ADL At 100
Anti-Semitism battle not over yet.
Almost 100 years after a Jewish factory superintendent was lynched in the South by a mob of anti-Semites, the nation’s premier fighter of Jew-haters, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), bloodied a bit by the recession, is alive and doing pretty well while still battling for justice and fair treatment for everyone.
“After all, the real goal of the ADL is to go out of business, isn’t it?” Betsy Kellman asks rhetorically. “But that can only happen when anti-Semitism is stamped out forever.”
Kellman is the ADL’s Michigan regional director, who’ll step down in November after 11 years on the job — one of only three people who have held that position since the Michigan office opened in the 1960s. She’ll stay on as a consultant and to help with events for the organization’s 100th anniversary celebration. The board plans to appoint her successor this month.
In 1913, Leo Frank was convicted of strangling a 13-year-old female co-worker in a Marietta, Ga., plant, a case that has become famous in the annals of American anti-Semitism. He was later pardoned by the governor for an unfair trial, but that didn’t stop a band of hooligans headed by local Ku Klux Klan members. Before he could get out, Frank was kidnapped from jail in 1915 and lynched.
The conviction — even before the lynching — so outraged Jewish leaders in Chicago that the local B’nai B’rith, a Jewish service organization, formed a group called the Anti-Defamation Committee, which evolved into the Anti-Defamation League and expanded into a worldwide operation. ADL will begin its centennial celebration in November, with events continuing through 2013.
The local ADL has had many “causes” over the years, probably the most infamous bigots being automaker Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin, the Royal Oak “radio priest.” That the ADL’s work may never be done is borne out by its “Hate on Display” pamphlet that lists 30 thriving racist organizations with their chilling symbols and logos.
“Our mission always will be to stop defamation of the Jewish people,” says Kellman, “but we’ve also expanded into a civil rights/human relations agency, helping many other minorities fight prejudice and bias, even things like bullying in schools. The nation’s Civil Rights and Hate Crimes Acts have given us enormous assistance.”
Working “about 50-60 hours a week,” her job now includes accelerated fundraising, developing a variety of education programs, and serving on committees with the FBI and several other Detroit-area law enforcement agencies.
The poor economy in recent years hasn’t helped matters, with the staff being reduced from seven to three as the national ADL headcount dropped from 400 to 300 in 28 regional offices.
Education Director Mugged, Shot
The local office suffered another blow in September when education director Harry Weaver, 36, of Canton, a mild-mannered, 6-foot-3 man who was extremely dedicated to his job, was mugged and shot after a meeting of a Masonic organization in Detroit.
“He’s now paralyzed from the waist down and undergoing rehabilitation; we don’t know when he’ll return to work,” Kellman laments. Meanwhile, she and another office employee are picking up his responsibilities. Weaver conducted ADL’s “No Place for Hate” programs at many schools using paid facilitators.
Kellman, 67, a Huntington Woods resident, graduated from Detroit’s Mumford High School and has degrees in communications and education from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, respectively. She spent 22 years in the cable TV business. During the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, she found herself in a New York City hotel room several blocks from Ground Zero.
“I could see and smell what was happening, and I just sat there and cried my eyes out,” she recalls. “I decided that something positive had to come out of this tragedy. I wanted to end my working career on a positive note, not an attack that killed 3,000 people. So I joined ADL to help people, and I think the mission is accomplished. I had planned to stay for five years, but that grew to 11.” She now hopes to spend more time with her husband, Joel, a Detroit attorney, two adult children and two grandchildren.
Kellman says she’s proud of the Metro Detroit Jewish community and the way it reacts to problems and emergencies. “The community is enormously engaged and very nimble; always responsive to the needs of others. This is reflected on local donors to ADL and our board members. Half of the 76-member board is 40 or under.”
Young People On Board
Alex Stotland, 40, of Birmingham, an attorney, is currently chairman of the board’s 20-member executive committee. “Betsy has done a very effective job and has really grown the region, mainly by bringing a lot of young people into the fold,” he says. “Much of what she does happens behind the scenes; she’s very good at protecting the victims. And she goes about the job in a quiet manner; she’s not a publicity hound.
“The economy has been rough on all organizations. There are many risks and challenges, and I’m sure we’ll make a comeback along with the auto industry and other industries. Our centennial celebration will help raise the ADL’s visibility again.”
Stotland, who also serves on ADL’s national advisory committee, says the local board hopes to appoint Kellman’s successor by November.
“The Harry Weaver case is a real tragedy,” he adds. “The irony is that he taught people not to hate, and he became a hate victim himself. It was senseless violence.”
Meanwhile, Kellman continues to open six to 10 new cases of anti-Semitism and civil rights violations per month. She says about half of the cases turn out to be legitimate. Victims can register complaints through the office’s phone, (248) 353-7553, or the website, www.adl.org.
