By Mark D. Olshan
Associate Executive Vice President, B’nai B’rith International
I’ve always thought of myself as a caring person, considerate of others and always thinking that we have a duty to be part of a society in which we respect and help one another where and when we can. Call me a do-gooder if you will, but please know that I am proud to wear that label.
With Congress back in session I continue to be baffled by its continued attempt to turn back the clock in the face of such overwhelming evidence of the number of aging Americans who require assistance with finding a safe, secure place to live.
The United States used to have a national housing policy focusing in part on creating affordable housing for older persons of limited means. Section 202 of the Housing Act of 1959 was the only federal program that provided safe, affordable housing exclusively for low-income elderly.
The program was envisioned as a partnership between government and community-based nonprofits like B’nai B’rith to supply housing to these individuals. The government would supply the financial means to build the property, while the nonprofits would oversee the initial development and ongoing operations. Subsidies, such as Section 8 vouchers, would bridge the gap between what the tenant could afford and the cost of that apartment.
Over time, the funding mechanism for the program changed from a direct loan, with interest payments to the federal government, to a simple advance of funds for construction.
Since 1971, B’nai B’rith has been a partner with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in constructing and overseeing such properties. With 38 properties in 26 communities nationwide, we are the largest national Jewish sponsor of HUD-assisted senior housing. Our network comprises nearly 5,000 apartments available to more than 8,000 seniors.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the eligibility criteria were slightly refined. During the 1980s, “cost-containment” became the focus, and there was a shift to reducing the number of units being built and the overall construction cost. While budget driven, many of these decisions had an opposite effect. Having to replace and maintain systems cost more in the long term.
During the mid 1990s the program began to recognize and incorporate the physical and emotional needs of the residents, and the use of service coordinators become more prevalent.
With the aid of these professionals, residents were better able to obtain the support and services they might need to make aging-in-place more possible. HUD finally understood that providing some level of service support within the property often precluded a premature move to a more institutional setting for a resident, at a tremendous overall cost savings to society in general.
Even the definition of a well “independent” senior had changed. As these properties were basically apartments without medical or basic service supports when the program was initiated, one of the criteria for admittance into a HUD-assisted property was the ability to vacate your apartment in the event of an emergency. Today, residents are able to remain as long as they can direct the service supports around them to assist in vacating their apartment in the case of an emergency. Yet, today, nearly 40 percent of residents are considered frail and require assistance with some of the basic activities of daily living.
But, remaining in their homes with support beats having to move to a skilled-care or institutional facility many years before actually needing that level of medical support.
So, for a period of time, the program evolved and — despite severe budget cuts during the congressional efforts to reduce overall federal domestic spending — survive. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have taken pride in visiting these properties and publicly marvel at what they say is their tremendous value, not just for the individuals but for the whole community.
So, where do we stand now?
We know the country is growing older. The percentage of persons 65 and up is a larger percentage of the total population, growing from 35 million (12.5 percent) in 2000 to 49.5 million in 2016 (15 percent) to an expected 71.5 million (19.4 percent) by 2030. Compounding the issue is the increase in the number of persons 85 and older — 6.2 million in 2016, projected to grow to 6.9 million by 2020 due to our increased longevity.
But, the senior population’s sustained growth has not been matched by a corresponding growth in affordable housing. Currently, data show that there are at least 10 to 12 people on a waiting list for every available subsidized unit. The funding to create more of these properties has dried up. Currently, there are no federal dollars available to create new housing for this most vulnerable, growing population.
Where we housing advocates need to expand our efforts is to combat proposals currently being introduced in Congress that would charge current residents even more of their very low income to simply stay put. Even worse are attempts to cut subsidies completely, which could effectively throw current residents out of their apartments, and potentially into the street.
Remember, older persons must already have very low-incomes to qualify — below half of the area median income. Once deemed “income eligible,” they must pay 30 percent of their adjusted gross income for rent. If they have no income, they pay no rent. And we have a number of those individuals residing in our senior housing network. Bottom line is that these applicants were either homeless, near homeless, or at best, very low-income individuals.
Congress has recently debated amendments to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill that would reduce these subsidies while increasing tenants’ contributions from 30 to 35 percent of their meager incomes and require them to pay a minimum amount of rent, or lose the apartment entirely.
And, taking this even further, 139 House members voted for an amendment to reduce funds for project-based rental assistance by $266 million in the current fiscal year, thus jeopardizing approximately 3,000 apartments which could be affected by this action. Fortunately the amendment failed, but the threat remains.
