Tag Archives: Anti-Defamation League

Selectmen Sign ADL Pledge

All 3 Westport selectmen — Jim Marpe, Avi Kaner and Helen Garten — have signed an Anti-Defamation League petition. It requests that President Trump “publicly and unequivocally disavow white supremacy.”

The statement reads:

The White House’s repeated failure to stand up to white supremacy and other forms of domestic extremism emboldens and allows its perpetrators to increase their visibility.

Now is the time for President Trump to name the hate and acknowledge that this is not a matter of equivalence between two sides with similar gripes.

The White House’s refusal to disavow white supremacist ideology as a growing source of extremist violence empowers and abets its perpetrators.

President Trump must personally and unequivocally disavow white supremacy and end the White House’s enabling and tolerating its rise.

To truly take a stand, we urge President Trump to also terminate all staff with any ties to these extremists. There is no rationale for employing people who excuse hateful rhetoric and ugly incitement.

 

ADL Honors Anita Schorr, Brett Aronow, Keith Stein

Anita Schorr was one of Westport’s most remarkable citizens. The Holocaust survivor who survived slave labor, 2 concentration camps and the loss of her entire family, then educated countless area residents (especially students) about the dangers of hate and the power of positive thinking died last April at 85.

Anita Schorr lived through some of history's most horrific times.

Anita Schorr lived through some of history’s most horrific times.

Her memory lives on. And on Sunday, November 6 (5:30 p.m., the Warehouse in Fairfield), the Anti-Defamation League honors that memory with a “Step in and Be a Hero” award.

Funds raised will support the organization’s education programs for teachers and students, and help ADL respond quickly to incidents of hatred.

She won’t be the only Westporter feted. Brett Aronow and Keith Stein will be honored too, with the Distinguished Community Leadership Award. It recognizes outstanding citizens who contribute to building strong communities open to people without regard to race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Keith Stein and Brett Aronow.

Keith Stein and Brett Aronow.

Brett served on the Board of Education, where she championed social, civic and ethical education; been an active member of TEAM Westport, the town’s multicultural committee; and is a former member of Positive Youth Development, the Youth Commission, SpEd Parents and the Fairfield County Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse.

Brett’s husband Keith served the Westport Democratic Town Committee in many roles, including chair; been a board member of the Friends of Parks and Recreation and the Westport Weston Health District, and was commissioner of Westport Little League.

Brett and Keith were both heavily involved in PTAs. They moved to Westport in 1993. With 3 children in college, they’ll spend the next months traveling throughout Southeast Asia and Northern California.

Very quietly, the ADL is one of our area’s true forces for good. How great that next Sunday, they recognize a few of Westport’s real good folks.

(For more information or tickets, click here.)

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

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 logoADL 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.

Remembering Anita Schorr — Holocaust Survivor And Hero

Anita Schorr — a Westporter and Holocaust survivor who inspired thousands of area residents with her true story of horror and hope — died yesterday. With her trademark bravery, she had waged a battle with colon cancer. She was 85.

Anita began speaking out in 1993, following a visit to the newly opened United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Two decades of Westport students have listened, rapt, to this remarkable woman.

Anita Schorr lived through some of history's most horrific times.

Anita Schorr lived through some of history’s most horrific times.

Liz Kaner first met Anita Schorr 17 years ago, on the tennis court. Her tattooed number was visible on her arm.

Recently, Liz drove Anita to an Anti-Defamation League program, to help middle school teachers incorporate the Holocaust into their curriculums. “Although it was the 3rd or 4th time I’d heard her story, I could barely breathe,” Liz says.

“She took us through her plight with countless harrowing twists and turns. She survived. The rest of her family perished.”

Liz adds: “She is the most extraordinary woman I ever met. She leaves a remarkable legacy. Her tale is one of triumph and perseverance, amid unimaginable tragedy and cruelty.”

Several years ago, Liz wrote an article about Anita  for a joint Hadassah-UJA program. In it, Liz described the upheaval of Anita’s idyllic childhood at age 9 — along with the strength that allowed her to survive slave labor, ghetto life, 2 concentration camps, and the loss of her entire family.

Anita Schorr's parents, Stella and Fritz, on their wedding day.

Anita Schorr’s parents, Stella and Fritz, on their wedding day.

She was born Anita Pollak in Brno, Czechoslovakia. Her upper-middle class family was fully assimilated into Czech society. They were active in music and theater, and took ski vacations.

Her parents were Reform Jews who occasionally went to temple, sometimes made Shabbat dinner, and had both Jewish and Christian friends.

