Shortly after 10 a.m. on October 13, two Palestinians, one armed with a gun, the other with a knife, attacked a busload of passengers in the town of East Talpiot, Israel, a 12 minute drive from Jerusalem. Among the injured was Richard Lakin, a 76 year old educator who was raised in Newton, MA. Lakin died on October 27.
Lakin’s death put the recent violence in vividly human terms – his son, Micah Lakin Avni, eulogized his father: “Dad was a kind, gentle, loving person, whose legacy is ‘acts of kindness’. Dad was taken from us by hatred and evil. But he would not want us to respond with hatred and evil. He would forgive, and guide us to respond with love and kindness.”
Avni said his father was shot in the head, then stabbed multiple times, and that a video reenactment of the murder was posted, “showing how to butcher people and encouraging others to do so.”
On October 22, Barry Shrage, President of Combined Jewish Philanthropies and Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s, led a trip to Israel to provide solace and support to the victims of violence and their families, and to gain a better understanding of the tragic events of the past few months.
Last week, we spoke with both Shrage and Burton about what their experience, as well as Jonathan Greenblatt, new head of the ADL, about the role his organization plays.
Jewish Journal: What are you going to do to maintain and to expand the relevance of the ADL given the dramatically changed and evolving Jewish community and its needs?
Jonathan Greenblatt: We need to energize this institution so it remains vital. Ours is a timeless mission for an organization that began when Jews were being lynched and hung from trees during the second decade of the 20th Century. Stopping the defamation of the Jewish people and justice for all is our mission. The genius of that approach inspires me.
JJ: How do you get there? How do you energize the institution?
Greenblatt: I stand on the shoulders of everyone who came before me. By being bold for ourselves, we came to be bold for others. This is what the ADL community breeds. This is where we are at today. We don’t just stand for Jews fighting anti-Semitism. We stand against every form of bigotry and hatred against blacks and Hispanics, against gays and the LGBT community and on and on.
JJ: How do you expand the ADL’s power base?
Greenblatt: By amplifying our voice and increasing our impact. It is a great thing for all our parties. We’re a bottom up not a top down coalition. We reach out. We work together. The span of the ADL’s reach includes the NAACP and working partnerships with three dozen organizations. Building these coalitions and expanding our influence and power is business 101 for us.
JJ: What is your greatest challenge?
Greenblatt: The anti-Semites and the Israel haters are more organized than ever before. The denormalization of Israel, the deligitimization of Israel by Iran, the Palestinians and by the entire Arab world is problematic. The world boycott effort, BDS, must be matched by our own effort to counter it and to turn the scales for Israel. We have no choice but to fight this. It is sure to be a long, hard, tough fight.
JJ: What is the ADL track record that matters?
Greenblatt: We helped to put away Nazi sympathizers. We supported the new state of Israel. We fought McCarthyism and stood up for the accused. We walked with Dr. King. We pushed and fought for legislation leading to equality for America’s blacks. We were a cornerstone of the modern civil rights movement. We aided in the rescue of Soviet Jews. We built coalitions and we aided in the creation of hate crimes laws.
JJ: You follow the legendary Abraham Foxman as the president of the ADL. How does that sit with you?
Greenblatt: Many say I have big shoes to fill and they are correct. I don’t dwell on following Abe, who has been kind and supportive in showing me the way. I’m trying to cut my own path. I have been lucky to be around Abe and the late Leonard Zakim. Their passion, their savvy, their smarts are so much of what represents the best of us.
Again, I stand on the shoulders of everyone who came before me.
JJ: What about the organization you have inherited?
Greenblatt: We have a remarkable field structure. We’re not just an office in Manhattan. We have 26 regional field offices and a federal affairs office in Washington. We have 2,000 regional board members. These are extraordinary people. As a team, we are always looking ahead – willing to try new stuff, to explore new models of innovation. We challenge convention all the time. We are willing to take risks.
We are a value chain. We bring together different actors.
We rely on staff work with lay people and volunteers with their feet on the ground.