At 50, local ADL’s work continues


The national Anti-Defamation League (ADL), one of the most respected and recognized of American Jewish organizations, was founded by B’nai B’rith back in 1913, largely to combat the “defamatory” depictions of Jews in theater and in the still relatively new medium of film.

Combating ethnic and religious stereotypes in popular entertainment and culture still remains among the concerns of the ADL, but the organization has evolved to include a wide-ranging agenda of combating anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds, promoting intergroup understanding, advocating for Israel and protecting the rights of Jews in nations around the world.


The Jewish community of St. Louis has always had an active B’nai B’rith presence, at one time being home to several men’s lodges and chapters of what was then called B’nai B’rith Women (now Jewish Women International).

So it was natural that B’nai B’rith leaders in St. Louis pushed for the establishment of a regional office to serve the Jewish community of St. Louis, complete with a full-time Regional Director, and in 1958, the Missouri-Southern Illinois Regional Advisory Board of the Anti-Defamation League was established.

This year, 2008, marks the 50th anniversary of ADL’s presence in our community with a local office and professional staff, now headed by Karen Aroesty.

Prior to Karen Aroesty, ADL’s local regional directors have included: Melvin I. Cooperman, Jimmy Klaber, Barry Schain, the late Stanley Anderman, the late Stephanie Seleman and David Waren, currently ADL’s regional director in Connecticut.

Each of these professionals brought considerable skill, expertise and dedication to their duties, and over the years ADL has grown in stature in the general as well as the Jewish community.

Karen Aroesty, for example, serves on and staffs the local panel of the U.S. Hate Crimes Task Force, and is Recording Secretary for the St. Louis County Human Relations Commission. Aroesty and current ADL chairman John Wallach represent ADL on the Council of the Jewish Community Relations Council, among many other intergroup and interagency organizations.

Lay Leadership

John Wallach, ADL’s Regional Advisory Board Chair said the organization has benefited from extraordinary contributions of lay leaders, which continues through today.

“The potential for the development of the next generation of ADL advocates cannot be underestimated. Two key programs, the Glass Leadership Institute and the Staenberg Fellowship are remarkable opportunities to build our next generation,” Wallach said. “It is something we must do.”

Among the board chairs and other lay leaders who have played major roles for the ADL over the years are: Norty Beilenson, the late Stuart Raskas, the late Edward and Sylvia Hopper, the late Milton Ferman, and the late Melvin L. Newmark; David Grebler and Ken Kranzberg, long-time members of the regional advisory board, are also active nationally, serving as members of the ADL’s National Executive Committee, a select group of lay leaders from around the country who assist in internal policy and operations. Grebler is a member of the National Committee on Marketing and Communications and Kranzberg serves on the National Education Committee. Other regional leaders, Stuart Berkowitz, Connie Levy, Bonnie Vickar, Michele Kopolow, Mitchell Markow, Mike Kodner and Rhoda Kahn Nussbaum serve on the ADL National Commission. Commissioners assist with regional advisory board members in setting national policy positions on the ADL agenda.

Significant Issues

Over the years, key issues have remained on the ADL’s radar screen. Whenever an overtly anti-Semitic incident occurs, be it a swastika daubed on a Jewish gravestone, an incident in the public schools or activities by extremist hate groups surfaces, the ADL is the frontline organization that deals with each case.

Back in 1958, the national civil rights movement being led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was in full swing.

Local Jewish activists, including ADL members joined with such local leaders as Bill Kahn, longtime former executive vice president of the Jewish Community Center and later the Jewish Federation, Rabbi Bernard Lipnick of B’nai Amoona and the late Rabbi Jerome W. Grollman of United Hebrew to march with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery.

Locally, the ADL supported the civil rights movement, along with its national leadership. Successive lay and professional leaders of the ADL in the St. Louis area have consistently been in the vanguard of leadership in promoting better relations among racial and religious groups and combating bigotry in all its forms.

Back in those days, Melvin Cooperman was among the first Regional Directors of the ADL. He was once asked by the St. Louis Jewish Light to explain the difference among the ADL, the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress.

Cooperman, remembered for his sharp sense of humor said, “Whenever there is a Jewish problem, ADL yells ‘anti-Semitism!,’ the American Jewish Congress files a law suit and the American Jewish Committee waits a while and then publishes a learned article in Commentary magazine.”

Joking aside, each of these major American Jewish “defense” organizations has its own distinctive mission.

In 1958, when the ADL Regional Office was established, George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party was alive and well and being interviewed on national TV and radio, fomenting hate, and attracting a following.

The Ku Klux Klan was experiencing a revival in the Deep South and had active “claverns” in Missouri, including the St. Louis area.

Through its national and regional offices, ADL worked with local leadership of all faiths, law enforcement and other segments of the Greater St. Louis community to combat the bigotry of Rockwell and the Klan, to provide speakers for church and civic groups and to be on the scene when a serious incident occurred.

The League is still monitoring a high level of white supremacy activity in the region , and sharing all information on those activities with law enforcement departments.

