A few weeks ago the new CEO of B’nai Brith Canada,  Michael Mostyn,  was in Winnipeg to meet with various community members.

Mostyn is a young (40 year-old, married, with two children) Toronto lawyer who presents quite a departure from his predecessor, “Dr.” Frank Dimant (who was given an honourary doctorate by Charles McVety’s Christian College in 2004.) Dimant had an extremely autocratic style – “my way or the highway”, that unarguably led to the alienation of many B’nai Brith members. In fact, several years ago Dimant expelled several long-time B’nai Brith members who had held senior positions within the organization for having the temerity to challenge his style of leadership. I especially loved this headline in Dimant’s right-wing mouthpiece, The Jewish Tribune: “Frank Diamant: A Legend Retires”. (Modesty was never his strong suit.)
In contrast, Michael Mostyn (whose cousin is married to one of my nieces) is unfailingly courteous and gives the impression, at least, of wanting to hear from a wide range of voices. I sat down with Mostyn in the Kroft Boardroom of the Asper Campus on December 16th to discuss his background and his plans for B’nai Brith Canada. Following are some excerpts from that interview:

Mostyn began by noting that in 2015 B’nai Brith will be celebrating its 140th anniversary in Canada, having been founded in 1875.
His own family roots can be traced to Poland on his mother’s side and Ukraine on his father’s, Mostyn explained.
“Both sides of my family were in Canada – the core members of the family – before the Russian Revolution. My mother’s side of the family ended up in Kirkland Lake, Ontario”
“Davey Keon”, (a famous Toronto Maple Leaf of a bygone era) I interjected - displaying my vast knowledge of useless trivia.
“My father’s side of the family were in Midland, Ontario – which is near Pentangwashing. My zaide’s family on my mother’s side was born in Toronto – so I have Jewish roots all around Ontario.”
“And you were born in Toronto?” I asked.
“North York”, Mostyn answered. “I went to Associated Hebrew Day School, then I went to CHAT – the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, and from there went to the University of Western Ontario – got my undergraduate degree, did law school there, then I practiced law in Toronto for about seven years as a litigator.
“I was appointed to become the national director of public affairs for B’nai Brith Canada – did that for almost five years in Ottawa. I ran the government relations program in Ottawa and the diplomatic affairs program, working with all the various political parties and embassies from around the world on Israel issues and Jewish human rights issues, also human rights issues generally.
“From there the last several years I’ve been involved in something totally different. I was involved with high-tech start-ups…Then there was the retirement of the previous Chief Executive Officer and I went through about a four-month interview process.”
“You took this over in the fall,” I asked.
“The fall, yes – I began in September of this year.  I wanted to be in Winnipeg before the new year. We just finished meeting with our Winnipeg board.”
“Give me the Cole’s Notes what B’nai Brith is involved in,” I said. “I know there’s the League for Human Rights, it’s a service organization, a social organization. What other roles does it play?”
“I think there’s several pillars or foundations of B’nai Brith,” Mostyn said.  “We started off as lodges all across Canada and, as you mentioned we have a humanitarian or social services role, whether it’s food baskets programs, helping the needy, affordable housing projects across Canada that are subsidized, particularly for Jewish seniors. We also provide cultural programming for them. Many of them have synagogues in the buildings as well. Really – people helping people, helping the needy.
“Another aspect is sports. We also run sports leagues, all the way from Montreal to Toronto to Winnipeg, and we’re looking to expand those activities even further.
“We have the League for Human Rights, as you mentioned, and that’s fighting against anti-Semitism, bigotry. We put together an audit of anti-Semitic incidents, which we’ve produced for about the last 30 years in Canada. It’s a snapshot of anti-Semitism in Canada for that particular year and you can map out the trends in society.”
“Were you involved with the audits before…in your previous roles with the organization?” I asked.
“Yes, I was working with police forces, working with hate crimes officers, particularly in Ottawa.”
“But the audits are somewhat contentious, aren’t they?” I suggested. There’s always a question about methodology.”
“I don’t know about that, “ Mostyn answered. “I know that – certainly in the beginning there were two different philosophies. One philosophy was, we should be publicizing these anti-Semitic incidents as statistics; there’s another philosophy that say ‘no’, we shouldn’t be talking about this publicly.
“I think we see now, in other countries around the world with other organizations that deal with this, for example: The Community Security Trust in England, the anti-Defamation League does this in the United States – I think there were questions in the past – what’s the benefit of this? Does it make things worse for the Jewish community? Will it make things better for the Jewish community? I think, over time there’s been a recognition this (anti-Semitism) is happening all over the world, including Australia. If you don’t keep these statistics, then how can you measure how we’re doing as a Jewish community?”
“I understand that,” I noted,  “but I think the question is more one of prioritizing and according the same weight to something like a swastika painted on a garage as opposed to something major like an attack on a Jewish school.”
Mostyn responded: “We do separate it out – regionally, also in terms of what sort of an incident was it – was it a verbal assault or a physical assault or an act of graffiti – those are all divided up in the audit.”
“But then again,” I suggested, “when you come up with a statistical analysis that says something like ‘anti-Semitic incidents up 14 percent’, you lump all incidents together, don’t you?”
“First of all,” Mostyn answered, “when it comes to reporting any hate crime, sociologists say that only about ten percent of all incidents are ever reported. If it’s shocking to you or hurtful, you may not want to report it. You may feel ‘What’s the use? Nothing’s going to change?’ There are many reasons why people would not want to report. We run a 24-7 hotline, which is a way that we can engage with Jewish people in the community and try to help them out.
“In addition, there’s a historical value to the statistics – to government in helping them to know what resources we should be throwing at this issue.
