Santa Barbara Spotlight: Bringing Compassion to our city with Beyond Tolerance’s Adele Rosen

Posted on Oct 25 by SEASONS Magazine

Adele Rosen might just be Santa Barbara’s modern-day Anne Frank, bringing compassion to the community that surrounds her through Beyond Tolerance, the well-regarded nonprofit program she founded 15 years ago after visiting an Anne Frank exhibit in Los Angeles in the late 90s.

Later, “I had posters made of Anne Frank, and…I think we look alike.” Indeed, the resemblance is uncanny. Even though she grew up in a diversified community in Upstate New York where she was a part of the area’s ethnic melting pot, Rosen remarks that she “had this very close affinity to [Anne Frank’s] story.” For example, “she was writing, and I wanted to write all the time. I just felt we had a similarity.”

That’s why several years later, after Rosen moved to Santa Barbara and visited the Anne Frank exhibit, she knew that she had to do something about the hatred that existed in our community. At the time, “there were some problems in Santa Barbara…and [a friend and I] decided that this was something that we really needed to address in Santa Barbara—the intolerance, and hatred, and violence. So we brought the Anne Frank exhibit to Santa Barbara, and about 10,000 school kids went to see it. It was the story of the Holocaust and beyond. And what hatred and violence does in a community.”

Following the exhibit, Rosen met with the Skirball Cultural Center educator in Los Angeles who helped her develop some program ideas that went way beyond the Holocaust in terms of subject matter. These programs are still a part of Beyond Tolerance today, and since its first years, Beyond Tolerance has also developed some new ones. Friend Michael Towbes, who originally told Rosen about the Anne Frank exhibit, also asked her to chair the development of the exhibit in Santa Barbara.

“I have two daughters…and although I don’t remember any serious bullying, one of my daughters did have an episode in high school. I was appalled to think that it was still happening—that the antisemitism was still happening.” To educate against these types of situations, Beyond Tolerance has developed several programs over the years that specially target different age groups. In one of its more popular programs, 10th grade social studies students are offered the opportunity to visit the Museum of Tolerance. “It’s a museum that’s not just about the Holocaust. It’s really about humanity and right from wrong, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful exhibit with hands on [components].” Before boarding the buses and heading to Los Angeles, students are prepped for the visit, and when they come back, they write letters in reaction to the exhibit. Every year, about 1,000 kids visit the museum.

While the popular Museum of Tolerance’s subject matter lends a special focus on antisemitism, Rosen explains that Beyond Tolerance “isn’t about antisemitism. It’s really about just being kind to people no matter who they are, or religion they profess, or persuasion.”

For Rosen, whether a particular situation has to do with discrimination, acts of violence, hatred, or anything else, it really all boils down to bullying. And today, that’s what Beyond Tolerance focuses on. In classroom programs, Rosen talks about how they “discuss empathy; [they] discuss the bystander, the perpetrator, the victim; [they] show a [short film] called Anne Frank, [and] then [they] talk about a similarity to what happened in Germany.”

“I’ve taken gang kids—kids from schools that are specifically for kids who are hard to handle in public schools—[to the Museum of Tolerance] and they’re so affected by it that it’s just an amazing transformation in their personality.” No wonder Beyond Tolerance is so well-received by the community and life-changing for students who participate.

In Living Voices, another one of Beyond Tolerance’s programs, an actor performs while a film plays in the background. Various social issues are treated, such as the dust bowl and Japanese internment, civil rights and the rights of farm workers. “The students just love it.”

Of course, several things have changed since Beyond Tolerance arrived on the scene. Rosen laments that “in the past, we only had to deal with the classroom, or the playground, or the lunchroom, or maybe an after school program. Now the kids say, ‘we’re never away from it.'” Cyberbullying is incredibly hard for Beyond Tolerance to address because “we don’t know whats going on…on the network.”

So, where is Beyond Tolerance going now? “Eventually [my work partner and I are] going to slide out of this and be passing the torch,” but that won’t be for another while. Helping the community is fulfilling, and while Rosen is a full-time interior designer and the director of Beyond Tolerance, she wouldn’t want to be doing anything besides helping our community. Rosen remembers students who, when asked to speak in classroom programs, would say  “I am so unhappy, I would really like to take my life, and I know that I can really get some help somewhere.” Knowing that it’s because of Beyond Tolerance’s programs that students learn the tools to identify and fight against bullying makes putting in the extra hours of work entirely worth the effort. “Rather than playing bridge, I’d rather be doing this!” And how could you blame her when she’s helping change the lives of our community’s youth?

All of Beyond Tolerance’s programs are offered completely free of charge to our county’s schools, and the programs are entirely funded by private donors. If you would like to learn more about the program or would like to contribute, please click here.

—Manon Cooper

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