| In Masonic circles
throughout the world, particularly in English-speaking countries, the
question of the future of our Order has become a pressing issue. The past
fifty years have marked gradual erosion in the number of Masons in the
world. In the USA, to give an example, from the 1950's until the end of
last century, the membership of the 50 Grand Lodges dropped by more than
fifty percent. These numbers cause for serious reflection. Some lodges had
to close down, others merge, and everywhere the maintenance of the
beautiful Masonic temples or halls that are our proud window to the world
has become a heavy, almost unbearable burden.
Another important point is the geriatrification of the lodges. As less
young men join, and those who do join remain in the lodges a shorter time,
the average age of the remaining members creeps up, making the lodge even
less attractive to the younger generations.
Attempts have been made to find the causes for this situation.
Obviously, a combination of factors is at work. In the USA, some observers
claim this is the return to normal sizing of the Fraternity, after the
unusual expansion that took place after the Second World War; others point
to the changes society at large has experience in the last century, and
particularly in the last decades. We perceive the increasing self concern
of the younger generations, the "bowling alone" syndrome, the influence of
television, and now Internet, making people more sedentary and less
This situation, which is also felt in our own country, does not seem
to have the same effect in other areas of the world, such as Latin
America, France and Turkey, to give some examples, where Freemasonry
follows traditional rules of strict selection of candidates, slow
advancement through the degrees – one to two years between one degree and
the next – small lodges, and active participation in the lodge demanded
from each brother.
If we want to change the course of the present trend, I believe that
our problem has to be analyzed, because it is composed of two factors,
both equally important: acquisition and retention.
The first question is how to make our lodges attractive to the younger
generations. Acquisition, this is the fundamental first step. Let us think
for a moment. What can we offer the young man in his thirties or forties,
which would make him want to join a lodge? A friend, or a relative, of
course. That is perhaps the most common source of our recruitment.
However, it is far from being a sure thing. How many of the brethren in
your own lodges have succeeded in bringing in their offspring? I wonder if
you need two hands to count the fingers.
Ours is a voluntary association. We don't publicize, we generally
don't ask anybody to become a Mason. That's against one of our rules. "Of
your own free will and accord" and so on. So, contrary to a business
selling doughnuts or dresses, which can advertise and make special offers,
bargain days, end of season sales, we must offer something that our
"customer" – that innocent prospective candidate – will be enticed to buy
on his own. By his own will and accord.
Allow me to digress. Some of you may be trying hard to hold your
horses and not jump up to yell: "It's being done in the USA!" Yes, it is
true, one day Master Masons – they call it the Grand Master's Class:
Initiation, Passing and Raising of a few hundred candidates in one day.
These assembly-line Masons have certainly enjoyed a bargain basement sale.
But in business, liquidation sales usually end up with the closing of the
business. Let's hope it doesn't happen to us.
Some critics call the resulting brothers McMasons, doubting that they
can get any meaning from the ceremonies they watched as spectators. The
jury is still out about the effectiveness of this procedure. Some
observers claim the resulting Masons are no different from the ones who
went through the degrees in a couple of months. Still, this measure does
not appear to have much effect on the hemorrhaging lodges, which continue
losing two to three percent of their membership each year.
So, I ask again, what can we offer? Something that is unique to our
organization, which you cannot find in the Rotary or the Lions or a London
Fraternity? Yes, certainly. But similar links of brotherhood exist
among graduates of the same university, members of the same synagogue,
veterans of the same army.
What we have, different from all the others, is an esoteric tradition.
A philosophy, not a religion, yet tolerant of all religions. A tradition
of teaching by symbols. We are an academy like no other, with a curriculum
that brings together and extracts the best of the philosophical ideas that
have nurtured western civilization.
And we have a secret. Yes, the Mason's secret. Wake up, Brethren,
because now I'm going to reveal our secret for all to hear! Our secret is
– drum roll in the background, please – we want to improve the world.
Big secret! Big words! And how do we propose to achieve this momentous
task? Conquering the world with steel and fire? Finding the way to turn
water into oil? Making the entire world speak Hebrew?
No way. Simply this: by improving ourselves.
Every human being is capable of polishing his imperfections,
restraining his bad impulses, developing positive inclinations, what we
call polishing the rough stone. We can be better, if we really want to.
We can do it, and nobody can do it for us. Not even Freemasonry. We
get only symbolic tools: a hammer and a chisel, and perhaps a 24-inch
gauge. Tools that we must handle, not anybody else.
And our trust is that by becoming better men ourselves, our family
becomes better, our closest environment improves, and eventually the whole
society becomes a more tolerant, a more enlightened place to live.
