Less than a month after stepping into his role as Anti-Defamation League regional director, James Pasch is facing his first test involving a high-profile hate group: a Ku Klux Klan rally scheduled for May 25 in Dayton. 

Plans for the rally made headlines after the city of Dayton sued on the grounds the group might function as a private army, violating Ohio’s Constitution. On May 14, the city and Honorable Sacred Knights reached an agreement that will allow the group to wear masks and carry certain firearms but prevents them from bringing assault rifles, bats and shields.

The episode is indicative of a 20% rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Ohio, a figure the ADL recently reported. It’s also representative of the type of challenge the 34-year-old Beachwood resident is now tasked with meeting. 

“The planned rally is yet another example of the dangerous growth of white nationalism and the spread of hate across our nation,” Pasch told the Cleveland Jewish News.

Motivation and goals

Pasch has watched the rise of anti-Semitism and hate crimes over the past few years.

“I felt a calling to get off the sidelines in a much more visible way to confront those issues because I think they go to the core of who we are as a local community, as a nation, as a world,” he said.

He cited the ADL’s mission to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to seek justice and fair treatment for all. As ADL Cleveland regional director, it falls on him to carry out that mission in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.

“My first goal is to be as visible as possible for our entire region and all of our communities so that people know that people can lean on us and our office,” he said. “Goal No. 2 is to expand our educational training.”

To that end, the ADL directly trained more than 1,400 students in the past year, and as part of that, next week, the ADL will designate 20 schools in Pittsburgh as No Place for Hate Schools. In addition, the regional office is hiring an assistant director of education and bias training, Pasch said.

Pasch said college students and adults facing anti-Semitism and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement need to be “allies.”

BDS, which targets Israel, has taken hold on many campuses and as recently as December 2018, The Ohio State University’s undergraduate student senate rejected a BDS resolution.

“What I would say to college students who are a part of this is, help us when it comes to education on college campus, and we’ll help you,” he said. “We’ll give you the tools that you need.”

Pasch said he will recruit volunteers across the region, both in urban and rural areas.

The ADL’s Center for Technology tracks hate speech online globally. In 2017, the ADL found an increase of more than 50% in anti-Semitic incidents nationwide, the highest year-to-year uptick since the ADL has tracked that statistic, he said. In 2018, there was a 5% decrease in such incidents but the 1,879 anti-Semitic acts reported represented the third highest total on record.

“We are proponents of the First Amendment,” he said. “But at the same time, we need to be working with our social media organizations to remove what’s clearly just hate speech from their platforms.”

Early life

Pasch was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and moved to New Jersey as a child. He became bar mitzvah at Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan, N.J., and graduated from Rutgers Preparatory School in New Brunswick, N.J. 

His first brush with anti-Semitism came in the sixth or seventh grade when a classmate told him a Holocaust joke, he said.

“I remember being visibly shaken and taken aback by the comment, which he clearly thought was funny,” he said. 

As a teenager, Pasch established a close friendship with Rabbi Brooks Susman, who visited him frequently after he broke his back and neck in a school bus crash.

He graduated from the University of Vermont in Burlington. While there, he saw a swastika on a building.

Among recent influences, he named law professor Lewis R. Katz at Case Western Reserve University.

“Lew’s criminal law class was my first class as a law student,” Pasch said. “And I would say if there was any takeaway from his class, it was that nothing could be more important than everyone being treated equal under the eyes of the law. The biases in the system, whether they are racial biases or other biases, are incredibly damaging to the overall criminal justice system. It was a message that I always took with me in my legal career.”

Pasch’s history at ADL

A lawyer, Pasch left his job as assistant dean of development and public affairs at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to join the ADL. In 2016, he attended the ADL’s Glass Leadership Institute for young professionals, then became a board member of the regional ADL for about six months. When Rabbi Jeremy Pappas left the job of regional director, Pasch applied.

As an ADL board member, Pasch traveled to Pittsburgh following the Tree of Life Congregation shootings on Oct. 27, 2018, that left 11 people dead. 

“It was heart-wrenching,” he said. “It was moving to listen to the family members of those that we lost that morning and it speaks to the importance of what we have to do as a greater Jewish community to protect one another.”

Looking ahead

While his role at the helm of the regional ADL office will be visible, the Beachwood city councilman said he is not looking for political gain.

“To me, this is a massive job and an undertaking that’s deserving of my absolute full attention,” he said. “I have one goal that’s career-oriented: To do everything I can to build up this regional ADL office into an office that will be there for our Jewish community, and our diverse community throughout the region, so that we’re here to help them and to protect them.”

Pasch is married to Carly Hodgins. They have a daughter and son. The family belongs to The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood.

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