How to make a Jewish activist

Steven Goldstein of Teaneck, new head of the Anne Frank Center, talks about his life.

Not that many of us have heard of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in midtown Manhattan.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, yes, of course. The “Diary of Anne Frank”? Who hasn’t? Anne Frank herself? Absolutely everyone’s heard of her.

But the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect was a quiet, even genteel place. If it sent out press releases, they didn’t get far. If they had representatives make public statements, they might have been like trees, falling in the middle of a forest, making no sound.

But now Steven Goldstein of Teaneck is the center’s executive director, and all of a sudden it’s in the news.

Mr. Goldstein is a longtime social activist who has been passionate about being a Jew for as long as he can remember; the Anne Frank Center’s mission, as a progressive voice for social justice, not necessarily focusing on Jewish issues but on the unbearable death of an extraordinary young woman — just one in six million and like every one of those six million Jews murdered during the Shoah (and of course like every one of the other millions of people murdered during the Shoah) entirely unique and completely irreplaceable.

Now, after every bomb threat to a JCC, every cemetery desecration, every attack on Jews, an impassioned email lands in the inbox of just about every Jewish leader, activist, and journalist in the country. They’re all signed by Steven Goldstein.

Mr. Goldstein’s long career as a social activist, honed during the fight for marriage equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, as well as his deep, tribal, spiritual connection to the Jewish community and to Israel, positioned him well to take the helm, this summer, just as a new outpouring of anti-Semitism and other hate crimes took on new force, seemingly liberated from the sewer in which they’d been contained since the end of World War II.

Mr. Goldstein is also an irrepressible force, full of shtick and wit and outrage and fun, all at the same time, all impossible to overlook. If the Anne Frank Center’s leadership wanted attention as well as a new focus, clearly it went to the right person.

“I’ve been an LGBT American for almost 55 years,” Mr. Goldstein, who will turn 55 in June, said. “I have been a Jew for 5777 years. What people who are close to me know, but maybe other people may not know from reading about me as an LGBT activist, is that my Jewish identity is central to who I am, far more than any other identity in my life.

“I have had a love affair with Judaism from the time I was in my mother’s womb.”

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