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Westporter Helps ADL Fight Hate, Unite State

Steve Ginsburg has been nearly every kind of lawyer.

He practiced sports law with a big Chicago firm (“that’s as cool as law gets,” he says). He helped rebuild the judicial system in Sarajevo, served as general counsel of a New York tech company, returned to Illinois as general counsel of a state agency that regulated banking and finance, then did legal work as a healthcare and education consultant.

He’d never been part of a Jewish group. But when a friend asked him to be the Anti-Defamation League’s #2 guy in the Midwest, Ginsburg agreed. The organization’s broader mission of fighting for social justice everywhere resonated with him.

Then his wife — who works for Starwood — was transferred to the hotel chain’s Stamford headquarters.

Fortuitously, the ADL’s Connecticut regional director job was open. A few months ago, Ginsburg was hired.

Steve Ginsburg

It’s an intriguing time for the ADL. In the US, and around the globe, hate speech and bias crimes are on the rise. The ADL is a leader in anti-bullying and anti-bias education. Many of its national programs were created in the Connecticut office.

Ginsburg and his wife bought a house in Westport. They knew little about the town, beyond its reputation for excellent schools and a strong Jewish community. Plus, it was halfway between Stamford, and ADL’s New Haven office.

They’ve found something more than they expected: A place that is truly committed to all forms of social justice.

That fits well with the ADL’s mission. Right now it’s focused on fighting groups that have been singled out for prejudice, particularly the Muslim, LGBT and black communities.

Soon after Ginsburg arrived, a mosque in Meriden, Connecticut was shot at. Muslim students in the state said they were afraid to go to school.

ADL worked with Muslim religious leaders, school superintendents and boards of education to create an educational program. It includes “Islam 101,” case studies of issues faced by Muslim students in schools, like clothing and holidays, and a panel of teens and college students telling their life stories.

Ginsburg hopes the Connecticut program becomes a national model. It could also be expanded to other groups, like Hispanics.

Connecticut ADL has helped the US attorney’s office and FBI do security training for mosques. They’re modeled on previous training programs for synagogues. Nationally, ADL is the top trainer of law enforcement, focusing on hate crimes and extremist groups.

“We’re building a way for the ADL to play a major role in the current disconnect between law enforcement and African Americans, in the wake of Ferguson, Chicago and Baltimore,” Ginsburg says.

“Something could happen close to home — in Hartford, New Haven or Bridgeport,” he adds. “We need to marry ADL’s relationships and trust with law enforcement, and our anti-bias education. We want to be part of the solution.”

Of course, Ginsburg notes, the ADL continues to fight anti-Semitism, and attacks on Israel. The organization monitors college campuses, where the Boycott Divest Sanctions movement and free speech issues have become flash points.

There’s a lot going on, and Steve Ginsburg eagerly takes it all on.

But he still finds time — in his new Westport community — to coach his son’s baseball team.

Maybe he’s not so far from his first job — in sports law — after all.

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