The numbers are alarming, and the White House is threatening to make a bad situation worse. The administration’s budget proposals include the most dramatic cuts to HUD programs since the 1980s, gutting federal housing assistance and redirecting the savings to “higher priority areas.” What could be of higher priority than making certain that vulnerable older persons of very low income status have access to safe, affordable and adequate housing?
Mark D. Olshan, who holds a doctorate in Psychology, is the Director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services as well as Associate Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith International.
By Eugene L. Meyer
May 10, 1940 is a date “graven in my memory forever,” 90-year old Monica Ullman Friedman says. That was the day the Germans bombed the airport in the port city of Antwerp, Belgium, where she lived with her family. Six weeks later, on June 21, she would be evacuated in a small fishing boat from the French coastal town of Saint-Malo. It was the day before France officially surrendered to Germany, leaving Jewish refugees to uncertain fates, most likely to perish.
This wasn’t Dunkirk, further up the coast, where 338,000 mostly British soldiers were rescued by an armada of small private vessels from across the English Channel. But it was close enough for Friedman to say of the current Oscar-contending movie “Dunkirk” that “I don’t have to see it. I was there.” Her family's rescue was part of Churchill’s post-Dunkirk maritime mission known as Operation Aerial, to save 150,000 more soldiers and civilians from capture or death.
From their large rented house at 40 Rue du Vélodrome in Berchem, an Antwerp district, they could hear the bombs falling on the airfield of Belgium’s second-largest city, also a center for the diamond trade, in which her father Otto worked. Monica was the third of six children in an Orthodox Jewish family. In their religiously mixed neighborhood, they had a Hebrew tutor and attended public schools, opting for the French- over the Flemish-speaking wing. But the Ullman kids missed music classes on Saturdays because they observed Shabbat.
It was a Friday when the aerial attack began. “We heard a lot of noise. We thought it was exciting,” Monica says. But her father knew better. He insisted the family leave at once, overruling his English-born wife, Irene, who wanted to stay for Shabbat. After digging a hole in the garden to hide some silver items, they left — along with two grandparents, a nanny, a very pregnant aunt and cousins, 26 in all. By bicycle and taxi, they went to the seaside town of La Panne, near the French border. There they had Shabbat, eating whatever little dairy food they could find. Early Sunday morning, they walked to the border.
The French were allowing only Belgian citizens to cross. Their entourage included a Polish nanny. Hastily, Otto handed over a large stack of ID cards, which the soldiers didn’t bother to check, and they were all allowed through. On the road inside France, they joined other refugees on foot and had to lie down when German planes seeking to clear the route began strafing. Somehow, they got to Paris, where Otto had a cousin and where Monica’s aunt went to a hospital to give birth to a girl she named Francine, in honor of the country.
The Paris cousin had a Jewish friend who had abandoned his large summer home at Saint-Lunaire on the Brittany coast to flee to England. The house had large grounds, a big garden and barns that were formerly horse stables. Otto’s German-speaking Polish-born mother had to stay at an inland hotel “because the French were afraid she would signal the German U-boats with a flashlight.”
“Through most of this, I must say I had a very good time. Our parents must’ve been worried sick, but they managed not to show it that month,” Monica says. “Every night on the radio news, we heard, ‘Our French troops are retreating in good order.’”
Thinking they would be there for a while, her parents sent her sister to a local Catholic school. “She came home reciting all kinds of Catholic prayers.” For the rest, the older children tutored the younger ones. After a month, as the Germans were approaching, it was time to go. The nearest port town was Saint-Malo, the setting for the recent best-selling novel, “All the Light We Cannot See.” Her father had to rush to fetch his mother and another daughter, who, Monica says, was “off swimming and flirting. My father was livid, because every moment counted.”
At first, British officials would allow only Irene and the children on the boat, but Otto said, “As a British gentleman, would you allow your wife to go alone?” which won the day. They boarded a small English fishing boat in the afternoon. The Channel waters were calm but mined, and they saw a sunken fishing boat standing upright in the shallow water. They shared the boat with British soldiers, who gave them oranges and cigarettes, “though we were kids, which we later smoked in secret in England.” The captain gave over his cabin to her grandmothers.
After 10 hours, they landed in Weymouth, England. With her British mother and aunt, they went to stay with relatives in London. Her father had a cousin in Great Neck, N.Y. who sent the requisite affidavits for them to immigrate. After six weeks, they boarded a ship for North America. They landed in Quebec City, and from there took a train to New York City, where her father’s brother met them and helped them find an apartment in Riverdale, in the Bronx.
Almost immediately, her father went to work in Manhattan’s diamond district, resuming his career as a broker and meeting his brother for lunch every day at the famed Diamond Club. Monica and her siblings, who spoke English, resumed their education in September at P.S. 7. She went on to graduate from Brooklyn College as a sociology major and to earn a master’s degree in social work from Hunter College. She met her husband, Ezra, a Justice Department attorney for 30 years, when they were college students with summer jobs at a Catskill hotel. They married in 1950 in Israel, where one sister still lives, and have a son and a daughter.
Years later, Monica and Ezra went to see the house where she’d lived in Berchem. It had been subdivided into apartments. After they’d moved to Maryland, buying their Silver Spring home in 1973, she ran into a Jewish school friend from Belgium who had also escaped, but to Cuba, and then immigrated to the United States. “She told me about all my classmates who were rounded up and perished,” Monica says. “The Germans wanted to use them as prostitutes for the troops and they committed suicide.”
Monica made a career for herself as a clinical social worker and family therapist, and she also ran a nonprofit agency for home health aides. “My sister thought God helped us escape. I thought it was the family, so I became a family therapist,” she says.
FROM THE CEO
By Daniel S. Mariaschin
B’nai B’rith Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
In 1955, just before I entered the first grade, we moved from Englewood, New Jersey, to Swanzey, New Hampshire.
To go from the center of the Jewish universe–the New York metropolitan area–to a region with some 25 Jewish families, represented a major transition.
In New Jersey, we had Jewish neighbors on our block; in New Hampshire, there were but four Jewish families in our semi-rural town of about 3,000 people, just outside the small city of Keene. Kosher food? Readily accessible before we moved; but when we were in New England, my uncle in Boston sent a box of meat once a month on the bus from Boston, 85 miles away. Organized Jewish life? In New Jersey, the Jewish Community Center was a 15-minute walk from our house; in Keene, the small synagogue, housed in a grand, former house on a tree-lined street, was the center of activity for everything Jewish.
So why the move? My parents had an opportunity to purchase a women’s clothing store and a chance to run their own business. My mother, an immigrant from Lithuania in the early years of the last century, was raised in Maine, so the return to New England was not so difficult. My father, who emigrated from Russia, was raised in Brooklyn and always loved to vacation in Maine, with its rocky coastline and fresh air. And we had relatives in Boston, close enough to reach if need be.
To call our Jewish community a minority, would be an understatement. There were other small ethnic communities in our area, but they were all bound, in one way or another, religiously with the rest of the population. I was, for a time, the only Jewish student in my school, later to be joined by several others a bit younger than me.
School would no sooner open in September than I would be out for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Christmas/Chanukah season always presented the same dilemma: how to explain to my friends that I didn’t receive gifts under a decorated tree but around a menorah, which we lit for eight nights. In the third grade, my teacher asked me to present the story of the Maccabees to our class, which I did, notwithstanding my uneasiness at being front and center different than all my classmates.
Not too far removed from the Holocaust, I can recall telling my first-grade teacher that relatives of mine were killed by the Nazis. It was a revelation I was to make at various points during my schooling over the years.
As I look back, I realize that you can make a Jewish life wherever you are, and it need not be in the midst of a large urban environment. In our house, our table talk frequently revolved around Jewish subjects. My father would regale me with stories from his upbringing in the shtetl; my mother would do the same about her childhood in Bangor, Maine, where her father was president of the synagogue. Israel was always at the center of our conversations, made all the more relevant because of our relatives who lived there. During most of our years in Keene, we had a rabbi, and there was a small Hebrew school, and my bar mitzvah took place in that tiny synagogue.
My parents had to keep the store open on Friday nights, the biggest shopping day. But as soon as they came home, we lit candles and recited Kiddush. The store was closed on the high holidays, and my father made sure to keep me close by in our small sanctuary, lest I wander out to play ball on the synagogue’s front lawn.
My classmates and their parents and many of my teachers were open-minded, welcoming and supportive to the only Jewish kid in their midst. Those classmates, to this day, are still my closest friends. At one point, when our old synagogue was sold, my father taught Hebrew School classes in the Unitarian Church. And that year, we held High Holiday services (crosses covered) at the Salvation Army building.
We did encounter some anti-Semitism; I’d hear taunts sometimes in the hallways or on the playground, and my parents might hear an occasional comment in the store. As I look back, I think much of it came from stereotypes passed down over generations and from the fact that, for many people, our family or the few others in town were the first Jews they had ever actually encountered.
My grade school principal occasionally stopped for a cup of coffee at a drug store fountain near our shop (owned, by the only Jewish pharmacist in town) where my parents also went for an afternoon coffee. Upon hearing from my mother about one such playground incident, he assured her he wouldn’t tolerate it. And he didn’t.
I like to think of my family’s story as unique, but as I look around, it was repeated in many corners of the United States. A look at a listing of B’nai B’rith lodges in the 1950s shows Jews in places like Gonzalez, Texas, Fremont, Neb., and Corry, Pa. Jewish life in small-town America centered around the synagogue and the dinner table (and, if the community was bigger than ours, perhaps a B’nai B’rith lodge) but those two anchors were often more than enough to sustain one’s identity in the midst of a much broader world.
Demographic patterns have brought many Jewish newcomers to our town in the decades since we left, attracted by the environment and the quality of life. Our synagogue now has over 100 members, four times what it was in 1955.
Like thousands of other Jews, I left the small town for opportunities and a career elsewhere. Notwithstanding everything since, those formative Jewish years gave me a perspective on the world that informs me to this day.
By Hillel Kuttler
The remark from New York Giants head coach Bill Parcells startled NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, for its content, and its speaker.
“Your crew has worked an outstanding game today,” Parcells told Markbreit, along the sidelines at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on the afternoon of Jan. 20, 1991. The contest was heading toward a dramatic climax. Trailing the host 49ers by one point in a National Football Conference championship game, the Giants had recovered a fumble and driven downfield. With four seconds left, they called a time-out to set up a field goal attempt. That’s when the two men spoke.
Later, watching a replay, Markbreit noticed that he leapt while signaling Matt Bahr’s successful kick to win the game, 15-13.
To Markbreit, the excitement came from refereeing what he considers “the best game I was ever in.” The approving comment by Parcells, hardly a warm-and-fuzzy character, was an added bonus.
“It was very rewarding for me for a coach to say that,” Markbreit, 82, says from his home in the Chicago suburb of Skokie.
Markbreit witnessed plenty of great competition in the 461 National Football League games he officiated from 1976 to 1999, including four Super Bowls (a record for a referee), eight conference championships and 12 other playoff games. Before that, he worked a decade for the Big Ten, a premier collegiate division, a stretch that included the 1972 Rose Bowl.
Says Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials, who’s known Markbreit for over 50 years: “He’s fair-minded, tough and never took any crap on the field.”
Who knows? Someday, Markbreit could be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And B’nai B’rith will have helped deliver him there.
Officiating for B’nai B’rith
As a University of Illinois student, Markbreit began his officiating career by handling intramural football games. His next paid gig – $3 a game – was for a B’nai B’rith youth touch-football league in Chicago’s Grant Park on Sunday mornings in the late 1950s. That led to Markbreit’s officiating high school and small-college football games before hitting the big time.
“It was wonderful,” Markbreit says of the B’nai B’rith league. “I bump into some of the guys now, and they’re old like I am!”
From 2004 to 2014, he served as president of the B’nai B’rith Sports Lodge, raising money for college scholarships for Jewish male and female athletes. Phil Zagon, the Chicago lodge’s vice president, remembers Markbreit running meetings efficiently, often pressing long-winded participants to get to the point.
“He kept a tight rein on his board so they did what they were supposed to do,” Zagon says.
Someone who earned a lodge-provided scholarship, Brent Novoselsky, went on to play tight end in the NFL. Novoselsky, now the lodge’s treasurer and chair of its scholarship committee, says he’s adapted Markbreit’s approach to managing meetings. Coincidentally, Markbreit's wife of 61 years, Bobbie, was Novolselsky's high school English teacher.
Each man enjoys relating the rare instance of a Jewish referee working an NFL game involving a Jewish player.
Novoselsky’s Minnesota Vikings were playing in Los Angeles in 1992. Markbreit threw a flag to signal a penalty against a Vikings lineman for an illegal block. The pile of players on the ground cleared to reveal the culprit, Novoselsky, who contested the call.
Markbreit responded, “Brent, I didn’t know it was you!” They smiled.
For NFL referees, lighthearted moments are rare because of their heavy responsibilities. Each referee, distinguished by a white cap, oversees six other officials at every game, announces penalties and video-review decisions and cultivates teamwork within his crew.
He, like the other officials, must make tough calls in the heat of competition, in real time, without watching the slow-motion replays that television viewers enjoy. Most importantly, that means determining whether a runner crossed the goal line for a touchdown, a receiver legally caught a pass or a quarterback’s fumble was really an incompletion.
On the field, Markbreit says, his brain could slow down the lightning-quick action and pinpoint key components of a single play – a receiver’s feet landing in-bounds, hands securing the ball, the ball crossing the goal line – simultaneously; he’d be impressed that subsequently watching film clips confirmed he’d nearly always decided correctly.
Some missed calls remain embedded in Markbreit’s memory, even framing his career. In his first NFL game, as a line judge in Seattle, he gave the perfect signal for the two-minute warning – but in the first quarter, when no such timeout occurs. On the last play of his last game, he missed a holding call.
See Jerry Markbreit in action
Strive for Excellence, Commit an Occasional Doozy
“My philosophy of life is: You strive for excellence. You want perfection, but there is no perfection. The best officials are the ones who make the fewest mistakes,” he says.
One mistake was a doozy, before tens of millions of TV viewers. At midfield at the start of Super Bowl XVII in 1983, Markbreit erred on the coin toss, incorrectly calling “heads,” but quickly corrected the gaffe after closer examination of the ceremonial coin. Markbreit is perhaps best known for a call he made late in a 1978 contest that gave the Oakland Raiders a game-winning touchdown after quarterback Ken Stabler fumbled the ball and a teammate, Dave Casper, kicked it into the end zone and recovered it. The rule would later be changed to prevent such recoveries.
Two calls that Markbreit takes most pride in occurred on the same play–and were not covered by the rules; rather, he decided on the spot. In a late 1986 game in Chicago, he ejected Green Bay Packers lineman Charles Martin for picking up Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and slamming him to the turf head-first–an act that Markbreit thought had killed McMahon. It was the first NFL ejection not given for fighting. Markbreit also negated a colleague’s flagging of a Bears player for retaliating for Martin’s hit. He did so, he later explained, because ruling otherwise would have endangered his crew.
Markbreit has long had a habit of reading the NFL rulebook every day of the year to stay sharp and anticipate any situation. In Soldier Field that day, Markbreit explains, he relied instead on common sense. He expresses gratification that the league supported him on those rulings.
Markbreit was nearly 52 years old at the time – precisely in the 50-65 range he considers sports officials around the world to be in their prime.
“I was at my very best between those years. In real life, a 50-year-old to some people sounds old; in the officiating world, we’re young. You mature, you can handle problems, you can figure out what’s wrong,” he explains.
“Officiating is the same thing. You store up all of these wonderful things that you need to use as an official, and, miraculously, they’re in your head – and when something happens on the field, the answer, the solution, comes out.”
For Markbreit, confidence built over time. He strove in each position to attain the next rung on the officiating ladder.
“I didn’t know if I was good enough to get in the pros,” he says – and even after applying to officiate in the NFL and being hired, he was “scared to death” of failing.
“Risk in your life is really the only way you can achieve anything,” Markbreit says. “It’s to take a chance, move to the next level, not really knowing how well you’ll do but having the guts to do it anyway. No risk, no gain.”
Since leaving the field, Markbreit sold advertising for Where magazine and was trade and barter manager for 3M. Markbreit has applied his game-day wisdom as an NFL “trainer” of officials. Whenever the Bears play at home during the exhibition season and regular season, he’s at a game to evaluate that day’s referee, write a report with observations and suggestions and share it with that person confidentially; when the Bears play out of town, he watches on television and does the same. (He also consults on referees for the Big Ten each Saturday.) “The best part of my life has been the refereeing,” Markbreit states.
That’s a big change from his refereeing career. The 1986 game was Markbreit’s only one in Chicago. The NFL’s policy is not to assign games involving officials’ hometown teams because, as Markbreit notes, fans “know where you live.”
Alberto Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, says Markbreit remains “an invaluable resource for the league” as “a very good teacher, consultant and motivator.”
“Everyone on staff, starting with myself, has the utmost respect for him,” Riveron, a former NFL referee, continues. “I would not be sitting in this chair without Jerry. He helped me when I was on the college level: with mechanics, rules, communicating with people, the way you run meetings.”
The two, Riveron says, are “like family,” with a friendship extending “way beyond the professional side.”
Their friendship deepened in 2016, when Riveron’s son Tyler, 24, passed away. In 2005, Markbreit and Bobbie lost their younger daughter Betsy, 45, to breast cancer.
“He knew how I felt, because that’s how he felt. It brought us closer together,” Markbreit says. “When you go through the same sad, horrible thing, you really do know how they feel.”
Markbreit remains close with several other NFL-referees colleagues, some of whom he speaks with daily. Those friendships included inter-religious discussions on issues such as their respective holidays. In Phoenix once, Markbreit’s head linesman, Terry Gierke, a Catholic, removed his cap for the crew’s pre-game prayer before they headed onto the field. It was just before Yom Kippur.
Atop Gierke’s head was a kippah.
Says Markbreit: “It was wonderful. He said, ‘I know it’s your holiday coming, and I wanted to honor you by wearing this yarmulke.’ ”
By Cheryl Kempler
Jewish culture has left its mark on every nation where Jews have settled. Over time, Jewish perception, experiences and thought fuses with, and alters, the creative impulse of the host country; resulting in something entirely original. Perhaps, it is impossible to separate one from the other. Yet, the act of severing all traces of Jewish sensibility and aesthetics from German society, its heritage and traditions, became the Nazis’ obsession.
Their names inscribed on war memorials, and their features, portrayed on statues erected in their honor, as well as their signatures, engraved into the surface of sculptures they created, Jews had influenced both the design, and the inherent message of civic art, conveyed to thousands who looked at them, however briefly, on a daily basis.
Following Hitler’s election as Chancellor of the Reich in January 1933, the removal of these most visible works of art, most considered important sculptural landmarks in large cities, took place within a few weeks. Imbued with a Jewish sensibility, these works had the power to thwart and corrupt what Germany’s new leaders considered its authentic values. After the 1935 passage of the Nuremberg laws, the names of Jewish soldiers were omitted from World War I memorials.
A large granite war memorial by the Jewish sculptor Benno Elkan and completed in 1920, was situated in Frankfurt’s busiest area, near the transit center. Drawing on a variety of Western and non-Western stylistic sources, the work was made up of a single figure, that of a weeping woman crouching, her face and body contorted in anguish and grief. Here, the rhetoric of glory and heroism is meaningless: The aftermath of war leaves only an inconsolable mother in its wake. Integral to both the statue’s visual impact and meaning is the dedication Den Opfern (To the Victims), inscribed directly beneath her body on the pedestal. Many, if not all, who passed by the memorial had lost loved ones and would have identified with its message.
Den Opfern was removed from the site, probably in March or April, 1933, as private residences in Frankfurt were searched for more Elkan pieces. At the Schillerplatz in Mainz, vandals defaced Elkan’s Die Freiheit (Freedom), a large stone sculpture of a semi-nude female. This work, as well as another version of Den Opfern in Völklingen, were probably taken away during this time, and later destroyed. Settling in England, the artist, who died in London in 1960, is today best known for his large Knesset Menorah, on display in front of the Knesset gates.
Although a number of statues honoring the memory of the 19th century poet Heinrich Heine were planned decades before the Nazis came to power, they were opposed by German hate groups. Although Heine converted to Christianity in his youth but later returned to Judaism and treated its traditions as themes in his works. Heine’s lyrical celebration of nature and romantic love inspired some of the country’s greatest music and art. Two of these commissions were awarded to Georg Kolbe, later admired by the Nazis, whose work reflected his interest in the world of ballet and athletics. Evoking the romantic spirit of Heine’s poems, Kolbe’s statue of a dancing couple was a familiar sight in Frankfurt’s Friedberger neighborhood for 20 years. In April 1933 rioting Hitler Youth members pried the figures from their mount with chisels and pushed them off. The sculptor’s second Heine commission was never realized.
Distinguished by its elaborate architectural setting, Hugo Lederer’s 1936 Heine monument became one of the focal points in Hamburg’s city park. Its disappearance is dated to 1933, but playwright Samuel Beckett’s travel diary records a later sighting. Although the sculptor’s style harkens back to that of German medieval sculpture, well within the aesthetic cannon of the Third Reich, Lederer's career suffered after he was suspected of having "Jewish blood."
For centuries, Leipzig, located in Eastern Germany, had been a bastion of cultural life. Constantly apprised of the situation in Germany, B’nai B’rith National Jewish Monthly subscribers would read an editorial that equated the destruction of the city’s monument to the once beloved 19th century composer Felix Mendelssohn with the end of civilization. Two musical geniuses, J.S. Bach and Mendelssohn, were identified with the history of the City of Music, where tributes to them were featured prominently. Given pride of place at the plaza at the Gewandhaus, the theater where Mendelssohn had conducted, the composer’s statue had been envisioned as a shrine where the composer could be worshipped by his devotees.
Elevated on a heavenly perch, Mendelssohn’s full-length bronze effigy stood on a high pedestal, where figures of the muse of music and her angels reverently guarded the base. By the 1930s, the memorial had become a source of pride to the city’s prosperous Jewish community. After 1933, local Nazis campaigned for the changing of streets with Jewish names and battled the mayor, who opposed their demand for the statue’s removal. He was absent from the city on Nov. 9, 1936, when London Philharmonic members and their venerable conductor, Thomas Beecham, laid a wreath at the statue to protest the Nazis’ prohibition of the playing of Mendelssohn’s music during their concert tour.
The next day, passers-by saw only an empty pedestal, devoid of the composer’s image, which had been taken during the night. A hastily issued statement to the press announced the figure’s demolition “in accord with the Aryan cultural ideal.” Later that month, another memorial to Mendelssohn was removed in Dusseldorf.
All of the sculptures that disappeared were probably melted down for armaments in 1940.
People killed in a war can never return, but some sculptures are actually brought back to enjoy a second life. Sheltered in the underground passages of the Frankfurt tram depot, even the art hated by the Nazis was protected from the enemy bombs. Den Opfern was saved and displayed in close proximity to its original site, where it can be seen today. Rededicated in 1946, the memorial was praised by Frankfurt’s mayor, a U.S. military appointee, as a timely and relevant statement. From his point of view, all the German dead had been war victims, whether killed by the Allies or murdered in concentration camps.
Germany again embraced Heine’s legacy, reclaiming him as a native son. After the damage inflicted by the Hitler Youth was repaired, Kolbe’s statue was exhibited as Frühlingslied (Spring Song) in the Frankfurt Museum sculpture garden during the 1930s. Like Den Opfern, the statue was sent to an underground location in the train station, during the war. Emerging from its hiding place after the war, it was re-installed in the city to mark the poet’s 150th birthday in 1947. Kolbe replaced the original portrait relief, which had been detached from the pedestal in the in the process of expunging the statue’s Jewish references. Today, it is beautifully set in the city’s Gallus Park. Tributes to Heine by modern sculptors are among the familiar sights in Berlin, Dusseldorf and Hamburg. A controversial statue of Heine executed in 1983 by Hitler’s favorite sculptor, Arno Breker, finally found a home outside the city hall at Norderney, an island in the North Sea where the writer spent time.
In Leipzig, a small limestone bust substituted for the Mendelssohn monument at its original site. In 2000, plans were finally launched by Maestro Kurt Masur and others for the statue’s reconstruction, which was completed in 2008. Emphasizing the connection between Mendelssohn and Bach, whose works he championed and performed, it has been placed near St. Thomas, the church where the Baroque master worked as music director and where he is buried. The Gewandhaus’ motto, “Edles nur künde die Sprache der Töne” (May the language of music only tell of noble things) is carved into its pedestal. Inside St. Thomas, a stained glass window honors Mendelssohn’s memory.
The 2016 replacement of the Dusseldorf Mendelssohn statue was funded by donations from the city’s residents.
Portrait Bust in the Einstein Tower
Even compared to cutting edge, visionary structures by contemporary architects like Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, the century-old Einstein Tower in Potsdam near Berlin, can still amaze. It is one of the earliest examples of the work of Erich Mendelsohn, and one of only a few extant Expressionist structures, which are easily identified by their unique, hallucinatory qualities.
When Mendelsohn asked the great scientist to comment on the headquarters of the new Einstein Institute, equipped as a solar observatory and as a center for the study of relativity, he provided the perfect, if noncommittal, one-word description: “organic.”
The Nazis’ hatred of the Jewish physicist, his fame and reputation in the world, was magnified by his outspoken criticism of their regime. In keeping with their agenda, in March 1933, an order was issued directing the name of the tower be changed to “The Institute for Solar Physics.” Deemed yet another product of the degenerate Jewish mind, the building was too necessary to be abandoned. His photos removed from the walls, Einstein became a persona non grata. It was believed that a portrait bust that decorated one of the observatory chambers had to be taken away, and later melted down.
After the war, the bust, which had been hidden by staff members, re-emerged from one of the laboratory storage bins. The bust is now displayed near the Tower’s entrance, but a stone is placed at its former location, in remembrance of a time when it could not be seen. Today, part of the Leibniz Institute for the Study of Astrophysics, the Einstein Tower has not moved from its Potsdam campus, now named Albert Einstein Science Park.
After leaving Germany, Erich Mendelsohn lived and worked in Israel, England and the United States, where he died in 1953. Cleveland’s well-known Park Synagogue is one of the innovative buildings that characterizes the architect’s late style.
All photos from Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.
In this, our first all-digital issue of B’nai B’rith Magazine, we offer a potpourri of features spanning the worlds of arts and letters, sports, social justice and history.
We present here for the first time an exchange of unpublished letters between Albert Einstein and Joseph Brainin, a journalist, writer and archivist, on issues ranging from war and peace to the hoped for Jewish homeland to internal Zionist politics. They reveal that, as our headline says, for the father of the atomic age, it wasn’t all about science.
Linking the past and present, we tell the remarkable story of 90-year-old Monica Ullman Friedman, who, as a 12-year old girl, escaped with her family from their home in Antwerp, Belgium in a daring sea rescue from Saint-Malo, on the Brittany coast, in June 1940. This was just a few weeks after the famous mass evacuation featured in the recent movie “Dunkirk.”
From Israel, we write about the government’s efforts to include persons with physical and other disabilities across all sectors of society, even the Israel Defense Forces. Back home, we profile Jerry Markbreit, a former National Football League official who got his start refereeing with a B’nai B’rith youth touch-football league and went on to officiate at four Super Bowls. Now in his 80s, Markbreit continues to motivate, inspire and consult in the sport.
With this issue, we begin a series of retrospective columns by former B’nai B’rith presidents recalling highlights during their terms, as the organization marks its 175th anniversary.
In addition to these features and our regular columns, you will find links to related stories and videos, as we expand our coverage to encompass multiple platforms. Enjoy!
-- Eugene L. Meyer
FROM THE VAULT
By Cheryl Kempler
The official centennial of composer Leonard Bernstein’s birth isn’t until Aug. 25, 2018, but a two-year celebration is already underway. Could there be a B’nai B’rith connection?
Profiled in B’nai B’rith’s National Jewish Monthly in 1943, Bernstein, then the 25-year old assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, got rave reviews after his unscheduled debut at the podium. This prodigy had written ballets, musicals and symphonies like "Jeremiah," based on the Old Testament. His interview, and accompanying headshot, inspired some cute poetry from some of B’nai B’rith’s female readers.
Two years later, Bernstein headed a committee that included famed composer and conductor Aaron Copland to choose the winner of a contest for composers under the age of 30. Bernstein had risen quickly; he was now engaged by both the Philharmonic and City Center’s New York Symphony Orchestra.
The prize was awarded under the auspices of the George Gershwin Memorial Foundation, founded and funded by Manhattan’s B’nai B’rith Victory Lodge and the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations. Named for the man who had given the world masterpieces including "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Porgy and Bess" before his premature death in 1937, the foundation awarded $1,000 and covered the costs of a New York premiere for the winning work.
Held in March 1945, the award concert featured the New York Philharmonic with Bernstein conducting the winning entries by two 22-year-olds, Peter Mennin and Army Sgt. Romeo Cascarino. A week before, Bernstein had wielded the baton at a Victory Lodge benefit featuring Broadway star Muriel Smith.
When the contest was announced the next year, Bernstein was again in charge, selecting the winning work by Harold Shapero, later a Brandeis University professor, and leading the concert, broadcast over radio station WNYC.
Bernstein would continue to participate in the foundation’s activities and would occasionally conduct the Gershwin Memorial Foundation concerts, presented through 1961. In 1966, the Victory Lodge ceded the funds of the Gershwin Memorial Foundation to the Juilliard School, which continues to offer the prize as a scholarship.
From Milken Archive
From YouTube Video and Audio Only