Harvey Schechter, former ADL regional director, dies at 91


Harvey Bernard Schechter died peacefully at the Los Angeles Jewish Home in Reseda on May 23, 2015, at the age of 91. Harvey is survived by his wife of sixty years, Hope Schechter of Beverly Hills, his nephew Bruce Schechter of Sherman Oaks and many additional family members and close friends.  Harvey was preceded in death by his parents Dora and Morris Schechter of New York, elder brother Harold Schechter (Diana) of Huntington Beach and younger sister Mildred Berger (Harvey) of New Hyde Park, New York.

Harvey was born on January 4, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York.  As a boy Harvey developed his love of baseball which he carried throughout his life, even attending Dodger Fantasy Baseball Camp at age 70. In his youth he was stricken with rheumatic fever which damaged his heart. His illness and a near brush with death led his parents to send Harvey from New York to a warmer climate in Southern California for his schooling. Harvey completed his undergraduate coursework at UC Santa Barbara while living and working on a ranch in Rancho Oso near the UCSB campus. Harvey was a celebrity on campus where he arrived daily on his trusted horse, “Chica.” Ever passionate about education, Harvey became a trustee at the University of Santa Barbara in 1996, a position he held to his death.

After his undergraduate studies, Harvey went on to earn a Master's Degree in Sociology from UCLA in 1950. In September of that same year, Harvey met his future wife, Hope Mendoza, while working on a grant proposal and studying the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union where Hope was employed. The two were married on March 20, 1955, in San Marino, CA, and in 1959, they purchased their first and only home in Sherman Oaks, CA. That San Fernando Valley home served as a backdrop for many memorable backyard parties, weddings, and Seders over their years there.  In addition to Bruce, Harvey and Hope have many “adopted” daughters and sons whom Harvey affectionately mentored including family members, friends and fellow employees and students.

In his early years, Harvey had a variety of jobs including one with the Department of Agriculture as a lab assistant in Salinas, CA,  a job in New York building radios for fighter planes during WWII (due to his poor health he was listed as 4S and unable to serve during the war), a brief stint at the post office, work as a teacher's assistant at UCLA, and part-time  teaching at Leo Baeck Temple. 

In 1952, Harvey started his long and illustrious career with the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles.   Harvey joined ADL the day after Eisenhower was elected in November 1952.  Harvey came in as Director of Civil Rights and Fact-Finding.  Milton Senn, the region’s first regional director, was his boss and quickly became his hero and mentor. 

Eight years later, Harvey was appointed Western States Fact-Finding Director, supervising ADL's investigative and civil rights activities in the western United States. He performed these duties until 1974, when he was appointed Regional Director.  In 1986, Harvey was named Western States Director, supervising ADL's seven regional offices in the West.  He served from 1990 until he retired in 1993 as Western States Director of the ADL Foundation.

In all, he worked for ADL for 41 years, twelve as Regional Director.  He fought discrimination in housing, public accommodations, employment, and quotas in college admissions.  He monitored and reported on extremists such as the American Nazi Party and John Birch Society in their early years.  His tenure also overlapped with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.  His passion for the ADL never waned. 

His writings were published by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Daily News. Newspapers across the nation published interviews with him on issues of concern to ADL, the Jewish community, and the total community.  He also appeared on numerous television and radio programs.  In 1960, he authored ADL's pamphlet, HOW TO LISTEN TO A JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY SPEAKER.  And Harvey was a mentor, confidant, friend, teacher, and inspiration to thousands during his lengthy career with the Anti-Defamation League. 

A lifelong learner, in retirement Harvey enjoyed taking classes at Los Angeles Valley College. He and Hope also kept active with UCSB events, Jewish community happenings, L.A. Philharmonic concerts, travel, movies, restaurant dining, visits with family and friends, and more.

Harvey’s sage advice, tutelage, and common sense approach to life endeared him to many. As Harvey signed off on each “Schechter Sez” blog, “Be well because all else is bubkiss.”

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League or the needy student fund at UC Santa Barbara in Harvey’s memory will be appreciated.

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