and moral character of the people of our faith; of inculcating the purest principles of philanthropy, honor and patriotism; of supporting science and art; alleviating the wants of the poor and needy; visiting and attending the sick; coming to the rescue of victims of persecution; providing for, protecting and assisting the widow and orphan on the broadest principles of humanity.’

"The first words of this preamble are: ‘The Independent Order of B’nai B’rith has taken upon itself the mission of uniting Israelites.’ It is uniting Israelites that they may serve in humanity’s cause, uniting them in a realization that accident of birth in no wise affects the man, uniting them so that they may know that the sins of one are witnessed on all, uniting them in an understanding that the Jew’s survival, notwithstanding for thousands of years he has had no national home, nor army, nor navy, is not by mere chance, but is witness to has sacred appointment as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy People to be a pattern – a light unto the nations bringing them through righteousness to a knowledge of the Fatherhood of God and the common brotherhood of man.

"Other Jewish bodies may speak for the elements of Jewry. Only the B’nai B’rith. in the words of the lamented Dr. Schechter, may speak and act for ‘catholic Israel.’ The Order embraces all Israelites, whether they be of the radicals or sticklers for the last and least of the rites and ceremonies. All it requires for membership is that with exhaltation, the recruit shall say "Sh’ma Israel Adonai Elohaenu Adonai Echod.’ The B’nai B’rith is democratic in its composition and government, its officers are elected for comparatively brief terms and give irequent account of their stewardship to the membership at large. The Jew has had the burden impressed upon him, not for pride and not for glory, but as a duty, to be ‘Eved Adonai,’ the servant of God. I verily believe that the B’nai B’rith is destined to be ‘Eved Yisroel,’ the servant of Israel.

"I love to think of the B’nai B’rith in connection with that section of Genesis which relates how Jacob sent Joseph from Hebron to Shechem. The elder brothers had been sent to Shechem by their father with the flocks. They were gone longer than the patriarch expected they would be and Jacob sent his yuong son, Joseph after them. Joseph went to Shechem. He was a stranger in the valley and in a bewildered way tried to find his brothers. A wayfaring man, seeing his plight, asked him whom he sought and Joseph answered, ‘I seek my brethren.’

"That is what the B’nai B’rith has done and is doing. It seeks our brethren in the highways and the byways, in the lands where their rights are restricted and in lands like our own dear America where they enjoy complete liberty, seeks them in youth, in maturity and in decline. It is always seeking them in all ways and I pray that all engaged in the work may be endowed with understanding hearts so that seeking our brethren they may find them and finding them they may continue to serve them."

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