By Rachel L. Axelbank
Following Andrew Tarsy’s announcement this week of his resignation as New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, local leaders are saddened by his decision but ready to go forward without him.
“I decided that it’s time for me to move on,” Tarsy told the Advocate on Tuesday, shortly after his letter of resignation – signed “with love and prayers” – went out via e-mail to members of the ADL New England community and scores of his other colleagues and friends. Other parties, including ADL New England staff and board members, were notified as early as Sunday, according to an ADL spokesman.
Tarsy said that the timeline of his departure from the ADL has yet to be determined. And as for what comes next, he can’t yet say.
“I’m looking into that, but I really haven’t been able to spend any time thinking about it,” said
Tarsy, an attorney-turned-civil rights activist.
Tarsy’s counterparts at other agencies were surprised and chagrined to learn of his impending departure.
“We’re all curious about what’s behind this,” said Larry Lowenthal, executive director of the Boston Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. “Without a doubt, many people are going to have suspicions that he’s leaving against his will.”
Tarsy’s resignation is the latest development in a prolonged period of professional limbo, during which he was fired and then rehired by the ADL’s national office after publicly dissenting from ADL national’s initial stance on the 20th century Armenian massacres, which did not recognize the killings as genocide. He declined to comment on to what extent this summer’s controversy inspired his resignation.
“I think it’s very clear what happened,” said Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. “He is a courageous Jewish professional who spoke out based on his own personal beliefs and wasn’t able to … influence his national system, so he’s taking the moral high road and saying ‘I can’t do this.’ You fight the good fight and then you know when to leave. I think the regional office will be weaker for it.”
On Tuesday, the national chapter issued a statement that read in its entirety: “Andy Tarsy has tendered his resignation and we have accepted it.”
ADL New England Board Member Jason Chudnofsky said that Tarsy’s departure will not affect the overall operation of the regional organization.
“It’s all about the brands, and less about the people – you never put your entire future on any one person at any one time,” Chudnofsky said. “I support the ADL brand and what the brand stands for.
“I think Andy made a professional decision to say, ‘because of all the things that happened, I think it’s time to move on and give the reins to someone else.’ It’s all about the team, and ADL still has a wonderful team of people.”
Tarsy was inclined to agree.
“I’ll miss working with wonderful people who are committed and passionate and who have given me far more than I’ve given them,” he said, naming the ADL New England board, staff and volunteers as well as other members of the community.
Likewise, Lowenthal expressed his admiration for Tarsy’s stance on the Armenian issue as well as his handling of the past year’s controversy between the local Jewish community and the Islamic Society of Boston. Kaufman commended Tarsy’s work to push the new state government on issues concerning hate crimes and his efforts to counter the Somerville Divestment Project.
“He’s a terrific young Jewish leader,” she said. “The question is now about who comes in next.”
According to James Rudolph, ADL New England board chairman, it will be important for the branch’s next director to maintain strong working relationships with local organizations and to also acknowledge the bigger picture.
“Anybody who is hired has to recognize that we’re part of a national organization,” said Rudolph, who added that a search committee is currently being formed to find Tarsy’s replacement. “I really enjoyed working with Andy and I’m sorry to see him go. He really brought new energy and enthusiasm to the office.”
Still, the question of what he’d like to be remembered for gave Tarsy pause. “I’ve been so busy, I’m not capable of reflecting that deeply,” he said, chuckling. “I would say that I’ve tried to bring the ADL’s mission to life for the best interests of our community.”
And as for his general outlook?
“I feel very good.” he said. “I’m excited for Chanukah, and I’m excited for our leadership celebration [Wednesday] night.” Tarsy declined to comment on what he hopes to receive for Chanukah.