“Typical cases include employees who suddenly are forced to work on Shabbat, teachers who can’t get off on the Jewish holidays, students who are asked to sing Christian songs around the Christmas holidays, athletes who are told to compete on Shabbat and similar cases.”
Aspects Of The Job
Working out of a secure office in Southfield, Kellman has had her share of threats on her life by racist organizations.
“I’ve had to travel with security at times, but it’s all part of the job. Remember, Michigan has the fifth highest hate-crime rate in the United States.
One highly publicized case in recent months that took a great deal of Kellman’s time was that of the Jewish Michigan State University student who alleged he was beaten and had his mouth stapled shut by anti-Semitic bullies.
“I got calls from news agencies around the world on that one, but the allegations proved to be false,” she says. “Another high-profile case is the proposed Muslim community center at the old Eagle Elementary School in West Bloomfield.”
A somewhat easier part of the director job is fundraising, the money coming from individual donations and fundraising events.
“The funds go to the ADL’s main office in New York, then back to the regional offices as needed,” she explains. “Besides materials, much of it is used to hire lawyers in New York who can help us on a moment’s notice.”
Kellman is especially proud of the office’s myriad of educational programs, and partnering with law enforcement agencies on hate-crime subjects.
“Civility among different ethnic groups is one of our most important topics,” she says. The ADL’s Echoes and Reflections program is now in 90 area schools, teaching students about the Holocaust and other subjects.
Lobenthal: 32 Years
Kellman’s two predecessors as Michigan regional director are Richard Lobenthal and Don Cohen, both West Bloomfield residents. “Our main job, of course, always has been to fight anti-Semitism, but I’m glad we also became a civil rights/human relations agency,” said Lobenthal, 78, who had a 32-year tenure at the helm, from 1964-1996.
“With the aid of the Ethnic Intimidation Act that the state legislature passed in the 1990s, the ADL helps women, African Americans, Arabs and other ethnic groups, gays and lesbians. We fight for Jews and all minorities.”
A native New Yorker, Lobenthal had probably the most fascinating stint in the ADL of any regional director. He held ADL posts in North Carolina, Virginia and Texas before coming to Michigan. In Carolina, he even became an FBI informant for a while and infiltrated Ku Klux Klan meetings.
“One time,” he recalls, “a Klansman gave me a bumpy ride home in an old car, and I found out later there were five sticks of dynamite under my seat that he kept in case he needed to do some quick bombing.”
Lobenthal once did a study on anti-Semitism among Detroit’s retailers and found it was rampant at the J.L. Hudson Co., which in the early 1900s used to advertise for new employees with the tagline, “Jews need not apply.” He said the study showed a top Hudson’s executive was the anti-Semitic culprit.
“Joe Hudson was wonderful,” Lobenthal recalls. “He admitted anti-Semitism at the company and fired the executive. He refused to tolerate the situation, and he asked my advice on how to recruit new Jewish employees.”
Behind The Scenes
Cohen, ADL director from 1996-2000, said he never received any direct threats during his tenure, “but there were some sharp exchanges, and my name appeared on several hate-group websites.”
“The ADL has an important role and good people, but the job is never-ending,” Cohen says. “Because the national ADL is often vocal, some people wrongly assume that if the local ADL doesn’t speak out, then all is well. But that’s not the case. It’s hard for the community to judge the local ADL’s effectiveness because the quiet work and the diplomacy usually are done behind the scenes.”
A note of pessimism is struck by Abe Foxman, 72, of New York, a Holocaust survivor, who has been the ADL’s national director for 25 years.
“We’re reaching our 100th anniversary, but there’s really nothing to celebrate because we still haven’t eliminated anti-Semitism,” he says. “But at least we’re making progress. We seem to be keeping the lid on it.”
Foxman said a major study, done through a prejudice index, now shows one in 15 members of the U.S. population as anti-Semitic, compared to one in three several years ago. “It’s a different time, a different culture, different news media; it all adds up,” he says.
“The ADL’s biggest asset is credibility. That’s what gets everyone’s attention and makes a difference in our work. Dick Lobenthal, Don Cohen and Betsy Kellman all have it; they’re professionals and made a big impact. We’ll miss Betsy and her high-quality performance, but I’m sure we’ll get a good replacement — and the ADL’s work will go on.”
To contribute toward a hand-controlled van to enable ADL‘s Harry Weaver to get back to teaching students in local schools not to hate, send checks made out to Harry Weaver in care of ADL, 25800 Northwestern Highway, Suite 980, Southfield, MI 48075 or call (248) 353-7553.
By Bill Carroll, Contributing Writer