His job is fighting hate

As dir­ect­or of Philly’s of­fice of the Anti-De­fam­a­tion League, Barry Mor­ris­on is a fer­vent cru­sader against man­kind’s in­sens­it­ive ways.

New York nat­ive Barry Mor­ris­on gradu­ated from Brook­lyn Col­lege in 1970, and then he spent three years teach­ing be­fore mov­ing on to the B’nai B’rith so­cial-ser­vice agency.

Mor­ris­on found both jobs ful­filling, in a way, but he sensed an­oth­er call­ing.

“I was try­ing to find my niche,” he said.

At the time, B’nai B’rith was the par­ent agency of the Anti-De­fam­a­tion League, a non-par­tis­an, non-profit Jew­ish civil-rights and hu­man-re­la­tions or­gan­iz­a­tion that, among oth­er things, fights anti-Semit­ism.

In 1979, Mor­ris­on took a job as as­sist­ant dir­ect­or of the ADL’s of­fice in north­ern New Jer­sey. He’s been with the ADL ever since, spend­ing most of the last 32 years as dir­ect­or of the Phil­adelphia of­fice.

The 62-year-old Mor­ris­on has cer­tainly found his niche.

“I’m very en­thu­si­ast­ic,” he said of his day-to-day chores. “I’ve nev­er been burned out by this work.”

Mor­ris­on, who lives in Mont­gomery County, spent a year in North Jer­sey be­fore tak­ing over as dir­ect­or of ADL’s Plain States Re­gion. For about 18 months, he worked out of the agency’s of­fice in Omaha, Neb.


In 1981, he ar­rived in Phil­adelphia for what would be the first of two stints as dir­ect­or. Sev­en and a half years in­to his ten­ure, he moved to the ADL’s Chica­go of­fice. He re­turned to our town in 1992 and has been here ever since.

“The ADL has been a won­der­ful jour­ney,” he said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view at his Cen­ter City of­fice.

Today, the ADL is an in­de­pend­ent or­gan­iz­a­tion. It was foun­ded na­tion­ally in 1913 and has had a Phil­adelphia of­fice for more than a half-cen­tury.

In all, there are 30 of­fices in the United States and abroad, in­clud­ing Is­rael, Rus­sia and Italy. Ab­ra­ham Fox­man is the long­time na­tion­al dir­ect­or.

The loc­al of­fice’s ter­rit­ory in­cludes Delaware and east­ern Pennsylvania, stretch­ing as far west as State Col­lege.

Ten people work in the Phil­adelphia of­fice, loc­ated at 15th and 

Mar­ket streets. Vo­lun­teers and in­terns are also wel­come. Their tasks in­clude edu­ca­tion, in­vest­ig­at­ive re­search, in­take and fund-rais­ing.


The Mor­ris­on-led of­fice weighs in on polit­ic­al is­sues, such as stat­ing its sup­port for the re­peal of the fed­er­al De­fense of Mar­riage Act and its op­pos­i­tion to a pro­posed state law that would re­quire voters to show photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion at polling places.

At the city level, the ADL was crit­ic­al of Latrice Bry­ant, an aide to City Coun­cil­man Wilson Goode Jr., who held up signs in Coun­cil that read “Fox 29 are ra­cist” and “Jeff Cole KKK” after the loc­al sta­tion’s news pro­gram ran an un­flat­ter­ing piece on Bry­ant and Goode in 2008.

The loc­al ADL also en­gaged in battles with Urb­an Out­fit­ters for what it be­lieved to be of­fens­ive slo­gans on T-shirts. One read, “New Mex­ico, clean­er than reg­u­lar Mex­ico.” An­oth­er read, “Every­one loves a Jew­ish girl” and in­cluded dol­lar signs and shop­ping bags.

Mor­ris­on re­calls per­haps the two highest-pro­file loc­al cases over the years. In one in­stance, the ADL wrote a let­ter to the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion, point­ing out what it be­lieved were anti-Jew­ish com­ments by ra­dio host Mary Ma­son and listen­ers fol­low­ing the dis­missal of charges against a Main Line doc­tor for per­form­ing an il­leg­al abor­tion.