In March of 1939, when the Nazis seized the country, the family relocated to a smaller apartment, with her grandmother. In an effort to avoid a fate they feared, Anita’s grandmother and uncle committed suicide.

In 1941 the Pollaks were sent to the Terezin ghetto. Two years later they were transferred to Auschwitz. When the Red Cross visisted, the Pollaks were showcased as the “token family.”

Within a year, Anita’s father was sent to a German slave labor camp. Her mother and younger brother were sent to the gas chamber. Liz wrote that it took Anita “many years to comprehend the wrenching choice her mother made to remain by her young brother’s side to protect him, while urging her daughter to take a different path by claiming to be 18 years old.”

Anita Pollak, age 8, and her brother Michael, 3.

Anita Pollak, age 8, and her brother Michael, 3.

Anita was sent to a slave labor camp in Hamburg. After much terror and suffering, she was moved to the infamous Bergen Belsen. Half of the 60,000 prisoners died of starvation and disease. On April 15, 1945, the camp was liberated by the British.

Anita had never given up hope of seeing her father again. Miraculously, she received word that he was alive, and would meet her in Prague. Though suffering from dysentery, she traveled to meet him. For the rest of her life, the cherry blossoms she saw along the autobahn on that trip would remind her of freedom.

Tragically, her reunion did not occur. Her father was shot 2 days before the Allies arrived.

Students wee rapt when Anita Schorr told her life story.

Students were rapt when Anita Schorr told her life story.

An orphan at 15, Anita planned for her future. She obtained a scholarship to a private school, and earned straight A’s.

Later she trained as one of the first 4 women to join the Haganah (Jewish paramilitary organization that became the core of the Israeli Defense Forces). In 1948 she was sent to the new nation of Israel, where she lived on a kibbutz by the Jordan border.

Anita called that experience “the 12 greatest years of my life. We carried the guilt of surviving. Building a country gave us a reason to live again. Israel built me back into a human being. The kibbutz was a surrogate family.”

A younger Anita Schorr

A younger Anita Schorr

Anita married in Israel. He was a photographer. She worked in air-brush retouching. Eventually she and her husband moved to the US, a country that beckoned them as another “new world.”

Liz writes: “Her one major disappointment with the American way of life was that women had not attained the same high level of achievement as in Israel. Coming to the land of opportunity yet not feeling like an equal was eye-opening.”

Anita moved to Westport in 1985, and has inspired residents here ever since.

When Liz Kaner heard Anita speak recently to teachers at the ADL conference, she took notes. Among Anita’s most important points:

Every one of us has to do something. And yes, one person can make a difference. We need to be heroes again. We are better physically, better equipped with better weapons. Mentally we must feel that every incident is everyone’s responsibility.

Anita Schorr fought against intolerance. She made sure that the Holocaust has not been forgotten.

Now it is our job to never forget Anita Schorr.

(Anita Schorr’s funeral will be held this Sunday, April 10, 11 a.m. at Abraham L. Green & Son in Fairfield. Shiva details have not yet been announced.)

Anita Schorr persevered, and told her story with power. But she had a sense of humor too. After being presented with a small gift after one speaking engagement, she held it up as if it were an Oscar.

Anita Schorr persevered, and told her story with power. But she had a sense of humor too. After being presented with a small gift after one speaking engagement, she held it up as if it were an Oscar.

Two books about Anita Schorr, both by Marion Stahl.

Two books about Anita Schorr, both by Marion Stahl.

 

Opening Hearts And Minds, To Leave Hatred Behind

For the past 2 days, hundreds of Westporters have been inspired by Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper.

In appearances sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, the young women — granddaughters of Rev. Fred Phelps — have described in raw, harrowing detail how the Westboro Baptist Church known for picketing the funerals of AIDS victims, American soldiers killed in Iraq, and Steve Jobs controlled their minds until they were adults.

And what’s happened since they gathered the courage to leave.

Last night, a packed Westport Country Playhouse audience heard the women talk about the wrath they long believed God held for anyone who did not follow his every commandment. They told of the agony of leaving siblings, parents and grandparents — whom they deeply love — behind forever. And they spoke with wonder of being welcomed into the home of a rabbi who, just a couple of years earlier, they had called a “whore.”

“It’s so comfortable not to have to think for yourself,” Megan said. “But it’s so important when you do.”

Megan Phelps-Roper, after last night's talk at the Westport Country Playhouse. Her sister Grace is behind her.

