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B’nai B’rith Move to Cut Ties to Women’s Group Draws Protest

A decision Sunday by B’nai B’rith International to end its 92-year-old relationship with B’nai B’rith Women has raised a storm of protest from the 120,000-member women’s organization.

In a 64-14 vote, B’nai B’rith International’s board of governors voted to approve a resolution that would sever its constitutional ties with the national women’s organization and establish itself as a united men’s and women’s organization.

“We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our future,” Seymour Reich, international president of B’nai B’rith, said in a statement issue before the vote.

“If B’nai B’rith Women has declared itself to be separate, independent and autonomous, and if that is truly the desire of their leadership and membership, so be it. We wish them well,” he said.

Reich was referring to a resolution adopted in October 1988 by BBW, in which the organization declared its separately incorporated legal status and its autonomy within the B’nai B’rith organization.

But according to BBW President Hyla Lipsky, B’nai B’rith International has intentionally chosen to misinterpret the women’s 1988 resolution for its own purposes.

“What is really going on here is transparent,” she said in a statement issued Tuesday. “B’nai B’rith International’s decision-makers now seek total control over their empire.”

Last year’s resolution was, in her words, a reaction to a unilateral action to admit women taken at the September 1988 BBI biennial convention in Baltimore.

14 DAYS TO REVERSE DECISION

The BBW resolution, said Lipsky, was completely in keeping with the ordinance of the organization. “B’nai B’rith Women has been legally incorporated as a separate organization since 1962,” she said. “It has all the rights to self-governance that such incorporation implies.”

But Reich said, in a telephone interview, that such incorporation “has no significance.”

“Each of our constituent organizations — B’nai B’rith Women, BBYO and Hillel — has a separate corporate status. They, nevertheless, all are subject to the regulations of the B’nai B’rith constitution,” he said.

The resolution adopted Sunday gives the women’s organization 14 days to rescind its 1988 resolution, failing which all affiliation between the two groups will be abandoned.

BBW maintains that Sunday’s resolution is the equivalent of a hostile takeover, an effort to offset the international organization’s flagging membership and revenue.

BBI’s membership has fallen from a high of 200,000 in 1969 to 136,000 in 1987, according to the spring 1989 issue of Lilith magazine.

According to Reich, however, the decision to sever ties with the women is the result of a grass-roots movement. “Its origins stem from a desire to meet the challenge of changing social mores, by offering women equal status within B’nai B’rith. Women have told us that they want membership privileges,” he said in the interview.

Both Reich and Lipsky expressed their dismay with the situation and stated that their organizations did not want the imminent separation to take place.

“Rest assured that we do not want to break from B’nai B’rith International,” Lipsky said in a telephone interview. “We have made every attempt to avoid this situation. But all our attempts at compromise have been outright rejected. Their position is: We can’t wear the name if we can’t play their game.”

Reich put it a different way. “We didn’t want a separate B’nai B’rith Women’s organization,” he said. “We wanted an affiliated organization. They want the name, but not the game.”

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