2012 Torch of Liberty Inspiring, Glittering Success
Date: November 2, 2012
In a ballroom that literally glittered with lighted flowers, occasional tears, and warm smiles, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) raised nearly $700,000 and honored George and Lois Stark with its 2012 Torch of Liberty Award, and Neighborhood Centers Inc. with its Julie and Ben Rogers Ecumenism Award.
About 650 people attended the Torch of Liberty dinner which also launched ADL's centennial year in the Southwest Region. Some attendees were friends of the Starks, some friends of Neighborhood Centers Inc., but by the end of the night, it seemed all were friends of ADL and all embraced the Centennial theme: "Imagine a World Without Hate."
They learned from CEO Angela Blanchard about Neighborhood Center Inc.'s dedication to helping Houston be the best community it can be by supporting education, immigration, financial independence, and by investing in people.
They learned about ADL's commitment to working with law enforcement and fighting extremism as FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ed Michel and Sikh community volunteer Bobby Singh spoke about ADL's response to the August 5 terrorist attack at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple.
And from Torch of Liberty honorees Lois and George Stark, they learned why one Houston power couple love and believe in each other, in their family, in Houston, and in making the world a better place to live. The Starks were introduced by their son Ben, who spoke glowingly of their influence on him and credited his parents with teaching him the importance of learning, reaching beyond boundaries, and being socially responsible.
In accepting the award, Lois Stark mesmerized the crowd with an elegant endorsement of ADL's work and why it matters deeply to her. She told a story she said was one of her favorites, about a grandfather who gave his granddaughter the gift of a Dixie cup filled with dirt, and instructed her to water it each day. Even though the watering seemed to have no effect for weeks and weeks, the granddaughter never missed a daily watering. When a green shoot finally rose up, her grandfather said her constancy in watering the Dixie cup helped the shoot spring to life and grow. "It is the constancy of ADL's work in watering this world that we salute tonight," Lois said.
She also told of an African tribe she filmed that had no word for "you," in its language, but whose closest word to you translated as "my other self." She said that concept could be applied to our modern world, with the global reach of information and so many other aspects of our lives. " 'My other self' is not a moral platitude, nor a political compromise," Lois said. "It is today's interconnected reality. We are one of a kind and one in kinship."
George infused his acceptance speech with his family's immigration story: an immigration forced by hatred, political conditions, and a desire to survive. The Holocaust chased his parents out of Austria into Belgium, and when the Nazis arrived there, his parents left again. Eventually they ended up in Cuba, where George spent his early years. When the Cuban Revolution took place in 1959, George's father recognized familiar warning signals. George remembers: "My father said to me: 'Man's inhumanity to man has returned, but this time with a different-colored uniform! I have seen this before, son. We are leaving now, while we still can leave."
George continued, "I ask you to imagine leaving your home and looking back at it one last time. Many people take the freedoms that we have in this country for granted. My family history taught me first-hand what life can be without them. We must all remain vigilant against the forces that would change that. We can never rest easy!"
George practices what he preaches. He has been on ADL's board for many years, is a national vice-chair and former regional board chair. Both George and Lois are involved in numerous community organizations as donors and volunteers, and both give a great deal of themselves to the community.
So does Neighborhood Centers Inc. Former Houston Mayor Bill White and his wife Andrea presented the Julie and Ben Rogers Ecumenism Award to Neighborhood Centers Inc. Chairs for the evening included the Whites, Kelli and Martin Fein, Nancy and Neal Manne, and Susan and Dick Stasney.
The evening was emceed by 2012 ADL Board Chair Rochelle Jacobson, who presented the Starks with their award, and it was tied together with remarks by ADL Southwest Regional Director Martin B. Cominsky. Last year's Torch of Liberty recipients, Kelli and Martin Fein, also participated in the program and recognized former board chairs.
The Torch of Liberty Award goes annually to community leaders who exemplify a commitment to promoting respect, counteracting hatred and bigotry, and supporting fair treatment for all. The Julie and Ben Rogers Ecumenism Award recognizes an individual or organization for work in furthering greater harmony and cooperation in our communities. It was established by former ADL Board Chair Regina Rogers in loving memory of her parents.
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