B’nai B’rith Women Fight Dissolution

B’nai B’rith Women president, Beverly Davis, expressed her firm opposition to a resolution passed by B’nai B’rith International September 4 calling for a plan to open the BBI membership to women. The struggle highlights issues involved in the ongoing debate over the future of separate Jewish women’s organizations.

Davis declared that “we will take all steps necessary to preserve our independence and our membership…. BBW as an independent Jewish women’s organization, with its own programs and priorities, has served, and will continue to serve, as a respected and important voice for Jewish women.” BBW leaders in 33 cities have signed statements declaring that “Bnai B’rith Women should remain an independent and autonomous Jewish women’s organization, in control of its own programs, policies and assets.”

Davis reported that BBW’s 37 delegates came to the BBI convention at which the resolution was adopted with a mandate given them by BBW leadership in 33 cities across the country, urging a firm stand in opposition to the resolution. She added that “we have fulfilled our mandate by making our opposition clear.” According to Davis, the resolution read:

“Commencing January 1, 1987, full and equal membership in B’nai B’rith shall be made available for women in accordance with a plan that shall be presented for approval at the next international convention of B’nai B’rith in 1986.”

The resolution had originated among delegates to the 1982 B’nai B’rith convention, who decided to commission a study on the issue. Members of a committee of 12 men and two women then evaluated the report—entitled Women in Organizations: An Analysis of the Role and Status of Women in American Voluntary Organizations—written by Dr. David Sommers, an outside consultant, surveying 30 Jewish and non-Jewish voluntary organizations.

Davis has charged that the move was prompted by B’nai B’rith’s need for a “broader base of membership and more funds”; that it would threaten the independence of BBW; and that it would place B’nai B’rith and the BBW “in direct competition.”

BBW, established in 1955 claims a membership of 120,000 in 750 chapters in the US and Canada. Davis said there is “a new tide of feeling in this country—a forceful determination by women to represent themselves. Being integrated into an organization is not the ultimate signpost of equality.”