As Southern area director of the Anti-Defamation League and national director for regional operations, Arthur Teitelbaum was a warrior, a tireless voice for the Jewish community and all communities who have known discrimination, intolerance and hate.
But for all of his heft, his international renown, his accomplishments, Teitelbaum, who died Monday at 77, was a gentle man — when the conditions called for a lighter touch.
Hava Holzhauer, the ADL’s Florida regional director, remembers how a little over two years ago, she met with Teitelbaum at Perricone’s Marketplace & Café off Brickell. She was new to her post and dressed the part: black suit, heels.
After all, she was meeting the man who stood before world leaders after the Sept. 11 attacks and delivered his raison d’etre: “We investigate bigots and expose bigotry. We defend democracy and oppose extremism. We see no merit in being politically correct but logically wrong.”
But he also knew how to reach people, drawing from a vast tool belt of humor, charm, friendliness.
“He joked with me about my suit when we first met,” Holzhauer recalls of the man in khakis and plaid shirt. “He said, ‘Well honey, if you’re going to last in this job you just can’t take yourself so seriously.’ That cut the tension right away. He really had a terrific way of making you feel at ease and comfortable and, at the same time, taking what we do very seriously. He was a very special man.”
He had a way of phrasing words for their greatest effect. He was very kind and an easy person to follow.
Seth Gadinsky, past ADL regional chair.
Teitelbaum, born Aug. 4, 1938, in New Jersey, earned a degree in speech from Emerson College in Boston and began his career as a radio broadcaster. After serving in the Army, he joined the Anti-Defamation League in New York, directed a regional office in Omaha and then led Miami’s office. He would serve the ADL for more than four decades.
“ADL was not a job to Arthur, it was a calling,” said Leonard Abess, Jr., honorary life member of the ADL National Commission, in a release. “He was a champion of tolerance, inclusion, fairness and respect for our fellow humans regardless of who they are and where they come from. … Our community is a better place because Arthur lived and worked here.”
He was a strong voice for justice, dignity and doing what is right. He was a relentless foe of bigotry, prejudice, violence and evil. Our community is a better place because Arthur lived and worked here.
Leonard Abess, Jr., honorary life member of the ADL National Commission.
Jacob Solomon, CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, added in the same statement: “Art was a source of great strength in defense of the Jewish people, for certain. But he was also a man who fought with equal zeal and courage against all bigotry and discrimination, regardless of the color or creed of the victim.”
In directing ADL’s Florida operations, Teitelbaum oversaw the agency’s response to extremist activities, including hate crime investigations, programs in race relations, interreligious cooperation and police-community relations. He also served as special adviser to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and taught at Miami Dade College.
“Just saw him recently, and he seemed so much the same man I've known for a quarter-century — a man of eloquence ever ready to speak up for fairness and decency,” said David Lawrence Jr., a nationally known advocate for children and the retired publisher of the Miami Herald. “It is sobering to lose such a vigorous voice for justice. His life was a blessed example for all of us.”
Teitelbaum is survived by his wife, Brenda Kilmer, daughter Jennifer Gladson, grandchildren Avery and Shane Gladson and sister Audrey. Donations can be made to a “no kill” animal humane society. Services will be held in Massachusetts.