February 21, 2002
Salvin Group Fights ADL
At least one issue left in the wake of the firing of David Lehrer has been resolved.
On Wednesday, the New York headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced it had reached a settlement with Lehrer, whom ADL National Director Abraham Foxman fired last December in a move that shocked and angered many Angelenos.
Lehrer characterized the settlement as a "mutually satisfactory agreement" whereby the national office acknowledged his many years of service and contributions to the organization as well as to the Los Angeles community. The settlement bars Lehrer from commenting on details of the agreement, but the former regional director said he continues to be grateful for all the support he has received and that he hopes the local organization can now be free to rededicate itself to the important work at hand.
But if that wound has been somewhat healed, the firing left another one still open: the national office's relationship with its young leadership in Los Angeles. The veteran members of the Los Angeles branch expressed shock and dismay at Lehrer's firing. But in the weeks after the news broke, it was mainly the young leaders who stood up and roared.
"I am passionate about the ADL because of David's being passionate," said Alicia Duel, 34, a consultant with the Entertainment Industry Foundation who became involved with the Jewish organization through its Salvin Leadership Development Institute, a program aimed at adults ages 27-45. "The organization had his personality. I don't know what happened [between him and Foxman] but the way that it was done was wrong.
As Jewish organizations work hard to curry support among the next generation of leaders, the dissent is potentially very harmful to the ADL.
Duel was one of the proponents of an amendment made to a resolution voted on at a Jan. 22 meeting of the ADL's Southwest Pacific Regional board and executive committee. The resolution, which was defeated, demanded an independent evaluation be performed to determine Foxman's ability to lead the ADL. But the amendment, which was drafted by members of the Salvin group and calls for the ADL's national commission to hold outside evaluations of all regional directors and the national director every three years, passed. It is unclear, however, what weight the amendment holds with the national office.
Another Leadership Institute alumni, Alicia Bleier, accomplished what even the press, with all its hounding, has not been able to do: get a response directly from Foxman. Bleier said she gives Foxman credit for agreeing to meet with her.
"It would have been very easy to dismiss my letter. I'm not a huge donor, yet I do think he realizes the necessity of the young leadership to the survival of the ADL," she said, adding that she thought the meeting was productive despite its inconclusive outcome. The national leaders "are beginning to understand the depths of frustration and the depths of the problems."
Bleier, Duel and other Salvin alumni say they believe it is imperative that Foxman, Tobias and other members of the national board come to Los Angeles and speak directly to lay leaders here. According to ADL spokeswoman Myrna Shinbaum, a trip scheduled for President's Day weekend was canceled because of a death in Tobias' family but will be rescheduled sometime in March.
"I've been speaking with a group who want to do something about de-Balkanizing this city in a real way and I'm very excited about it," Lehrer said. "Los Angeles isn't like New York or Chicago, where everyone has a chance to walk on the street together and meet all kinds of different people. Here we get in our hermetically sealed cars and never get a chance to know each other. I want to do something to change that."
Duel said she hopes the whole incident involving Lehrer will continue to energize the young leaders to stay involved with the ADL. "The ADL does amazing things and we're not trying to undermine that in any way. Nobody wants to leave, we just want to make the organization better."