Another thing, unique to our organization, is that we are a big
family. That's why we call each other brother, is it not? Like in every
family, we sometime have arguments; let's face it, it's not unusual for
brothers not to love each other, but the basic feeling, the bond of
brotherhood remains strong. The stories are numberless, of how Masons help
one another, even in the most trying circumstances, men who meet for the
first time, who may never meet again, yet the bond is there, linking them
at once as old friends.
So, let's assume we have succeeded in bringing in the new Brother, he's
young, intelligent, well educated. How do we keep him in the lodge? That's
our second problem. Retention.
Brethren, I have visited quite a few American lodges, and also some in
England, not many, I admit. Always, everywhere, I was very well received.
And yet, I must be honest. In recalling what I felt, the truth is, I was
Opening ritual, minutes, welcome the visitors, report of the treasurer,
report on sick brothers, approve expenses (that's an American shibboleth),
and then out we go to eat. Some places I visited, they stopped a ceremony
in the middle to have dinner, and then continued. In some lodges the
"meal" was a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.
And then they complain the members don't come to the meetings? I think
those who do come should get a medal, for endurance beyond the call of
duty. But let's not discuss what they do overseas. Let's think of what we
can do here, at home.
First of all, coming to the lodge should be fun. It should be a
pleasant experience, one you want to repeat, to enjoy again.
Apart from the conviviality, it should be mentally stimulating. Make
it an occasion to think, to exchange ideas, to teach and to learn. There
is an old saying, if two people have one dollar each, and they exchange,
they still have one dollar each. But if each has an idea, and they
exchange, each one will now have two ideas.
Some will say, we are not all authors, or scholars, nor have the time
to do research, to write academic papers. True, in part. I have seen young
people, very busy in their professional life, who still find the time to
do something they like, visiting a library, searching material in the
internet, and they write wonderful papers, some of which I was fortunate
to have printed while I was Editor of Haboneh Hahofshi.
And if a lodge is really unable to produce its own material for
discussion, Brethren, there is a world of Masonic literature available for
the asking! Pick a journal, or a book, and have someone read a few pages.
Then discuss. Talk to each other. Talk is the cement of friendship.
Another idea, enroll your lodge in a research society, like the
Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle, or the Philalethes, or the
Southern California Research Lodge. The sources are hundreds. Then you get
publications filled with interesting material, suitable for reading and
Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not claiming that the lodge should
be a debating society. But it should be a place to retire from everyday
cares. Where you can turn off your minds from business, worries, anxiety,
and devote a couple of hours to pleasant, entertaining and stimulating
Some of you may be asking, why don't I say a word about ritual? That,
you may believe, is the core of Freemasonry. Well, not exactly. I would
say that ritual is the skeleton, the backbone of the lodge, without which
it would fall apart. But is it not enough. It needs the flesh and blood of
active participation. Let me ask you, why do we have an Opening Ritual in
the Lodge? Why can't the Master just strike down his gavel and announce
that the Lodge is open for business?
Because the time spent in opening ritually the lodge has two purposes:
one, to remind us that ours is not simply another club, or a board
meeting. We meet in a consecrated place, the Masonic temple, symbolically
in the center of the universe. Opening the lodge we also open a stretch of
time out of time. In other rituals, we stress that the lodge opens at noon
and closes at midnight. Symbols, symbols.
The second reason we have an opening ritual is to give us time to
settle down, to stop thinking of the world outside with its mayhem and
endless struggle. The lodge is an island of peace, of reflection, of
relaxation. Repeating the well worn words of the opening ritual allows us
to free our minds from daily cares and be ready for our Masonic work.
Now, ritual is important, performing a Masonic ceremony by heart and
without mistakes is commendable. Provided we remember that the ceremony is
not for us, it's for the candidate. If an officer forgets a word, or uses
another one instead, no harm is done. The candidate doesn't know it,
unless some busybody doesn't jump to "correct" the mistake. Then the harm
A ceremony well performed is like a play. We are the cast. After the
ceremony has ended, if all goes well, we all feel the satisfaction of a
good performance. But then, after the ceremony, begins the second task, no
less important, which is to explain to the candidates what was done, why
it was done, and what it is supposed to accomplish.
Masonic instruction is not, or not only, rote learning of a series of
questions and answers, or repeating the ritual until it's word perfect.
Masonic instruction is intended to make the new Apprentice or the new
Fellow-Craft aware of the depth of our symbolism, of our history, our
traditions, our enemies and our victories. So they become proud of being a
It's like going to an opera for the first time, sung in Hungarian. We
liked the music, but we really didn't get much of the libretto. Only if we
come for a second time, having read a translation, we'll get the full
enjoyment of the musical drama. And our dramas are much older than all the
operas in the world.
