ROSH HASHANAH EDITION
SECTION A PAGE 12-13
HOLLYWOOD celebrities aside, Abe Foxman might very well be the most recognizable American Jew there is.
Popes, princes, presidents, prime ministers, publishers and potentates have his number on their quick dial. When the issue is racism or discrimination, Foxman is invariably their go-to guy. He has the information and, without fail, the answers they seek.
He also has the experience. Foxman, 73, joined the Anti-Defamation League in 1965, pretty much fresh out of law school, and has never left. His 48 years at the organization constitute almost half of its 100 years, a centennial the ADL is marking this year.
In 1987 Foxman was named national director of the ADL and since then his name has become virtually synonymous with the organization.
He is undeniably an important man but one would never gather that from interviewing him. He is friendly and down-to-earth in a distinctly Yiddish and heimisch way that suggests he doesn’t take himself terribly seriously, although he takes his work very seriously indeed.
On a recent swing through Denver to lead a gathering of regional ADL directors from throughout the US, Foxman was asked how it all started.
As a young man — not very long after being saved from the Holocaust by a Polish Gentile — he realized he wanted to be a lawyer. As a graduate student, he knew that he didn’t want to work in corporate or government law, but was still unclear as to his professional destination.
About that time, his father, who was fluent in several languages, happened to be asked by the ADL to translate a number of letters the organization had received after publishing a paper defending the record of Pope Pius during WW II.
The letters, in Hebrew and Yiddish, were definitely angry and distinctly anti-ADL, Foxman recalls with a chuckle. His father, apparently too busy, turned the job over to his son, also multilingual, who gladly took on the assignment.
Foxman’s work would result soon after in a permanent job at ADL.
He misses neither the humor nor the irony in his first professional brush with the organization he would ultimately devote his life to. Nor does he diminish his conviction that he is a very lucky man for having hooked up with the ADL.
In his Aug. 13 interview with the Intermountain Jewish News, Foxman expounded on such personal matters, and considerably more.