A review of clippings from the files of the ADL office and the archives of the St. Louis Jewish Light provides a sampling of some of the issues ADL has dealt with over the years:

The Dec. 30, 1960 issue of the St. Louis Jewish Light has a lead story headlined: ‘Ben Epstein, ADL Director, will speak at Federation Annual Meeting on February 5; Famed community relations leader to discuss status of American Jews.’ The article noted that Epstein had been associated with ADL for more than 20 years, which would have included the years of World War II and the Holocaust.

In 1934, while a student at the University of Berlin, Epstein witnessed firsthand some of the early activities of Nazi Germany before going to America. Six years later he joined the ADL and later became its national director.

Ironically, the current longtime National Director of ADL, Abraham Foxman, also had direct experience with the Holocaust, of the most personal kind.

His Jewish parents, fearing for his life, placed young Abraham in the care of a Catholic family in Paris when Abe was still an infant. It was only after World War II and the Holocaust, when Abe was reunited with his parents that he learned of his Jewish parentage. As if to make up for lost time, he immersed himself in the work of the ADL combating the very kind of hatred that had nearly extinguished the Jewish population of Europe. In 1967, the Jewish Light reported that the local ADL had hosted a Passover seder event for local Catholic leaders, organized by the late Melvin L. Newmark, then Chairman of the ADL Regional Advisory Board. Local Catholic leaders and Rabbi Sylvan Wolf of United Hebrew and Mel Cooperman, ADL Regional Director attended the event.

During the tenure of Newmark and Cooperman, ADL attracted the active participation of such community leaders as Morris Pearlmutter, who is considered the founder of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Sam Krupnick of Krupnick Advertising and Alfred Fleishman of the public relations firm of Fleishman-Hillard. ADL for many years was the host organization for the annual Missouri B’nai B’rith Institute of Judaism, now the Alfred Fleishman Institute, which invites a scholar-in-residence for a weekend of study and recreation. Founded back in 1959 with its first Institute at Roaring River, Arkansas, the Institute is still going strong, with Rabbi Mark L. Shook of Temple Israel serving as the 2008 scholar-in-residence.

Among the most celebrated cases which the local ADL helped resolve was the brutal murder of Gerald Gordon by a sniper who hid in the brush near the parking lot of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel. Jimmy Klaber was the Regional ADL Director at the time, and he worked tirelessly with law enforcement officials who were eventually able to formally charge Joseph Paul Franklin, a notorious hate criminal, who had already been convicted of attempting to kill Urban League Director Vernon Jordan, as the perpetrator of the Gerry Gordon murder. ADL investigators recently provided important background on the activities of the alleged perpetrators of the attempted assassination of President-elect Barack Obama, information which helped prevent that and other potential violence.

ADL receives calls weekly from those victimized by employment discrimination and hate and bias incidents in the community. More recently, when Parkway West Middle School was the site of a “Hit a Jew Day” organized unofficially by a group of students, Aroesty and ADL leadership worked closely with school officials, parents and students to not only resolve the issues, but to put in place anti-bias training and other programs to combat bigotry.

ADL maintains a legislative agenda each year through its Civil Rights Committee, chaired by Steve Kraft, and earlier this year, with assistance from the law firm of Bryan Cave, filed an amicus brief in the case of Fleshner v. Pepose.

The St. Louis County court case, now before the Missouri Court of Appeals, could have implications nationally, according to the ADL. The case involves alleged anti-Semitic juror bias and the court will determine whether or not the alleged bias inappropriately impacted the jury’s verdict against the defendant.

Some of the most important work protecting Jewish communities occurs in the smaller towns in Southern Illinois and Central Missouri, where Jews and other minorities are most vulnerable.

ADL’s largest education program, the “A World of Difference” Institute, presents cutting edge anti-bias programs in classrooms, workplaces and communities around the region. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Institute in the region in 2007, ADL initiated No Place For Hate, a regional anti-bias awareness campaign.

That program is being enhanced in the coming year by A Community of Respect, a program to promote diversity and acceptance in local schools. Through its award-winning education work, ADL reaches students and teachers in more than 40 regional school districts annually. Priorities in the coming year include expansion of a new ADL curriculum on cyber-bullying in collaboration with the Megan Meier Foundation as well as ADL’s partnership with the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, Law Enforcement and Society.

As ADL faces its next half-century, it will build upon its solid foundation of constructive work in the St. Louis area since its regional office first opened its doors.

“Age-old anti-Semitic canards keep confronting us where we live. ADL’s continuing challenge is to to empower the community to respond when anti-Semitism hits. We have to be vigilant in protecting, investigating and educating — it’s about direct action in service to the Jewish community and beyond,” Aroesty said.

A special thanks to the sponsors of the ‘ADL at 50’ supplement:

* The Lee and Milford Bohm Fund

* The Jewish Light Publishers Society

This series of pages, covering the local chapter of the ADL’s 50th anniversary, is made possible through the generous support of the Lee and Milford Bohm Fund and the Jewish Light Publishers Society.

The St. Louis Jewish Light is deeply grateful to Lee Bohm and her late husband, Milford Bohm, former Vice President and Editorial Committee Chairman of the Jewish Light. The Lee and Milford Bohm Fund for the St. Louis Jewish Light was established by the Bohms to publish special sections on topics of interest to the Jewish community. The St. Louis Jewish Light Board of Trustees and professional staff thank Lee Bohm and her family for continuing this precious legacy for the benefit of our readers.