Cleveland office of ADL helping Pittsburgh counter bigotry

Cleveland office of ADL helping Pittsburgh counter bigotry

Middle school students wear “No Place for Hate” T-shirts.
Photo courtesdy of Chartiers Valley School District
Middle school students wear “No Place for Hate” T-shirts. Photo courtesdy of Chartiers Valley School District

The Anti-Defamation League found itself in the headlines after Election Day because of the enormous influx of donations pouring in from supporters. They felt vulnerable with what they feared would be an anti-inclusive administration.

Many of those donors were from Pittsburgh.

“We were getting a lot of calls from people who were nervous and wanted to help,” said Anita Gray, the director of the ADL’s office in Cleveland, which also serves Pittsburgh. “A lot of folks from Pittsburgh stepped up to help. It was very fortifying for us.”

Nationally, the ADL, which was established in 1913 by B’nai B’rith to counter anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, saw a 50-fold uptick of donations the day after the election, with contributions continuing to increase throughout that week. The majority came from first-time donors.

The national organization is currently under the leadership of Jonathan Greenblatt, who took the reins of the watchdog group in July 2015, filling the position that was held by Abraham Foxman for 28 years after Foxman retired.

The ADL’s office in Cleveland serves Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania and consists of a staff of two people and a board of lay leaders. Its aim is to further the original mission of the organization through assisting victims of discrimination, providing educational resources, impacting public policy and promoting interfaith understanding. It receives funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to bring programs and services here.

“The Federation gives us an allocation to do programming, so we are happy to come into Pittsburgh,” Gray said. The allocation, which the ADL applies for annually, totals about $6,500.

The Federation’s Community Relations Council works with the Cleveland office of the ADL “as a team,” said the CRC director, Josh Sayles.

“We’re their eyes and ears for anti-Semitism in Pittsburgh,” Sayles said. “We view them as experts in anti-Semitism, and they view us as a resource in Jewish geography in Pittsburgh.”

But if someone experiences or witnesses anti-Semitism in Pittsburgh, the first call should be to the CRC, according to Sayles.

“I’m local,” he said. “We will loop in the ADL if needed.”

Currently, the ADL’s work in Pittsburgh is focused primarily on its No Place For Hate initiative through which it helps schools combat intolerance and bullying. It introduced the program in 2015 at the Chartiers Valley School District.

Chartiers Valley has a diverse population. Approximately 30 percent of its students in grades kindergarten through 12 are eligible for free and reduced lunch, and about 3 percent of its students are English Language Learners.

“No Place for Hate helps establish a more positive and inclusive environment for the school and the whole community,” said Emily Muskin, the ADL’s Cleveland office education director. “It’s a proactive program.”

Nationally, No Place for Hate is in about 1,500 schools across the country, according to Muskin. The ADL conducts anti-bias workshops for faculty, staff and community members, who then run programs throughout the year at their respective schools.

Cindy Goodman-Leib, chair of Pittsburgh’s CRC, has been involved with the ADL for more than 20 years, and has worked as a No Place for Hate facilitator at Chartiers Valley.

“Respect is one of the main goals,” said Goodman-Leib, noting that participants must commit to that attribute by signing a “resolution of respect.”

By instituting the No Place for Hate program, a school is being “proactive” in creating an atmosphere of inclusion and thus a better learning environment for students, she said. The program challenges participants to “explore bias” and “work meaningfully to create change.”

The program, so far, is working, according to Chartiers Valley administrators.

“The faculty committee and student committee, in conjunction with the middle school committee, experienced an anti-bias training through the ADL Cleveland branch,” said Robbie Butts, assistant principal at Chartiers Valley High School in an email. “Each person present participated in different activities that, for some, opened their eyes for the first time to the different biases that we face daily. Students and faculty members have taken these lessons and shared them with others in the building, helping to create a more inclusive environment where everyone has a place.”

Students and staff involved in the program “speak the language and recognize the expectations,” according to LaMont Lyons, assistant principal of Chartiers Valley Middle School.

“No Place for Hate is not just a phrase or an initiative, but an important part off the culture — who we are,” Lyons wrote in an email.

“The staff and students have embraced the monthly character traits and the activity projects completed are displayed throughout the halls and classrooms,” echoed Chartiers Valley Intermediate School assistant principal Marc Hubert. “In addition, the students are motivated to showcase the trait throughout the month and onward, but really go above and beyond on set days throughout the month. Besides the traits that we educate the students about, we have had in-depth training for our staff through the ADL. This training has been around cultural awareness, bias, prejudice, and the other pillars that the ADL is trying to combat. Staff have found the training truly beneficial and have analyzed their own personal traits.”

In addition to No Place For Hate, the ADL is planning to bring “Words to Action” programs to Pittsburgh to help Jewish students combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias, according to Muskin. The program will include making the students aware of recent activities hostile to Israel that have been occurring on college campuses, and train them on how best to deal with those types of incidents if they should continue.

Other local programs “are developing,” Muskin said, adding that the Mt. Pleasant School District is slated to bring in No Place for Hate. While the ADL regional office brings some programming to Pittsburgh, Sayles — who served as the assistant director of the ADL in Connecticut prior to coming to Pittsburgh — also occasionally travels to help the ADL at other sites in the region. He recently went to Oberlin College, 40 miles southwest of Cleveland, to assist the ADL in dealing with the issue of an assistant professor, Joy Karega, who had been posting anti-Semitic propaganda on social media. Karega was dismissed from her position at Oberlin last month.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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