The JTA reports:
Arnold Foster, an attorney who had a nearly 60-year career at the Anti-Defamation League, has died.
Foster fought against anti-Semitism and extremism, and advocated for civil rights and the State of Israel. He was 97 when he died Sunday night.
In 1938 he organized a team of lawyers to serve as the volunteer legal arm of the Anti-Defamation League. He joined the staff of ADL in 1940, and as associate national director was primarily responsible for building ADL’s law department and civil rights program. In January 1946 he was appointed general counsel, a position he held until 2003, though he retired from the ADL in 1979.
I don’t know anything about Arnold Foster. I don’t know whether he was on the right or the left, whether he was a shomer mitzvos, an atheist, or both. What I do know is that the ADL of 1938 was a very different organization than it is today, and working for it would have been a step towards fully participating in global politics and identity formation. In Foster’s universe, Jews were being gassed in Poland, demoralized in Algiers and rapidly assimilating into the white American mainstream. Reading this obituary, I wonder to myself about the wisdom of a man like this and the opinions he took to the grave. Would I have agreed with them? Would he have been able to articulate how his experiences informed his work?
What we do learn from Foster’s obituary is the origin of his name:
Born Arnold Fastenberg in Brooklyn, Foster was a graduate of St. John’s University in Queens and its law school. He changed his name at the suggestion of a director when acting at a local playhouse during law school.
“May the Almighty comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”