Ex-S.F. activist heads ADL’s Atlanta office

ATLANTA — A native Northern Californian with ties not only to the Bay Area Jewish community but to one of its more active families is the new director of the Southeast regional office of the Anti-Defamation League.

Deborah Lauter’s appointment was announced last month at an ADL board meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here.

Lauter is married to Dr. Jonathan B. Lauter, whose mother, Naomi, was the director of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee for many years, before becoming its national community consultant.

“Naomi is my role model,” said Deborah Lauter, who has spent years working in the Jewish community. “To me, she was always the epitome of how to be a wonderful mother and a great Jewish professional. The lessons she taught me about grassroots organizing have been invaluable.”

Lauter is originally from Sacramento, graduating from U.C. Berkeley in 1978. After attending law school in New York, she returned to California, where she and her husband settled in San Francisco and were members of Congregation Beth Sholom.

Lauter worked for the law firm Feldman, Waldman and Kline from 1982 to 1985, and in 1987, she became executive director of San Franciscans for Good Government, which raised money for pro-Israel candidates. She also was involved in Democratic Party politics, served on the board of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and was active in the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

At the ADL, Lauter succeeds Jay Kaiman, to whom she had served as deputy director since 1999. Prior to that, she was director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.

She “is a great coalition builder who brings people together,” said Margo Dix, who succeeded Lauter as community relations director at the federation and has worked with her on several issues. “She’s creative and engaging and will represent the ADL with great professionalism.”

And Jonathan Bernstein, director of the Central Pacific region of the ADL, said, “She’s a great professional, and ADL is lucky to have her.”

Lauter takes over the regional ADL office at a time when the organization says hate activity is increasing both in Georgia and around the country.

“Since the Sept. 11 [terrorist attacks], we’ve worked harder to try to mobilize people,” said Lauter, who believes the rise of the Internet has led to a corresponding increase in anti-Semitic activity. “The Internet makes it easy for [hate] groups to communicate with each other…and form cells,” she said. “It’s frightening and it’s scary.”

In Georgia, she noted, the ADL has seen a rise in hate activity since “the National Alliance and other groups latched onto Sept. 11.”

The National Alliance is headed by William Pierce. He is an Atlanta native and the author of “The Turner Diaries,” a novel that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, has called a “racist fantasy.”

Following Sept. 11, the neo-Nazi Alliance distributed fliers to homes and public libraries in Atlanta’s northern suburbs blaming Israel and the Jews for the World Trade Center disaster.

Those fliers reflect what Lauter calls the ADL’s biggest challenge — “trying to convince people that anti-Semitism is still out there.”

Lauter’s first task, she said, will be getting to know her group’s regional leadership in smaller cities such as Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C.

And when the Georgia legislature meets in January, Lauter says she will have her hands full lobbying lawmakers to keep faith-based spending down. The issue of giving state money to religious-based groups is “always on the agenda in Georgia,” she said.

Lauter is a member of Ahavath Achim and became an adult bat mitzvah in 1995. She was a founding member of Jewish Citizens for a Better Georgia and was also the founder of Jewish Georgians for Clinton/Gore in Atlanta in 1992.

In 1999, Lauter received the Chairman’s Award from the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust in recognition of her work in the field of human rights.

Lauter and her husband have four children.