Hailing from Colleyville and Charlottesville, Lipstadt’s Senate guests will highlight recent antisemitism
When Deborah E. Lipstadt arrives Tuesday at her confirmation hearing to be the nation’s next special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, she will be accompanied by Jewish women who evoke two shocking recent incidents of anti-Jewish hatred — last month’s hostage-taking at a Texas synagogue and the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Permitted to bring two guests, Lipstadt has chosen Anna Salton-Eisen, the daughter of Holocaust survivors and founding president of Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, and Diane D’Costa, a former University of Virginia student, the Forward has learned.
D’Costa told jurors in a trial last November that escaping the Unite the Right rally’s torchlight march reminded of her great-grandmother’s experience fleeing Poland to escape the Holocaust.
“I felt like I was fleeing my home from Nazis,” she said during a civil trial that led to a $25 million judgment against organizers of the event. D’Costa is currently a middle school teacher in Washington, D.C.
Salton Eisen watched the hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel unfold on a Facebook livestream with her mother, Ruth Salton, who turned 100 last month. “It was a very difficult thing to go through,” Salton Eisen told JTA. Salton Eisen’s father, George, was also a Holocaust survivor and Eisen co-authored a memoir with him in 2002.
“I knew I had to tell her, so it was hard,” Eisen said of breaking the news to her mother. “My voice broke when I had to say the words: ‘A gunman has taken over our synagogue and is holding the rabbi and others hostage.’ And I saw it in her eyes: the pain, the fear, the memories.”
Eisen helped found Congregation Beth Israel as a chavurah in the Dallas suburbs in the late 1990s.
Lipstadt, the Holocaust historian whose nomination to be President Joe Biden’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism was blocked for months by Republicans, was told she could bring two guests and that they should serve as “exclamation points” on her remarks and her candidacy for the role, which was recently elevated to the rank of ambassador.
She met D’Costa at the fall civil trial, in which Lipstadt also testified as an expert witness. She plans to open her remarks at the hearing by talking about Colleyville, and to highlight the Charlottesville trial as one of three formative events in her life that readied her for the role.
Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, rankled some Republican senators with past remarks critical of conservative politicians. But pressure to confirm Lipstadt mounted after the attack in Colleyville.
If confirmed, she will take office at a time of heightened concern about antisemitism. While her mandate within the State Department focuses on antisemitism outside of the United States, she will be the Biden administration’s de facto spokesperson on antisemitism in general. Her predecessor, Elan Carr, expanded the position’s portfolio during the Trump administration with a special focus on college campuses in the United States.