AMHERST - Elia Dreyfuss, 62, passed away Friday, May 31, 2013, from cancer.
Born Nov. 17, 1950, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Elia was a teacher, traveler and social justice activist. In her own words, she came from "a labor organizer father, a truck driving anarchist philosopher grandfather, a grandmother who was a socialist journalist and teacher, and a mother who was one of the most formidable women I have known in asserting her rights."
The family moved to Los Angeles when Elia was four years old. A few years later, they fought anti-Semitic realtors to buy an inexpensive tract home in conservative Orange County. Elia continued to develop her fighting spirit from then on, working over the years for housing and immigrant rights, the environment and other progressive causes.
In 1974, Elia traveled extensively throughout Mexico, Central and South America, beginning her study of Spanish, and a lifelong appreciation for working with Latino communities. A decade later she traveled abroad for six months, including an extended peace tour with the New Jewish Agenda to Israel and the occupied territories.
As a young woman, Elia helped organize a cooperative women's tree planting crew in Oregon and was a client advocate at the Bay Area Welfare Rights organization. She also worked as an organizer and counselor with the San Francisco Tenants Union, and for 10 years as part of a collectively run, low-income advocacy law firm located in the Latino district of San Francisco. During that time she continued her study of Spanish and completed an intensive training program for teaching English as a second language.
Elia moved to Northampton in 1995. She soon began teaching English as a second language to Latino adults at the Community Education Project, a grassroots literacy program. At C.E.P., she also coordinated a community/learner/teacher project that generated a bilingual booklet, Vision for a Fair Economy, addressing economic inequality in Holyoke. Over the years, Elia became a masterful teacher and an active and beloved member of the Latino community.
Elia earned her undergraduate degree from the University Without Walls in 1999, and her master's degree in multicultural education from UMass in 2003. In 2005 she spent time living and teaching E.S.L. to workers in Argentina and Mexico.
For the past seven years, Elia coordinated the Adult Basic Education -Transition to College and Careers program, a collaboration between CEP and Holyoke Community College. Under her leadership the program greatly expanded its offerings, strengthened ties with ABE and ESL programs throughout the region, and prepared hundreds of adult students to enter college. As Coordinator of the ABE-TCC program, Elia co-authored the College Awareness and Readiness Curriculum that is now available as a free, open source document to high-level ESL and GED classrooms statewide. In 2013, she received the "Outstanding Educator of the Year" award from the Massachusetts Coalition of Adult Educators (MCAE.)
Elia was as fun-loving as she was hard-working. She grew up surrounded by music, singing in harmony with her sisters. She loved the outdoors, swimming in natural waters, walking and playing sports, including her most recent passion, croquet. She was an avid reader and film-watcher, and loved word games, especially anagrams. A wonderful cook, Elia appreciated the food of many different cultures and always ate with gusto.
Elia is survived by her sisters Barbara, Hillary and Meri; nieces Sarah and Laurie; nephew Doug; and a loving extended family of aunts, uncles and close cousins on both the left and right coasts. She also leaves behind her beloved friend Jan Eidelson, and many other devoted friends and colleagues.
Elia asked that donations in her memory go to the independent news program, Democracy Now!, 207 W. 25th St., 11th floor, New York, NY 10001.
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Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on June 11, 2013