By ANGELA MAONE, Special to the CCJN
The Bissinger-Timm families and Dr. Stephen Hales were honored at the annual A.I. Botnick Torch of Liberty Awards gala of the South Central Region of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The event was held on Wednesday, October 30 at the Hyatt Regency Grand Ballroom, where almost 550 attendees – among them family members, colleagues, and distinguished New Orleanians – gathered to celebrate them.
The evening began with ADL South Central Region director Aaron Ahlquist addressing the attendees and urging them to keep vigilant in the current climate of rising anti-Semitism and a spike in hate crimes. Ahlquist recounted an incident which took place in Russellville, Arkansas on Holocaust Memorial Day this year in which a World War II veteran, who saw firsthand the effects of the Holocaust, was unable to speak because of a demonstration by the Neo-Nazi group Shieldwall.
Ahlquist said this was one instance signifying why the ADL is so important in its stand against hate. He concluded by urging, “Stand with ADL in our fight for justice and fair treatment for all. Stand with us.”.
Congregation Gates of Prayer Rabbi David Gerber praised the ADL in his invocation, noting how Ahlquist and the ADL stood with the community during last year’s defacement of a Northshore Jewish Congregation. The rabbi noted the many times he has witnessed the important support of the ADL since his arrival in New Orleans a year and a half ago.
ADL Development Committee chair Jill Israel spoke on the partnership between the ADL and Entergy and presented a short video. Israel then introduced Entergy president and CEO David Ellis, who is a crucial supporter of ADL’s “No Place for Hate” anti-bullying program and A World of Difference, an anti-bias training program. Ellis, and Patty Riddlebarger of Entergy, were presented with a collage of the winning artwork from the “No Place for Hate” program to be put on display at Entergy.
ADL Fighting Hate for Good Art and Poetry contest winner was Anita Gorman. Her winning entry was read by her sister.
The recipients of the 2019 Barney Mintz Leadership program were introduced by ADL regional chair Ann Thompson. The honorees were Arianna C. Baseman, currently co-chair of ADL’s Glass Leadership Institute, and Brittany Wolf-Freedman, co-chair of the fourth cohort of the Glass Leadership Institute Bissinger-Timm Fellowship.
Initiated in 1967, the Torch of Liberty award is awarded to individuals who personify the ideals of the ADL. In 1995, it was named to honor former regional ADL director A.I. Botnick and his 28 years at the helm of the organization in New Orleans.
Honoree Dr. Stephen W. Hales was the first of the recipients to be recognized. A New Orleanian since 1975, he began service as chief of Pediatrics at the United States Public Health Services Hospital (now under the auspices of Children’s Hospital). Hales has been on the board of Children’s Hospital for almost 40 years. As a founding member of LCMC Health, he currently serves on its Executive Committee. Hew also was a founding member of New Schools for New Orleans, a non-profit that has been instrumental in starting open admission charter schools in the New Orleans public school system post-Katrina, Dr. Hales also served as it’s Secretary and Vice-Chair.
Hales also was responsible as a founding board member of the Pro Bono Publico Foundation, which was set up by the Rex Organization to bolster post-Katrina public schools and to award grants to worthy institutions. So far it has extended grants of more than $8 million. He is also the author of “Rex: An Illustrated History of the School of Design,” which was published in 2009. It’s sale benefits the foundation.
Hales was introduced by Greg Feirn, CEO of LCMC Health, and Anthony Recasner. A short video was shown before the award was awarded to Hales by Greg Feirn, CEO of LCMC Health, and Anthony Recasner.
Recasner spoke of Hales’ dedication to his patients and his colleagues before the crowd responded with a standing ovation .
Hales spoke passionately about the ADL and its commitment to the community. It is increasingly important to stand together against hate, he said. Hales thanked his family for supporting him and expressed gratitude to the ADL for his selection.
Marjorie Bissinger’s lifetime of involvement in the Jewish community has earned her a place in their hearts. She has been the recipient of the JCC’s Outstanding Service Award, the Jewish Family Service’s Rhythm and Blues Award, the Jewish Endowment Foundation’s Tzedakah Award, and NCJW’s Hannah Solomon Award.
Her son, Allan Bissinger, who passed away earlier this year, was past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, a member of the governing boards of LCMC Health, Children’s Hospital,and the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana. Allan Bissinger also served as president of the Jewish Community Center and was active with the ADL South Cental Region. He was remembered as a quiet and steadfast leader, who was totally dedicated to the entire community.
Marjorie’s daughter, Nancy Bissinger-Timm, is a clinical social worker who has been the recipient of Jewish Family Service’s Rhythm and Blues award, National Association of Jewish Family Service’s Outstanding Leadership Award, ADL’s Barney Mintz Emerging Leadership Award, Jewish Endowment’s Tzedakah Award, the Jewish Federation of New Orleans’ Tikum Olam Award and City Business’ Outstanding Women of the Year award. Timm has also served on the boards of Touro Infirmary Foundation and Jewish Family Service and was the Vice President of the National Association of Jewish Family Services.
Cathy Glaser, past ADL regional director and board member of the Torch of Liberty Committee, and Julie Schwamm Harris, co-chair of the Legislative Agenda for Women, introduced the well-known members of the Bissinger and Timm families. A short video highlighted the many accomplishments of the family and their imprint on the New Orleans community.
Nancy Timm’s anecdote in the video that people were amazed to know that her mother is “Marjorie from the JCC” got a chuckle from the audience. Many members of the audience were visibly fighting back tears watching the video. .
Upon coming to the stage, Nancy Bissinger, joined Marjorie Bissinger and Nancy Bissinger-Timm to receive the Torch of Liberty awards.
Nancy Bissinger got a laugh when she accepted her husband’s award saying, “All I can say is I’m grateful for waterproof mascara!” Nancy Bissinger-Timm thanked the audience on behalf of her family.
She related to the audience that her family always valued and encouraged community service, from the time they were small children to the present. Nancy Bissinger-Timm especially noted the service of her brother Allan. She reflected that the six grandchildren made her mother especially happy. Timm noted that there has been a representative in the Bissinger-Timm family in all four groups of the Glass Leadership Institute, a leadership development program at ADL. She stressed that “ADL is more important than ever before. In a world filled with hate, we all need to do everything we can to provide a future for our children where there is justice for all.”.
Allan Bissinger’s widow Nancy accepted the award on his behalf and told the audience that he had been very excited and proud to receive the Torch of Liberty nomination. She said she was happy to accept the award for him. The audience stood and gave another round of applause as the family left the stage.
Music was provided during the cocktail hour by Jeremy Marx on acoustic guitar and Oliver Watkinson playing the upright bass.
Photos from the event may be viewed here: