Nearing the end of his first year as president of B’nai B’rith International, Seth Riklin’s front-burner order of business is to evaluate the marching orders he gave himself when he was elected to the position:
Increase membership, at a time when most all membership organizations suffer from declining numbers.
“The biggest thrust of my time is aimed at reinvigorating B’nai B’rith,” Riklin says.
Riklin was elected in December, 2021, and inherited a worldwide membership of 500,000 members. Riklin thinks that’s not enough.
“You have Gen X, Gen Z, Gen Y who want to be more active and more attached to their Jewish community,” Riklin says, “but they have less time and they don’t operate in the same ways that my parents and grandparents did.
“So we’ve got to figure out a way to engage them and get them involved, but on a much less time-consuming basis.
“We’re creating pilot programs across the country, where the only commitment that we’re asking of people is that you get together twice a year, once a year to raise money.”
So much for the numbers, for the moment. There are other hard items at hand. As one of the world’s premier watchdog groups, B’nai B’rith has been busy with the constant barrage of anti-Semitic attacks across the globe. The dilemma catches Riklin’s attention, constantly.
“We have our ears to the ground, and we hold ourselves out as being the voice of Jews worldwide,” Riklin says. “So we get people’s attention when these issues spring up, and when we speak out, people know that there’s some horsepower behind it.
“It’s never been more important than it is today. At the same time, we have to be very careful about the battles we choose and how we speak out about anti-Semitism. Because in today’s world, in the US, you have anti-Semitism on the left and on the right.
“Sometimes the anti-Semitism comes from people who are purportedly friends of Israel. So it’s a very difficult time to fight anti-Semitism and it is very difficult to know who your friends are and who are not.
“It has become a game of whack-a-mole. But the most distressing part of it is that because of the politics of division, you’ve had political leaders making statements that give comfort to anti-Semites, that normalize racism and anti-Semitism because people are allowed the ability to exercise their first amendment rights here in the US.
“We’re seeing a massive rise in assaults on Jews, especially on observant Jews, because they’re the ones who are visible.”
Riklin has practiced business law and owns Hill Country Wind Power, based in Texas. He likes and prefers B’nai B’rith’s model of decentralization, versus every decision coming from the top.
“I’m used to being part of big corporate America, and now I run a renewable energy company,” Riklin says.
“With B’nai B’rith, we have 20-plus people working in our offices in Washington, we have people working in Brussels and Paris and in South America.
“As opposed to being the president and in charge and making decisions that affect locally any organization, we don’t do that.
“My job is making sure our board is engaged, making sure that we are reaching out to all the communities that our board members are from, making sure that B’nai B’rith Europe, Southern Latin America and New Zealand, are doing good deeds and doing appropriate things in our name.
“It’s more about communicating and making sure that the different arms are talking to each other, to share our ideas for solutions so we can be consistent in what we do across the world.”
Riklin, 65 and based in Houston, was in Denver Oct. 20 to help commemorate the 150th anniversary of Denver’s B’nai B’rith Colorado chapter.
“It gives me hope that the people in Denver were able to create a B’nai B’rith community 150 years ago in the wild West with minimal resources,” Riklin says. “With all the resources we have now, we can create new B’nai B’rith communities across the world.”
“We have to stick together,” adds Riklin. “We have to take care of each other.”
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