Fighting Antisemitism and Hate in the DMV Area with Meredith Weisel

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Meredith Weisel
portrait. Photo Credit: Lloyd Wolf

While Meredith Weisel currently works to combat antisemitism and protect the Jewish community through her role at the Anti-Defamation League as regional director of the organization’s Washington, D.C., office, her path to Jewish communal work was not at all linear.

Weisel, a longtime member of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg who has been with the ADL for almost four and a half years, was steeped in Jewish culture growing up in Long Island, NY, with Hebrew school, a trip to Israel at the age of 16, and following consistent traditional Jewish customs.

But her interest in religion sparked in college at American University in Washington, D.C., where she worked at a Hillel and began to practice Judaism in a way that she enjoyed the most while taking comparative religion classes to further educate herself.

“It [my time at AU] got me more in touch, I would say, with my Judaism from a religious standpoint, but also how I defined so much about me. That’s a huge part of my upbringing,” Weisel said.

Weisel then began studying law at Widener University in Delaware after graduating from AU, working as a lobbyist and doing government relations and legal work until she decided it was time for a change. She joined the team at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, where she did community and government relations work.

“It was, I would say, a good path for me to dive deeper into the Jewish community intersection of government and politics, and advocacy type of work,” Weisel said. “It was an interesting shift for me because my personal life was very much about the Jewish community — being active in my synagogue, being active in Federation and various other aspects of Jewish life in Montgomery County — but I hadn’t had that shift to sort of a professional Jewish community aspect.”

That change in careers also gave Weisel a chance to use her legal expertise in her advocacy work, which she found she enjoyed. That, in turn, led her to the ADL. Weisel worked with the ADL during her time at the JCRC as a partner organization and got an up-close look at the work the ADL does.

“It was the best decision I made for myself, for my career and for my passions, as to really where I wanted to take the next stages in life, in my career, and the work that I wanted to delve into,” Weisel said.

There was also a strong turning point in Weisel’s life that led her to join the JCRC and ADL when almost a decade ago she discovered and reported swastikas vandalized onto her local synagogue, and she reflected, realizing that antisemitism and other types of hate were things she could and should use her skill set to influence.

“It was almost like it was a sign in a way, like this is something you need to take on. As hard as this work can be, it’s something I feel that I could commit myself to and that I felt I was good at,” Weisel said.

And now, Weisel tackles the issue head-on as she works to oversee the advancement of the ADL’s mission in education, government relations, engaging with the community, dealing with law enforcement and all other related areas of importance.

She said that it’s very meaningful to her to be in this role due to how connected she is to the local Jewish community and it allows her to see the direct impact of her work when she meets with the people she’s helped.

“The D.C. metro region, I believe, is the third largest Jewish population in the country … being a part of this community and the work that I do, it has such incredible value and it is so fulfilling to be able to walk into a synagogue here with a rabbi that I’ve worked closely with,” Weisel said.

“There is such fulfillment being part of this community and knowing that I can be there for people who are friends of mine, even though it can be a heavy burden on me,” she added.
Weisel said that her work has become especially important in the months after Oct. 7, when there are many people suffering and dealing with the consequences of rising antisemitism.

She added that being able to provide resources and hope for Israelis and Israeli Americans during this time has been very uplifting and helps remind her that she’s enacting
positive change.

Weisel’s work has also changed over the past several months, as the ADL is working to combat a unique wave of antisemitism and what she called “open support for terrorism,” that’s becoming prevalent online and in the DMV area, along with bomb threats, vandalism and other forms of harassment.

“We’ve had weeks where we’re working 24/7 on a weekend … the hours that we put in have changed to make sure that we’re there for the community because we’re seeing things like Jewish businesses attacked with vandalism that are perceived to be ‘Zionist,’ just because they’re Jewish or Israeli,” Weisel said.

But despite all the current challenges, Weisel will continue to work toward stemming the tide of hate and protecting the DMV Jewish community.

Weisel said she sees moments of hope and optimism that have changed the way they operate in order to duly promote that positivity.

“Besides that tsunami of antisemitism, there are moments of hope and light and glimmers of positivity, and we have to make sure that we are lifting up those voices. That is something that I think has also changed the dynamic of what we’re doing,”
Weisel said.

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