Anti-Defamation League Is in the Capable Hands of Director Mary-Beth Muskin 10/12/16 10/12/16 10:39:43 AM
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Miriam Zeidman, ADL’s Midwest civil rights counsel (left), was hosted by Mary-Beth Muskin during ADL-CRC training events recently.
Anti-Defamation League Is in the Capable
Hands of Director Mary-Beth Muskin
By Julien R. Fielding
The Daily Record
Mary-Beth Muskin was born in a different era, so when it came to choosing her career path, the regional director of the Plains States Region of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL-CRC) felt that she only had a few options. She could become a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher.
She eliminated the first two pretty easily. “I get sick at the sight of blood, and I couldn’t sit still long enough to type,” she said. “I love kids though and, for me, that was a good fit. I’ve enjoyed every one of them. The only person in my family who worked in education was my Aunt Ann, who was “loved, independent, and respected. She made the decision to become an educator an easy one.”
After high school, the Omaha native attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, earning a bachelor’s of science in elementary/pre-school education. “I actually did my senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, and substitute-taught in the Philadelphia Public Schools,” she said. “It really was an amazing opportunity. My first teaching job was in Baltimore at an inner city school. I wasn’t much taller than my students. I grew up really fast.”
For her master’s, she went to Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a degree in counseling and for her Ph.D., which is in adult/continuing education, she returned to UNL. Throughout her career, she has “spent a lot of time with underserved populations.” Before retiring in 2014, she had worked as director of guidance at Omaha South High Magnet School for nearly six years. In addition, she held positions at Creighton University – first as adjunct and then as faculty in the education department.
But retirement would have to wait for the energetic Muskin. “I retired after 36 years. I took a year off, but I wasn’t quite ready.” When she learned about the opportunity at the ADL-CRC, she hoped to make a difference.
“I also love the opportunity to be creative. I tend to look at the big picture when looking at new programs and issues. The ADL-CRC provided that opportunity along with the chance to find creative solutions to issues,” she added.
In addition, she had a special connection to the ADL. Her grandfather, I.G. Goldbarg, and her parents were active members and when she has encountered anti-Semitism herself, both in her youth and in her adult years, the organization had been there for her.
“My own kids growing up had similar issues [that I had experienced],” she said. “My son was second-ranked in tennis at Burke, and the state tournament fell on Rosh Hashanah [the Jewish New Year and one of the High Holidays; a time during which observant Jews miss school and work to attend religious services spending the day in thoughtful prayer]. His team supported him. Now the athletic association doesn’t schedule the tournament at that time. My son can now see that he made a difference.”
The ADL was founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all.” Today, it is one of the nation’s premier civil rights and human relations agencies, fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry by defending democratic ideals and protecting civil liberties.
“We help all protected populations,” she said. “We are part of the government’s reporting system on hate and anti-Semitism. We’ve had a wide variety of cases. A couple of recent cases dealt with Mormon and Muslim populations in small towns. We recently had an incident in Omaha that involved a man who was assaulted. The slang yelled prior to the assault made that assault a hate crime. We must all stand together against bigotry, hatred, and prejudice.”
The ADL has a three-pronged approach, she explained: Protect, Investigate, and Educate. The first part concerns protecting civil rights. Some of the issues included under this are voter registration, immigration issues and LBGTQ rights. The second component – Investigate – requires looking into possible reported hate crimes or discrimination. For example, they have investigated bomb threats made to religious institutions, physical assaults, and even the presence of swastikas found on a running path.
The third part is where Muskin’s unique set of skills really come into play. Education is a large piece of the puzzle when it comes to combating hate, she said. “Through education, we can make a difference in the life of others.”
The ADL’s website, www.adl.org, is a good resource for educators. There is a bank of K-12 classroom lessons that assist the educator in dealing with biases and hatred toward ethnic and religious groups, with bullying/cyberbullying, and with anti-Semitism. One section on the site allows members of the general public to look up symbols of hate, and then report them. There is also information about the Holocaust.
The ADL-CRC has sponsored a workshop for the past 30 years during which they invite area high school sophomores and juniors to participate in a day-long, anti-bias seminar. Facilitators work with students as they learn how to handle adversity in their own lives and to become an ally to others. The workshop now ties into each school’s “No Place for Hate” initiative.
The “No Place for Hate,” initiative provides schools and communities with an organizing framework for combating bias, bullying and hatred, leading to long-term solutions for creating and maintaining a positive climate.
Why might someone have a bias or hatred toward a particular group? Muskin said that sometimes it’s lack of exposure to these groups; sometimes it’s simply lack of knowledge about them or even misinformation about them. The ADL-CRC does everything possible to combat and prevent hate. “People think there is only one reason, but there are a lot of layers to it,” she added.
There is a lot to do at the ADL, so Muskin is thankful for her team, which includes: Ayanna Boykins, who is education project director; Shiri Phillips, who supports the education program along with a team of ADL-trained facilitators; Scott Kurz, who is the administrative assistant “plus, plus, plus” (and the newest member of the team); and Robyn Freeman, who works on the development side. The ADL-CRC is board-driven.
“The key is to surround yourself with amazing people, that bring amazing energy,” she said. “I have the right people in place. We’ve done a lot, and we are making good headway. This is an exciting time of change.”
The ADL is a not-for-profit 501(c)3, tax-exempt organization that is always looking for new funding opportunities. “A lot of our funding comes from the Jewish community, but we serve the whole community, so we would like to get the message out [that] additional funding would allow us to expand our offerings,” she said. “All three of our ‘pieces’ work together to promote our community to be better, to understand hate, so we are kinder and gentler, and involved in making our community a better place to live.”
Muskin and her husband have four children: Thong, who entered the family as a teenager; Anne and her husband Matt; Zach, and Emily, who herself is the associate project director of education in the ADL’s Cleveland Regional office.
To get involved or to learn more about the ADL, go to their website, Omaha.adl.org, or call 402-333-1303.