ADL associate director plans Generation X outreach

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"It was a definite fork in the road," she said.

When she returned from Europe, Wolf scrapped plans to enter law school and began working three years ago as an assistant director in the Anti-Defamation League's San Diego regional office.

In the fall, 25-year-old Wolf settled into the No. 2 spot in the ADL's San Francisco-based Central Pacific region, which includes Northern California, Hawaii and most of Nevada and Utah.

Despite her current immersion in Jewish community work, Wolf wasn't even planning to visit Jewish historical sites when she headed across the Atlantic to teach English classes in Spain in 1991.

"Corny though it sounds, kind of a metamorphosis occurred," she said last week.

The transformation started when she noticed that a synagogue in Barcelona bore no visible signs of Jewish affiliation except for a small mezzuzah. During her travels, she stayed for a week with a Holocaust survivor. She also visited an ancient Jewish cemetery in Prague.

But a visit to Budapest was perhaps the turning point for Wolf. When she tried to enter a synagogue and found it closed, she walked around the back and discovered two old men safeguarding a small Holocaust memorial.

The monument looked something like a ficus tree made of silver. Each leaf was inscribed with the name of a victim. From the look of joy on the old men's faces, Wolf gathered she was the first visitor all day.

After that encounter, Wolf realized that she had been insulated her entire life from the brutal realities of anti-Semitism.

"We think this [dearth of anti-Semitism] is the norm. But it hasn't been the norm if you look through history," she said. "We don't know how good we have it."

Despite a once-burning desire to become an attorney — stoked by college internships in Ohio Democratic Sen. John Glenn's office and the San Francisco district attorney's office, as well as a post-Europe stint as a legal file clerk — she decided to apply for a job at the ADL and "do something for our people."

Since joining the ADL, Wolf discovered that anti-Semitism was more common than she ever knew — even in her hometown of San Diego. She recalls the incident of the interior decorator who showed up at a San Diego home to begin a job. The homeowner's spouse answered the door and asked the decorator if she was Jewish. When she said yes, the spouse replied, "Get out of my house."

In her new job as associate director in the San Francisco office, Wolf oversees civil rights complaints and works to improve Jewish relations with other ethnic or racial groups. Wolf especially wants to educate fellow Generation Xers, whom she now sees as complacent toward anti-Semitism.

She said it's not uncommon for her to hear this refrain about the ADL from her peers: "There's no anti-Semitism out there. You're stirring up trouble."

In fact, Wolf has dealt with so many incidents of anti-Semitism in the past three years that she cannot readily single out the worst one.

But certain cases seem particularly egregious, such as an article that appeared in Fresno State University's student newspaper in November after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The article, apparently written by an Arab American, called Rabin "the most despicable mass murderer that the 20th century has seen, making Hitler look like Big Bird." The writer went on to say: "We should just rename the United States of America to the Jew-nited States of America and rename the United Nations to the Jew-nited Nations."

Still relatively fresh out of college and chock full of ideas, Wolf nonetheless remains unsure about how to decrease hostility toward Jews on Bay Area campuses — particularly at San Francisco State University, with its recurring outbursts of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment.

"When it comes to changing attitudes of the Palestinian student population, good luck," she said.

Though individual incidents can be dismissed as the work of lone anti-Semites, Wolf added that the growing popularity of Holocaust denial and of the Nation of Islam point to more significant problems for the next generation of Jews.

"There are these trends that are more powerful than someone spraying a swastika on the sidewalk," she said.