As incidents of antisemitism, racism and other forms of hatred rise nationally — and yes, in this area — the work of the ADL is more important than ever.
The Connecticut chapter is one of the most active among the nonprofit’s 25 affiliates. And Westporters play an outsized role in it.
A number of locals serve on the board. Many more are financial supporters.
Recently, Westporter Stacey Sobel was named statewide director. She took over from Steve Ginsburg — another resident.
Sobel has been in town since 1989. Pregnant with her first child, she came for the same reasons as so many others: “fantastic schools, amazing access to water, the arts, the reputation of people as being open-minded, intelligent and interesting.”
She put her career as a corporate attorney on hold, for “the honor and privilege” of raising 3 sons. But she plunged into volunteerism, as president of Temple Israel and Westport Hadassah, and roles on PTAs, soccer and baseball teams, and much more. In 1998 Sobel was honored by the ADL for community leadership.
As her boys grew older, Sobel returned to the paid workforce. She spent 13 years with non-profits, the last 10 as executive director of Westport-based Child Advocates of Connecticut.
Last fall, a recruiter called about the ADL job. Working for the organization — whose mission is to fight antisemitism and all forms of bigotry, extremism, hate crimes, and promote civil rights, interfaith and inter-group understanding, and peace in the Middle East — had always been her dream.
After several intense rounds of interviews, Sobel got the job.
ADL Connecticut is both proactive and reactive, she says. They provide anti-bias and Holocaust education and training to schools, police departments and the FBI.
They respond to incidents of bias too. Within the past weeks they’ve addressed white supremacy stickers found in neighborhoods, students doing a “Heil Hitler” salute, and racist comments in a workplace.
“Connecticut reflects the rest of the nation,” Sobel notes. “People are very siloed. There’s a lot of hostile discourse. Whether it’s discussion of critical race theory at Board of Education meetings or emails about controversial topics, things get heated. Connecticut is not immune.”
The ADL tries to build coalitions between groups, the director says. That way, they can address incidents with a united front.
Since joining ADL, Sobel has been impressed with the professionalism of many people around the estate. A recent collaboration with the FBI and Fairfield chief of police reiterated for her their commitment to keeping communities safe.
It’s a constant battle. Hate speech is increasing — including places like video games, where parents may not see or hear it. The national ADL office has an expert on gaming. Sobel hopes to arrange an event with him in Connecticut.
“I firmly believe hate is learned,” Sobel adds. “That means it can be unlearned. Under the surface, all of us were are created with the same stuff.”