Carlos Galindo-Elvira, the Anti- Defamation League’s new Arizona regional director, wants Tucson Jewish community leaders to know the ADL is there for them, “whether it’s a 411 call, to get information or resources, or a 911 call” in a situation where the ADL can play a role.
Galindo-Elvira is well known in Phoenix, where he worked at Valle del Sol, a nonprofit agency providing healthcare, social service and leadership development programs, for more than 16 years. He was most recently chief development officer.
A friend texted him about the opening at the ADL. “The selling point for me,” he says, “was I wanted to work for an organization that stood up and spoke out on behalf of vulnerable and marginalized communities.”
The post had been vacant since Jake Bennett stepped down in March. Galindo-Elvira took up the reins on July 11 and on Aug. 12 he headed south to meet with a few of Tucson’s Jewish community leaders. This included Todd Rockoff, president and CEO of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, who learned last month that the FBI had arrested an 18-year-old terror suspect who told an undercover agent he had scoped out the Tucson J as a potential target.
Galindo-Elvira wanted “to demonstrate the ADL’s solidarity with the JCC and to express our hand of friendship and partnership,” he told the AJP, explaining that the ADL can lend assistance in ways ranging from research to resource information to working with law enforcement.
Rockoff was pleased that instead of introducing himself with a phone call, Galindo-Elvira made the time “to make a visit, to tour the J and have a sense as to what we look like. That was very helpful.”
Going forward, the relationship will be important not only in dealing with potential situations, says Rockoff, but as an opportunity for the ADL “to provide programming, training and education to staff, to members and to the community.”
Galindo-Elvira also met with Stuart Mellan, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, and with the AJP.
As a Jew by choice, his ADL post gives Galindo-Elvira “a chance to get into the fold of what it means to fight against anti-Semitism and bigotry.”
Galindo-Elvira felt the call of Judaism when he traveled to Israel 11 years ago with the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange Seminar for Latino Leaders, at the invitation of Rabbi Robert Kravitz.
“That week in Israel was more than just an opportunity to travel to another nation. It was really traveling to find myself,” he says. “The connectivity that I felt with Israel and with special moments there, like going to Masada, like the Western Wall, really spoke to me.”
On his return, he took a Discovering Judaism class, “and then I made the decision ultimately that I would join the tribe.”
Returning to Israel in 2015 with the American Israel Education Foundation, he says he felt the same “magic.”
Galindo-Elvira and his wife, Emily, have two sons and “a very multi-cultural home. We celebrate all the holidays,” he says.
He’s never explored whether he has Jewish roots. “Maybe I should do a DNA test, the one where you can find out your ancestry,” he says. “Maybe there might be something there.
“But for me, really, being part of the Jewish community, means having responsibility, of knowing what a stranger felt like in a strange land, and [asking] how can we extend our hand, extend ourselves to others, knowing what our history has been,” he says.
One of the values of the ADL that resonates with him is courage, he says, noting that he chose the Hebrew name Joshua when he converted and derives even greater meaning from it now “because Joshua is told to be strong and of good courage,” which the ADL must do “every day, even when it stands alone.”
Galindo-Elvira admires the passion and energy of the ADL’s new national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, who has been in the job for a year. Along with the agency’s historic battle against anti-Semitism, Greenblatt is reaching out to millennials by emphasizing the ADL’s work with other minorities. The two were following each other on Twitter, says Galindo-Elvira, even before he decided to work at the ADL.
“The ADL has always been a friend, a partner, a champion for so many communities,” says Galindo-Elvira. In Arizona, he says, the ADL’s four priority areas are anti-Semitism, voter protection, immigration reform and the LGBT community.
Galindo-Elvira’s relationship with the ADL actually began eight years ago, when the agency honored him for work he’d been doing with Latino-Jewish relations in Phoenix. He participated in the ADL’s Glass Leadership Institute in 2009.
An Arizona native, Galindo-Elvira grew up 70 miles north of Tucson in the mining town of Hayden in Gila County. He attended Arizona State University, but took a break to run for the town council, winning by 24 votes at age 20. After finishing his degree, he was a special assistant in former Sen. Dennis DeConcini’s office, where his job encompassed the areas of Hispanic and Native American affairs, immigration, the Department of Justice, human rights and religious freedoms. After that, he worked for Pinal County doing voter registration outreach.
“Man, I loved that job,” he says. “It was witnessing the power of democracy.”
Eventually he returned to the Phoenix area and began working at Valle del Sol. One of the best programs he worked on there, he says, was the Hispanic Leadership Institute-Tucson, created in partnership with the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Pima Community College. The program trains emerging leaders in the Hispanic community to serve on boards and commissions “and to create systemic change.” That program gave him the chance to work with Lea Marquez Peterson, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber, “who really understands the pulse and is so knowledgeable about Tucson.”
Galindo-Elvira will soon be heading back down I-10 to expand his own knowledge of Tucson, meeting with Mayor Jonathan Rothschild as well as other community leaders.