Megan Phelps-Roper, after last night’s talk at the Westport Country Playhouse. Her sister Grace is behind her.

This morning, hundreds more Staples High School students gathered in the auditorium. They sat in stunned silence as the women talked — then followed up with respectful questions.

One student wanted to know what the Westboro Church thought of the pope. “They don’t really like him either!” Grace said.

As the women were leaving for their next engagement, someone mentioned “The Laramie Project.” Last year, Staples Players performed the deeply moving play — about a Wyoming town’s reaction to the murder of gay student Matthew Shepard.

A defining moment comes when church members picket his funeral. They scream their signature “God hates fags” refrains, and worse. Laramie residents, in turn, raise angel wings to block the protesters from view.

Megan and Grace said they’ve never seen “The Laramie Project.”

Players director David Roth gave them a DVD of the show.

When these 2 courageous young women watch it, they’ll no doubt take a few more steps on their remarkable journey.

Westporters should feel honored — and inspired — they’ve shared it with us.

(Staples Players present “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later” on May 19, 20 and 21, in the Black Box theater.)

"Reverend" Fred Phelps, and some of his signs. His granddaughters, Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, described what it's like to grow up in that environment -- and how conflicted they feel because they still love their family.

“Reverend” Fred Phelps, and some of his signs. His granddaughters, Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, described what it’s like to grow up in that environment — and how conflicted they feel because they still love their family.

K2BK: A Special “Kind” Of Impact

Kevin Watt seems to have it all. He’s a football player and wrestler. He’s intelligent, articulate, popular and respected.

But in elementary school in Westport, he says, he was bullied.

Kevin Watt

Kevin Watt

“It was the classic ‘give me your lunch money’ from kids a year older,” he recalls. He tried to fight back, but that made matters worse.

Finally, he told his mother. “The school handled it poorly,” Kevin says. “They treated me like an equal partner in it. But I was the victim. I hadn’t had lunch in 2 months!”

Last year, as a sophomore, Kevin saw someone at Staples High School in a “Kool 2B Kind” t-shirt. He asked a couple of questions, and after an interview was accepted into the club.

K2BK is a partnership between Staples students and 3rd grade classes. Together, they work to prevent “unkind behavior” (the preferred term to “bullying,” which implies hostility that can’t change). Small groups of teenagers go into 1 classroom 5 times a year. Using skits and guided discussions, the Stapleites provide ideas and strategies to help youngsters deal with difficult situations.

“I do this because I don’t want other kids to go through what I did,” Kevin explains.

Part of K2BK’s appeal to Kevin — and one reason it is so successful — is that it draws students from many different Staples groups. “There are sports girls and Players — all walks of life,” he says. “So the 3rd graders hear lots of different personalities and points of view.”

Some of the Staples K2BK members, in their "kool" shirts.

Some of the Staples K2BK members, in their “kool” shirts.

Jane Levy is a sophomore volleyball and softball athlete. She plays guitar, sings, writes for Inklings and is a teen trainer for the Anti-Defamation League.

She joined K2BK at the end of freshman year. Now she returns to her old elementary school — Green’s Farms — and loves her work. “It’s so worth it,” Jane says. “They just wrote the sweetest letters about being kind. We wrote back. And whenever we walk in the room, they’re so excited to see us.”

Middle school was “not the most kind experience,” Jane says. She appreciates the opportunity to show 3rd graders how much impact a simple smile or wave can have on others.

Jane Levy

Jane Levy

A recent discussion involved a child who was excluded at recess. One girl suggested telling the child, “Don’t worry, I’m still your friend.” Jane says, “They really are thinking about things. And now they’ve got strategies to help them cope.”

The skits are very realistic. K2BK senior Sebo Hood pretended to walk in late to a 3rd grade session. Jane — following her training — said, “I’m sorry, Sebo, you have to leave. We’ve already started.”

The children reacted immediately. “No, it’s okay!” they said. “You can sit here!”

That led to another great discussion, Jane said.

The 3rd graders are not the only ones who have learned to think about “unkind behavior.”

“A lot of us are not too kind ourselves,” Kevin says about his high school friends. “And that includes me. I did a lot of self-reflecting during our training sessions.”

At Staples, he now tries to stand up when he sees exclusionary behavior. He’s tried to involve outsiders in lunch conversations.

“Everyone’s been there,” Kevin says. “When someone notices you, and tries to include you, that can make your day.”

A "be kind" pledge, signed by 3rd graders and their Staples counterparts.

A “be kind” pledge, signed by 3rd graders and their Staples counterparts.