“So when you see that the figure (number of anti-Semitic incidents) has been hovering at around 1,000 for the past ten years in Canada, you know that it’s still a serious issue. We notice it more on university campuses right now.”
“Tell me something about your previous role,” I said to Mostyn. “You were a sort of liaison with governments?”
“I started off as the director of government relations for Canada. I was based in Ottawa, so primarily I was dealing with the Federal Government. I was dealing with provincial governments as was necessary, on a case-by case basis – and yes, with foreign governments as well, through the Institute for International Affairs for B’nai Brith, which is another area where we’re standing up for global Jewry, also the State of Israel.”
“But how does this differ from what CIJA (The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs) is doing, for instance?” I asked.
“CIJA is an arm of the Jewish Federations and that’s their function. On the Israel front they were formerly the Canada-Israel Committee. B’nai Brith also engages in Israel activities through our Institute for International Affairs. B’nai Brith is an independent Jewish group. We have a very broad mandate. B’nai Brith stands for the grassroots Jewish community. CIJA is part of the federation structure and they’re part of the organized Jewish community.
“On certain issues we see eye-to-eye. At other times we may not have the same policies or approaches and that’s perfectly fine because we have a very diverse Jewish community in Canada and not everyone in the Jewish community sees things the same way. That’s why we have Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox religious institutions in this country and we have advocacy groups that represent various constituencies within the country. I think that’s healthy.”
“What is the current membership of B’nai Brith in Canada?” I asked.
“We have memberships through lodges. We also have donors and supporters; we also have people that we support through our buildings; we have people that we support through our five-day hot meal program in Toronto. So, if you’re going to say: ‘What’s our base?’  it’s hard for me to put a number on that.”
“Give me a ball park,” I said.
“Give you a ball park. Well, I’ll say whatever the grass roots community of Canada is – that’s who we’re representing.”
“All right,” I said,  but what’s the actual number of members? Look, I’m going to be getting around to asking about some of the fallout from your predecessor’s …Let me put it another way: I don’t think there’s much doubt that Frank Diamant was a divisive figure. I know you’ve got to be diplomatic about this. He alienated a lot of people, including members of B’nai Brith. I remember the incident - when was it - about eight or nine years ago, when a number of prominent members of B’nai Brith were simply expelled from the organization. So there’s a certain amount of repairing that you’ve got to do. You seem well suited to the role and I think probably you’re not going to want to get into much discussion of that, but it is the elephant in the room that we’ve got to deal with.
“Now,” I continued, “Earl Barish has done a tremendous job of trying to revive B’nai Brith here but I think Earl’s job will be quite a bit easier with someone like you at the helm. There is that P.R. role you have to play. I’m old enough to remember what went on between Frank Dimant and others who opposed his style of leadership. I don’t expect you to comment, but maybe you can sort of talk about looking forward to the future without necessarily denigrating what’s gone on in the past. What steps can you take to build up B’nai Brith?”
“Sure,” Mostyn replied. “B’nai Brith is looking to rejuvenate itself right now and the mandate that was given to me was to get us younger, to find ways to continue our relevancy and to make us more relevant within the areas of our mandate within human rights within the Jewish community; also to increase fund-raising and to increase the capacity of everything that B’nai Brith has the potential to become and is.
“I’m really looking forward to making the most of my opportunity to reach out to other organizations – both within the Jewish and the non-Jewish world, whether it’s NGO’s or other groups; ways that we can work together cooperatively to serve the community because we’re all here to serve the community. It’s an exciting challenge for me. Certainly every position has opportunities and challenges.
“I think that, if you’re looking at the 140-year history of B’nai Brith, it’s actually been involved in so many things – it’s been a start-up engine that’s generated so many wonderful ideas and so many institutions that people don’t even recognize are historically a part of B’nai Brith, such as the Hillel Centres on campuses; Toronto Hebrew Jewish Free Loan; BBYO; summer camps – there’s all sorts of history. B’nai Brith has touched probably every single Jewish life in Canada at some point.  There’s a connection, whether it’s the sports leagues or something else.”
“So you must have been involved in BBYO when you were younger,” I suggested.
“I first got involved with B’nai Brith Canada by playing in their hockey league in Toronto and gradually moved on - got involved in human rights advocacy and so on.
“So, that’s the story I’m hoping to promote. I think everyone in the Jewish community knows of B’nai Brith. Not everyone knows exactly what B’nai Brith does or stands for. That, for me, is the challenge. How do we get the B’nai Brith brand out there and not just talking about the League for Human Rights and the audit, as you were talking about. What is the entire breadth of this organization – what we have given to Canada and what we are planning on giving to Canada.”
“To be fair,” I noted, “almost every other traditional Jewish organization that had a social role is almost moribund or facing exactly the same problems of declining membership as B’nai Brith. We’re talking about newer generations that don’t join organizations or, as is the case with BBYO here in Winnipeg, is now under the auspices of the Rady JCC, so that the B’nai Brith name is carried on. Is there potential for growth? I don’t know what it’s like in other cities, but here we have what - the Yachad Couples Unit and? At that point Maria Fernanda Medina, B’nai Brith’s office manger here, interjected, saying: “the Sports Lodge“.
“They don’t do the hockey any more – right? It’s just  baseball now,” I noted.
“Okay,” Mostyn said,  “maybe closing on that, we do have lodges and members that have engaged with us in different ways. That’s the challenge, but that’s where we’re going. We’re looking at reinvigorating this organization, rejuvenating this organization, involving youth, and making ourselves even more relevant to all the issues and dealing with them in creative ways, in exciting ways that will help the broader community to understand, be involved, let them know that they’re welcome within B’nai Brith. We’re a secular Jewish organization and anyone from any background in the Jewish faith is welcome to join.”