PLAINS TWP. — Two area clergymen, the Rev. Thomas O’Hara and Rabbi Larry Kaplan, were honored Sunday night with the Distinguished Service Award from the Anti- Defamation League for their life’s work in promoting compassion and understanding in their communities and activities.
The Anti-Defamation League is an organization that strives to establish fair treatment for all citizens and end discrimination. The Distinguished Service Award is given out every two years to an individuals whose achievements reflect the goals and purpose of the ADL.
Stephen Rosenthal, ADL chairman of the Dinner Steering Committee, said this was the first time in the history of the ADL that religious leaders have received the award.
In front of more than 200 guests at the Woodlands Inn & Resort in Plains Township, O’Hara and Kaplan were honored. Both have worked together in the past and traveled to Israel together to visit holy sites.
Special speaker Joseph Sullivan, chief inspector and commanding officer of Homeland Security and Counterterrorism with the Philadelphia Police Forece, said the ADL is an important organization that helps him in understanding different cultures in certain situations.
Upon accepting his award, O’Hara said he was honored to receive the award with Kaplan but also humbled by it.
A native of Hazleton, O’Hara graduated from King’s College, Wilkes-Barre. He was ordained into the priesthood in June 1978. He returned to Wilkes-Barre to served as King’s’ president for eight years.
He has served on several boards and worked with Mother Theresa in the Missionaries of Charity in the hospital for the Destitute and Dying in Dhaka.
Currently, O’Hara is serving as the provincial superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross, U.S. Province of Priest and Brothers by the Provincial Chapter in Portland, Ore.
Kaplan, a native of Philadelphia, said he believes his extensive work with foster care and the fact he and his wife, Gerri, have been foster parents to more than 70 children may have been behind the nomination.
Kaplan serves on the boards of numerous local organizations, has taught Jewish history at Wyoming Seminary and teaches the Old Testament at King’s College and World Religions at Misericordia University.
He has served the Temple Israel community since 1998. He also is the Jewish chaplain at the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital and leads an interfaith trip to Israel every other year.
The rabbi shared a story about one of his foster children.
He said the young girl never experienced discrimination due to the color of her skin. One day she accompanied him to a funeral. When leaving she was she was upset because she was the only “colored one there.”
Thinking the conversation was racially driven, he asked her what did she mean. Kaplan said the replied that everyone was wearing black and she had on green socks and a colored skirt.
Next time, she said, she wants to be better informed.