Remarks by Jonathan A. Greenblatt to ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles

  • November 6, 2014

Thank you for that nice introduction.  And thank you for that nice welcome.

I am humbled to be here on so many levels and deeply grateful for the opportunity to be here today, standing on the shoulders of the incredible Abe Foxman and so many of you, both staff and lay leaders.

There are many people that I want to acknowledge.  First, I want to thank Barry Curtiss-Lusher who has been an incredible guide on the first steps of this journey.  I have gotten to know him, his lovely wife Gay and his son Ben over the past month.  I have benefited enormously from his counsel and look forward to continuing the journey with him in the months and years to come.

I want to thank the succession committee who went through the arduous process of developing and implementing a succession plan over the past two years.  The rounds of interviews were challenging but energizing and demonstrated the wisdom of the lay leadership that is the lifeblood of this organization at the grassroots, regional, national and international level. 

And, in addition to the lay leadership, I am also proud to stand because I know firsthand from my experience inside and interaction with the ADL over the past two decades, this organization is led by the finest professionals in the Jewish community – perhaps the entire nonprofit sector.

I first learned this when, in 1991, I found my way to the ADL New England regional office near South Station in Boston.  I was a senior at Tufts University -- juggling classes and a part-time job – and had just returned from studying abroad in Europe where I saw firsthand the debris of the Jewish life of my forebearers.  I had visited Germany which my paternal grandfather had fled, then lost nearly all of family to the Shoah.  I saw Hungary, the homeland of my maternal ancestors where all who remained had been exterminated.  And I came back to the U.S., determined to make a difference – to fight anti-Semitism and to serve my people, the Jewish people – and then I met Lenny Zakim.

I am guessing that more than a few of you remember Lenny.  He was the regional director of that office in Boston.  His team included Ann Tourk who many of you know; Sally Greenberg who now leads the National Consumers League; and Cheryl Cutler Azair who eventually moved to the L.A. office.  Along with leading this high-performance team, I know that Lenny left an indelible imprint on everyone he met, including Barry and Gay whom he recruited to ADL.  And he taught me -- an impressionable 20 year-old who had never stepped foot in an office before that fateful visit -- to conduct myself with intelligence and integrity; to fight anti-Semitism and resist racism; to seek coalitions and foster intergroup relations wherever I could; and to listen to Bruce Springsteen whenever I got the chance.  We lost Lenny far too soon – but his memory is with his today and his impact continues to influence me and countless others.

I also can attest to the high quality of the professional staff because years later, when I moved to Los Angeles after graduate school, I reconnected with Cheryl.  She introduced me to a young Harvard graduate who worked in the L.A. office – and I went on to marry that woman, Marjan Keypour, whom many of you know from seven plus years in the Southern California office where she worked for the supremely talented Amanda Susskind who is here today.  I hope all of you will have the chance to meet Marjan tomorrow night at Shabbat when she is here along with our three boys.

Her life experience serves as a reminder that, while we have made extraordinary strides in fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry at home, it continues to persist in far too many corners of the world.  Marjan herself escaped from her native Iran after the Islamic Revolution when this ancient country that once championed tolerance instead forged a political ideology in the toxin of anti-Semitism.  Like my grandfather decades earlier, my wife had to flee the land of her birth and came to this country with the help of HIAS as a political refugee because of her Jewish identity.   And so my life and those of my children – our lives and those of our children – are shaped by this pernicious force, this Longest Hatred.

So fighting this scourge and advocating for the rights of all is not just an intellectual pursuit – it’s personal for me, a deeply held value, one that has been seared into my soul.  I am excited by this call to service and honored to turn all my talents to this incredibly important task. 

As you heard from Barry’s generous introduction, I have enjoyed a varied career that has spanned business, nonprofit and public service – but the common thread linking these experiences has been a commitment to tikkun olam, to repair the world, whether by building businesses, creating products, driving policy, or forging partnerships.  

Now I can share that, coming out of the White House, there were multiple paths and many opportunities available to me.  But I could think of no mission as important or timely as that of ADL.  The threats that face our community today – including the expanding specter of global anti-Semitism; the continued legitimization of anti-Zionism, and the spreading infection of cyber-hate – are serious and sinister.  And so I look forward to pouring all my energy and experience in the months, years and decades that lie ahead into the effort to fight anti-Semitism and to secure fair treatment for all people. 

The challenges ahead are great. So, for starters, I plan to spend the next eight months listening and learning.  I hope that I will have the chance to connect with all of you during the meetings here in L.A. over the next few days, but if we do not spend time, please know that I will be in touch in the weeks and months to come.  I will not be taking on my new role until next July. So I will endeavor to make the most of the ensured period of time to learn from all of you and the broader network of professional staff and lay leaders as well as others in our community, but perhaps most of all, from Abe.

Which brings me back to where we started – I am incredibly honored by my selection but particularly humbled to be standing here today alongside Abe Foxman.  He is truly a hero in every sense of the word, someone who has never faltered in his defense of the Jewish people and whose vision of respect and belief in justice has inspired millions around the world.  In the last few weeks, I have benefited firsthand from his mentorship every step of the way and experienced his warmth and wisdom up close.  I look forward to learning from him through next July and long into the future.

So thank you again for entrusting me with this extraordinary responsibility.  As I consider my grandfather and my children as well as the ancestors and descendants of everyone in this room, I look forward to taking on this journey together and to doing everything in my power and to using all of our shared power to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all.

"Thank you again for entrusting me with this extraordinary responsibility. As I consider my grandfather and my children as well as the ancestors and descendants of everyone in this room, I look forward to taking on this journey together and to doing everything in my power and to using all of our shared power to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all." Share via Twitter Share via Facebook

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