In January 2022, Andrew Goretsky took over as regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia.
It was less than two weeks after the synagogue hostage crisis in Colleyville, Texas. It was less than four years after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. And it was around the same time that Philadelphia-area synagogues were adding locks, security cameras and Zoom passwords to their daily proceedings.
Less than two years later, Oct. 7 happened and antisemitic incidents spiked in Goretsky’s region of eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware. Goretsky said in January 2022 that he wanted to work for the ADL due to the increase in “antisemitism, hate and extremism in all its forms.” He also wanted to help build a better world for his son, Ari Shawn, to grow up in.
The increase has grown more pronounced. A better world does not seem imminent. But his work of documenting, understanding and helping to respond to antisemitism might be more important than ever.
“I’d like nothing better than to put myself out of a job tomorrow,” the 49-year-old Whitemarsh Township resident said.
Goretsky had an early experience with antisemitism. Some kids in his neighborhood gave him a magazine called PennySaver and ran off laughing. He showed it to his mother and relayed the story. She had to explain what antisemitism was to her young son.
But that was not an origin story. Goretsky got a master’s degree in student personnel administration from New York University and a Doctor of Education in higher education administration from George Washington University. Then he worked in a variety of roles in higher education, including community director at the University of Maryland, director of the Center for Student Engagement at GW and dean of students at Arcadia University.
He spent 24 years working at colleges and universities. During that time, the Jewish administrator witnessed a culture of antisemitism and anti-Israel activity taking root. Students would say things like, “I’m going to Jew them down” when they wanted to haggle. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel began to grow. Some schools excluded academic departments about Israel.
“I saw the tropes being used in ways I hadn’t earlier in my career,” Goretsky said.
Then Tree of Life happened, and Goretsky was nervous about dropping his son off for Hebrew school.
“When the position at ADL opened, it was a no-brainer to apply,” he said.
Goretsky’s grandfather taught him at a young age that Israel was important. The older man would buy Israel bonds in small amounts.
“We’ve learned that pogroms can happen. Jews can be discriminated against and harassed,” Goretsky recalled of what his grandfather told him.
The regional director grew up in a synagogue that he described as “Conservative with an Orthodox rabbi and Reform congregation.” Women did not read from the Torah.
When Goretsky got to SUNY Buffalo as an undergraduate, he went to Hillel for a Rosh Hashanah service. A woman read from the Torah. He was confused. He talked to the rabbi about how “that’s not supposed to happen.” The rabbi asked him why not.
“Now in my own values I believe firmly in egalitarian Judaism,” Goretsky said.
But he also tends to his Conservative roots. The husband and father lights Shabbat candles and keeps the Sabbath in his home. His family celebrates the holidays. Now, they also try to attend Friday night or Saturday morning services.
They just have not gone to Israel. Goretsky was planning a trip for his son’s bar mitzvah, set for next summer, when Oct. 7 happened. He still says he “can’t wait to get there.” He is just “hoping and praying” he can next summer.
Despite the ugliness that his job can present, the ADL director also says it gives him hope.
In the spring, swastikas were drawn in multiple places in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County. Goretsky then spoke at an anti-hate rally in the exact spot where one of them was drawn. More than 300 people came out.
After Oct. 7, the Philadelphia City Council passed a unanimous resolution condemning the Hamas attack against vociferous opposition from protesters. News reports focused on “the heckling” and the “vile rhetoric from people opposed to Israel,” Goretsky said.
“Despite all that, a multiracial council voted unanimously to condemn the attack,” he said. “I know the voices against antisemitism and hate are greater.”