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Leadership of Rosenberg Fund for Children passed on to father-founder's daughter

  • Robert and Jenn Meeropol<br/><br/>COURTESY
  • Jenn Meeropol<br/><br/>COURTESY

“A part of the mission of the RFC is to pass on progressive values from one generation to the next,” said Robert Meeropol, the fund’s founder and executive director. “We don’t want to just talk that line, we want to act on it as an organization as well.”

In September, Jenn Meeropol, 40, daughter of Robert Meeropol and granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, will take over leadership of the organization, which is headquartered in the Eastworks building in Easthampton.

Since 1990, the fund has worked to support children of political activists who have been targeted by the government in the United States. Since its inception, it has given more than $5 million to families in need, Jenn Meeropol said.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage during the Cold War. People around the world protested their execution, believing they were innocent victims of the anti-communist hysteria of the era.

The Rosenbergs were survived by their two sons, Robert and Michael, who were later adopted by Abel and Anne Meeropol, and grew up to carry on their parents’ legacy of activism and resistance.

Group’s outreach

The biggest change the fund will embrace is the way it communicates with current and potential grant recipients, Jenn Meeropol said. She plans to increase the organization’s social media presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter to connect with activists who are already using those outlets to organize and network.

“One of the things that we really try to pay attention to is where is organizing happening, in terms of regions of the country, in particular communities that are either seeing increased activism or increased oppression and targeting because of that, and also what issues are people most engaged with,” she said.

Recently, there has been a surge of activism around government surveillance of citizens and intrusion of the right to privacy, Jenn Meeropol said. Activists have been targeted in a range of recent movements, including immigration, women’s rights, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and Occupy events, she said.

Examples of beneficiaries include the children of union organizers fired from jobs because of their activism; families of soldiers who disagree with the war they are fighting in, refuse to redeploy and are subsequently thrown in jail; and youth themselves who organize and protest against injustices at their public high schools or universities, Jenn Meeropol said.

“The RFC is an opportunity to give back to a community that needs support today in the same way Robby and Michael were helped in so many ways when they were kids,” Jenn Meeropol said. “Being able to provide similar support to children today who face different, but in some ways similar circumstances, it’s incredibly meaningful. I feel like there’s a synergy there, a coming full circle that I feel really lucky to be a part of.”

New York program

On Sunday, the RFC will host an event called “Carry it Forward: Celebrate the Children of Resistance,” at The Town Hall in New York City, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Rosenbergs’ execution. It also will honor activist families who have been helped by the fund.

The event will include four acts dramatizing different aspects of the Rosenberg trial and connect them to the stories of current RFC beneficiaries. The cast will feature famous activists like Angela Davis and Eve Ensler, as well as local actors from the Serious Play! Theater Ensemble in Northampton.

Sheryl Stoodley, artistic director of Serious Play!, has worked with the fund since Michael Meeropol’s daughter Rachel participated in one of her drama classes in the 1990s.

“A lot of our work as an ensemble has been around giving voice, in very subtle but important ways, to nonviolence and social activism,” Stoodley said. “The important thing is we’re not making judgments about the activism of the parents, but we’re supporting the children who are affected by their parents’ activism, as were Robby and Michael when they were children.”

Stoodley earned her master of arts degree at Smith College and conducted theater workshops with women in local prisons as part of her graduate work. Theater can be a powerful medium to give voice to the voiceless, and acting can be a healing process for those who feel they are silenced, she said.

“We all need to feel like we have a way of expressing our voice,” she said. “In many ways, adolescents, no matter who they are, they feel that they are unheard. With the artistic shaping of theater, you can be really effective with that voice so it can be received by the audience.”

The fund recognizes the power of theater and art and offers summer camps and workshops for children as part of its support, she said.

Once leadership of the organization is transferred to his daughter, Robert Meeropol said he is confident she will not only carry on the mission of the fund for years to come, but keep it contemporary and thriving.

“There are new ways of communication, there are new issues, there are new methods of organizing and it makes more sense for those who are younger and more engaged with the current methods to be moving or leading the organization into the future” he said. “I really wanted to create something that would continue on, and it’s very assuring that it will continue.”

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