In 1997, the ADL joined nu­mer­ous oth­er Jew­ish or­gan­iz­a­tions in con­demning then-May­or Ed Rendell for ap­pear­ing with Louis Far­rakhan at a church ser­vice. The con­tro­ver­sial and di­vis­ive Na­tion of Is­lam lead­er was threat­en­ing to march through ra­cially tense Grays Ferry.

Mor­ris­on said it was “naus­eat­ing” watch­ing Rendell and Far­rakhan singing We Shall Over­come.

In Mor­ris­on’s view, Rendell’s ac­tions gave Far­rakhan le­git­im­acy. Later, then-Chica­go May­or Richard M. Da­ley ap­peared in pub­lic with Far­rakhan.

“That sticks in my mind as a very un­for­tu­nate epis­ode,” Mor­ris­on said of Rendell’s em­brace of Far­rakhan.

On a more na­tion­al level, Mor­ris­on had an is­sue with Oprah Win­frey when he was work­ing in Chica­go.

In 1989, Win­frey hos­ted an epis­ode on Satan­ic cult murders in Mex­ico, and the dis­cus­sion crossed the line, in the opin­ion of Mor­ris­on and oth­er Jew­ish lead­ers, when a wo­man spoke about wit­ness­ing the sac­ri­fice of chil­dren by Jew­ish fam­il­ies.

Mor­ris­on met with Win­frey, who was eager to learn why people were of­fen­ded.

“Oprah was most gra­cious,” he said.

In the end, Mor­ris­on and Jew­ish lead­ers did not de­mand that Win­frey apo­lo­gize, in part be­cause of fear that it would ex­tend the ste­reo­type that Jews con­trol the me­dia. In­stead, Win­frey and the Jew­ish lead­ers is­sued a joint state­ment.

Mor­ris­on’s job in­cludes mon­it­or­ing the activ­it­ies of hate groups and com­mu­nic­at­ing with the FBI and po­lice de­part­ment on any threats. At the same time, he’s charged with chal­len­ging pop­u­lar fig­ures such as Rendell in Phil­adelphia and Win­frey in Chica­go when he be­lieves they are wrong.

“On bal­ance, I think that we’ve used good judg­ment and min­im­ized harm,” he said of the ADL’s over­all re­sponse.

The ADL also works a lot be­hind the scenes.

The agency spon­sors Bear­ing Wit­ness, an in­tens­ive, weeklong pro­fes­sion­al de­vel­op­ment work­shop for Cath­ol­ic edu­cat­ors. The course, now in its fifth year, in­cludes dis­cus­sions on ways to teach about the Holo­caust and the his­tory of anti-Semit­ism, along with cel­eb­rat­ing the di­versity of today.

Per­haps that is one reas­on a nun, who took a vow of poverty, offered a mod­est $10 con­tri­bu­tion.

“That was very grat­i­fy­ing. It meant a lot to us and was re­as­sur­ing to us — to see that what we’re do­ing is good,” Mor­ris­on said.


Since 2001, the loc­al ADL has sponsored No Place for Hate, a pro­gram that is in 160 schools and com­munity set­tings. The goals in­clude re­spond­ing to and pre­vent­ing bul­ly­ing and acts of hate while work­ing to build re­spect.

Among the par­ti­cipants are Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School, Gen. Harry LaB­rum Middle School and the St. Martha, Ben­jamin Frank­lin, Gil­bert Spru­ance and Joseph J. Green­berg ele­ment­ary schools.

“It’s a vehicle and a tool that helps people meet the chal­lenges of di­versity,” Mor­ris­on said.

Mor­ris­on, who is mar­ried with three grown chil­dren, has plenty of in­terests out­side his job. He likes to ex­er­cise, ride a bi­cycle, walk, read, watch movies, travel and work in the garden.

Still, it’s work­ing at the ADL that has defined his adult life, at least pub­licly, and he be­lieves the agency has been con­sist­ent in its mis­sion.

“We don’t dis­crim­in­ate,” he said. “If you are a vic­tim, we will de­fend you. If you are a per­pet­rat­or, we’ll find a way to chal­lenge you.” ••

For more in­form­a­tion on the Anti-De­fam­a­tion League, call 215-568-2223 or vis­it www.adl.org

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at   215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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