Philly Faces: A Leader Since Middle School

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Serena Shapero | Photo provided

While most middle schoolers probably think as far into the future as lunchtime, Serena Shapero was already grooming herself for a career with the Anti-Defamation League.

Shapero volunteered for the ADL as a preteen and fell in love with the gig. Now, the 28-year-old is the assistant director of young leadership and digital engagement in the ADL’s Philly office, a position she started less than a year ago after working in Baltimore.

Q: How did you get started with the ADL as a teen?


A: I was an ADL peer trainer in middle school. It really transformed me. I had a teacher named Mr. Hart who brought in the ADL to do some of the anti-bias training [at Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences in Maryland, where she grew up].

I basically fell in love with the ADL in middle school and helped write a curriculum around the ADL’s A World of Difference training model. It was important for me and meaningful. I had been bullied a little bit in elementary school and middle school, and it just really felt like the first time that not only I was able to see what everyone else was going through and not feel alone, but just feel held and safe in a community to talk about these issues that we really didn’t talk about. And it really launched me on a career path to want to do facilitation work and help people, and what I realized is that when there is space created for people to really share whatever they’re going through, it’s absolutely transformative.

… My grandmother used to volunteer for the ADL in the 1950s. She was the president of her B’nai B’rith chapter. It’s sort of been in my bones for a while.

Q: Why is it important to get the younger generation interested in these issues and the ADL?

A: In this divisive political climate in the world that we live in, there is unfortunately many opportunities to hate. I just think about the fact that when I look at the news, it might be at 11:30 p.m. in the comfort of my own home on my phone, and I may not necessarily process that information with anyone. Anger may come up or sad notes or me wanting to do something about it, but I don’t know what to do. The ADL is an incredible organization because not only do we educate but we also advocate and really give a platform for people to not only learn about issues affecting our community but also really be able to make an impact and create a program themselves.

Q: And these programs are not just for Jewish kids, right?

A: No, they’re not. They’re for everybody. … In our young adult programming, it’s really important not only to create a safe space so we can talk about the Jewish experience, but also really bring in other experiences as well.

Q: What is your project with Tribe 12 Fellowship?

A: My project is called HOME. It is a website, which is going to be an anonymous and public forum to share stories of people who have been through divorce, and ultimately helping them not only connect to each other and dismantle isolation, but really break down some of the stigma and shame around divorce. I went through it when I was 8, and then my dad got remarried and divorced again when I was 16. I think there are a lot of tools that people could utilize not only in the process but before and after.

Q: How have you adjusted to the move to Philadelphia?

A: I really love the Philly community and I’ve felt so welcomed into the Philly Jewish community. I’m really proud to work for ADL and I’m proud to be a part of the fellowship.

rkurland@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737

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