By Cindy Mindell
HAMDEN – Josh Sayles was a journalist at the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix when he realized that he wanted to work for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The newly appointed assistant regional director of ADL’s Connecticut office was covering a pro-Israel rally in downtown Phoenix where a pastor and some of his congregants were among the 75 participants. “One guy stepped up to the pastor and said, ‘I know who you are; you shouldn’t be proselytizing – go away,’” Sayles recalls. “The pastor replied, ‘We just want to learn about Israel.’”
Sayles called the pastor after the rally to better understand the exchange. “He told me, ‘We love Israel, that’s not going to change, and we’re not surprised that this happened.’ I thought, that means that somebody was intolerant of a non-Jew showing support for Israel, and that’s not okay,” Sayles says.
After several months on the hate crimes, interfaith relations, and Israel beats, Sayles got a solid education in intolerance and saw ADL’s work up close. When the position opened up in Hamden, he applied. The organization’s mission was a fitting response to what he had witnessed at the Jewish News.
“ADL was founded 99 years ago by a group of Jews who wanted to stop the defamation of Jewish people,” he says. “The idea behind it is that, If you want to stand up for one group, you have to stand up for everybody.”
A native of Newton, Mass., Sayles earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and wrote for the Villager Newspapers in eastern Connecticut before moving to Phoenix.
In his new role, Sayles responds to discrimination complaints and antisemitic incidents, monitors and exposes extremist group activity, and coordinates ADL’s civil-rights advocacy. He will lobby at the state Capitol and engage in media relations and marketing.
“I’ve written about the ADL for the past several years and have always admired its mission,” he says. “I’m excited to stop writing about what the organization does and instead actually go out and do it.”
“We are extremely excited to welcome Josh to our Connecticut office,” says Regional Director Gary Jones. “He has the combination of writing skills and people skills to flourish in his position.”
Sayles notes that ADL is an advocating agency that is successful because of its strong relationships with law-enforcement, local government, and community organizations.
“The police appreciate us because we bring attention to issues and incidents that they may not have the staff to handle, or if they’re looking into a hate crime, they’ll ask us for information on a person of interest,” he says. In June, when an anti-Jewish Twitter feed was thought to be linked to a Wilton teen, ADL Connecticut regional director Gary Jones worked closely with the town’s school superintendent.
The regional office is also known for its educational programming – “our preventative medicine,” Sayles says – created and facilitated by three full-time and one part-time staff member. ADL brings “Confronting Anti-Semitism” and the student-led “Names Can Really Hurt Us” into schools throughout the state, and consults on staff training and other adult programs.
Once in a while, an ADL effort creates a surprising ripple effect, Sayles says. In April, before his arrival, the organization had advocated for Barbara Cadranel, a Stratford woman ordered by the condominium association where she lives to remove a mezuzah from her doorframe.
When the association issued an apology, ADL thought the case was closed. But then the Hamden office got a call from state lawmakers, inspired by the incident, who were drafting a bill that would allow Connecticut residents to hang religious objects on their doors.
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