On December 12, about 70 supporters of the Santa Barbara/Tri-Counties office of ADL (Anti-Defamation League) celebrated the local office’s 20th anniversary at the home of boardmembers Julianna Dain and Tom Dain.
Guests mingled outdoors on the picturesque grounds of the Dains’ Montecito estate before being seated around heaters for the program, with blankets and warm food and beverages distributed. Regional Director Dan Meisel welcomed guests and noted that while ADL was celebrating 20 years of having a local office, ADL supporters have been active in the region since 1976.
In a video, the founding Regional Director, Julie Saltoun, explained how the local office strived at its founding to have a diverse board, though those outside the region thought this idea was crazy. The local board has always had non-Jews, according to Meisel, because of the importance of including a diversity of perspectives and experiences.
The Educator of the Year Award was presented to Kathy Trujillo King, an SBCC Early Childhood Education instructor, for her longtime commitment to providing anti-bias workshops for students preparing to work as preschool teachers. Due to a family emergency, SBCC Interim Superintendent/President Kindred Murillo accepted the award for King. Tina Schlieske gave a lovely musical performance, followed by the ask and a livestream of ADL’s National Concert Against Hate with Gloria Estefan, Josh Groban, and others.
ADL’s mission is “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure just and fair treatment to all.” The mission recognizes, according to Meisel, that no minority or marginalized group is safe unless all groups are safe. Thus, ADL works to counter all forms of hate, often in coalition with other organizations.
During COVID, ADL has conducted online anti-bias workshops for employees of some Santa Barbara County municipalities and for a couple of nonprofits. In-person workshops are planned for students in SBCC’s Early Childhood Education program, where ADL had been doing workshops annually for many years before COVID hit. Requests for workshops have recently come in from other schools in the county as well.
The local office encourages community members to report hate incidents. County-specific data is not available, but in the tri-county area, last year there were 32 credible reports and 51 so far this year. Of those 51, 23 were anti-Semitic incidents and 15 were racial incidents. It is unknown whether there has been an increase in hate incidents or if people are simply speaking up more.
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With hate incidents, Meisel shared, the response should be communal condemnation and meaningful engagement. The most effective condemnation, according to Meisel, is when it comes from a broad combination of voices in the community. Thus, ADL often works with other community groups.
ADL’s national Center on Extremism, which focuses on hate groups and movements, has assisted law enforcement in Santa Barbara in interpreting hate symbols and graffiti in various incidents. In 2019, the Center provided info on groups who claimed credit for posting racist flyers on UCSB’s campus.
ADL’s national No Place for Hate initiative supports schools in their efforts to combat bias and bullying and to create an inclusive school environment. In the past, ADL’s local office provided support to schools that undertook activities geared to these ends and certified those that met ADL’s standards. In 2015, the initiative was active in 22 schools in Santa Barbara but waned in subsequent years. Meisel’s intent, when he became regional director two years ago, was to reinvigorate the program with professional development and peer leadership training components. COVID thwarted those plans, though he is hopeful the reinvigorated program will launch.
Going forward, Meisel also seeks to do other preventative educational programming. When ADL is called in after an incident, the response can seem like punishment, Meisel related, so he wants to work preventatively, helping teachers create a climate of healthy relationships.
One example is BINAH — Building Insights for Navigating Antisemitism and Hate, an online course just now being shared with area schools. This one-hour course introduces secondary students to experiences of the Jewish community through first-person narratives and real stories.
Meisel is also focused on addressing the impact of political polarization on community relationships. With COVID causing people to become more isolated, he reasons, people have become less exposed to diverse viewpoints, and there is a knowledge void of how to have conversations with people with whom we disagree. To address this, Meisel is doing public messaging, and the ADL board is considering public service announcements. Volunteers are interested in relaunching an old ADL program, Sustenance with Strangers, in which volunteers host dinners for people from different faith-based institutions, with ADL providing conversation props.
For more info about ADL, go to https://santabarbara.adl.org.
For coverage of other events, go to independent.com/society.