I come now to a subject than until not long ago was taboo in our
lodges: the place of women in Freemasonry. Now it's out in the open. We
cannot ignore the fact that our women are not the ladies of 19th
century literature, ready to faint at the first wave of the fan. They are
well educated our ladies, well read, many have successful careers, some of
them make more money than we do! If they are interested in Freemasonry, by
all means encourage them, tell them what we do, let them read our
literature. Whatever is printed is no longer secret.
Most important, the lodge as a group must incorporate the women, our
wives, into the life of the lodge. The mason's wife must not feel left
Let me give you a successful example: in my own lodge we often hold
dinners (we call them "white tables") together with the ladies. Especially
after every initiation, and we make sure the candidate's wife is warmly
greeted and is made felt welcome. There is, of course, the yearly
Installation banquet. And the lodge has usually festive meetings before
Pesah, and on Independence Day. Once a year we perform the Day of the Rose
ceremony, following the official ritual of the Grand Lodge. Once a year we
spend a fraternal week-end, at a holiday resort, for the entire family,
including a Masonic seminar on Saturday morning, which gets better from
year to year.
Brethren, we have managed to make the lodge a family affair, and the
result is that we have very few voluntary losses.
Is this the recipe valid for all lodges? Probably not. Perhaps in one
lodge the members are more interested in art, or in music, or the theatre.
The principle is the same, to get together not only inside the temple, but
also outside, where the whole family can participate.
Ours is not a unique experience, a couple of weeks ago I got a
newsletter from the Grand Lodge of South Australia. They have a feature
article entitle "The New Millennium, Freemasonry and Women". And what are
their conclusions: right, exactly we I have just described, plus a few
other interesting recommendations, like to dispense with the usual run of
Masonic speeches and toasts at the Festive Boards, and moderating lodge
hours so that the men don't arrive home very late.
The most interesting aspect of that article, however, is the positive
attitude it reflects towards Women Freemasons, including a recommendation
"to develop women relationship policies and form a 'Freemasonry and Women
Relations Program'. A further suggestion is to allow Women's Orders to use
our halls and to develop joint social, ceremonial and intellectual
Ours is a unique organization. An assembly of men who meet regularly
not to make money, not to promote their business, but to learn to become
better men and better brothers to one another.
I started with some comments that may have sounded pessimistic. That's
not my belief. I believe that Freemasonry, a society that has lived for
hundreds of years, will survive for many centuries more, because it fills
a need. Perhaps our lodges will be fewer, and perhaps they will be
smaller, but Masons there will be in every country where men are free to
think by themselves, and free to gather peacefully for their personal
enjoyment and the betterment of the society in which they live.
This brings me to the last subject I want to touch this evening. This
is the action of Masons, and Freemasonry as a body, in mundane affairs.
In previous centuries, Masons were the leaders in the liberation
movements against colonialism in the nineteenth century. They were the
leaders of the fight against religious intolerance and clerical control in
many countries throughout the 20th century. They fought against
the evils of slavery and colonialism. For the separation of church and
state, for many things that today are part and parcel of what we believe
an enlightened nation should hold dear.
Is our work done? Are we, the Masons of the world, going to rest on our
laurels, rejoice again and again in past glories, how many men like
Washington, Bolivar, Martí and Garibaldi fought to liberate their
countries? Is our generation one of back-slapping, backward looking men,
or are we going to look forward to our future, and emulate our
predecessors, but in other ways, appropriate to the world in which we live
There is much that we can do, the world is beset by the moral dangers
of fanaticism, religious intolerance and superstition, and the physical
dangers of overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, pollution,
disease and hunger.
If we try to find a common denominator to all these evils, I believe
that the one that stands out, among all possible candidates is this:
And that is where our future contribution to the world must be focused:
education. This is already being done. It has been done in the past; it
must be done now and in the future. Masons were and are involved in
education at all levels. Masons have created universities: Girard College
in the States, the Free University of Brussels, University La República of
Chile, are some examples. Charity is praiseworthy, but the highest form of
charity is education.
If we, as Masons, can contribute to instill in our educational
institutions our spirit of tolerance, democracy, respect for the
individual, we shall do the equivalent in our time of what our freedom
fighters did two centuries ago.
I believe that Masons have the mettle, and will find the will to rise
and show the way in fighting against ignorance, the foundation of all the
evils that threaten the future of the human race.
We can start now, we can start here.
"Eem eyn any li, me li? Veh-eem lo achshav, matai?"
(אם אין אני לי, מי לי ? ואם לא עכשיו, מתי ?