Steven Edelstein advocates for French culture and history [fr]
Living in Florida for more than 30 years, Mr. Steven Edelstein is very active in all fields: social, cultural, educational, historical and military. As the President of the France Florida Foundation for the Arts (FFFA), and a Vice President and General Counsel for the Air Force Association (AFA) of Miami-Homestead Chapter 317, Mr. Edelstein is a great Francophile weaving tirelessly close links between French and American communities. Interview.
e-Toile: Mr. Steven Edelstein, could you present your career and describe to our readers when and why the history and the culture of France has become so appealing to you?
Steven Edelstein: When I was a boy, I grew up in a small town that was located a short distance from Morristown, New Jersey, where George Washington had his headquarters during two winters during the U.S. Revolutionary War. While in Morristown in 1780, the Marquis de Lafayette brought news to Washington, that French King Louis XVI would be sending ships and trained soldiers to aid the Continental Army. Lafayette was a great hero of that war, and it seemed natural that I attended Lafayette School on Lafayette Avenue, since he was one of our heros as we were growing up.
There was a portrait of Lafayette in the school entrance, and everyone read books and learned about him, and how the U.S. gained its independence from England, with his help.
Years later, when I attended law school, I learned that when our Founding Fathers drafted our various State Constitutions, they relied heavily upon the French Enlightenment philosophers including Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and others; and that Lafayette relied upon our State Constitutions when he and Thomas Jefferson, worked on the initial draft of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was adopted by the French National Assembly in 1789.
In effect the founding ideals and documents of both of our countries were derived from the same sources, and I have always considered France and the United States to be “Sister States”. Beyond this, back in the 1700s, France was a Great Country and a Great Military Power. By contrast, the American Colonies back then, were the equivalent of a Third-World country. Nevertheless, France came to our aid, and without its help the United States would not exist. Looking at it another way, I consider France to have been the mid-wife, when the United States was born.
e-Toile: When did you start to work with the French community and, more broadly, the French speakers‘ community in Miami?
Steven Edelstein: My oldest son started attending First Grade back in 1988, in a private school. The school had a program in first grade that enabled English speaking students to begin learning Spanish. Since I was more interested in French, my wife and I helped the school set up a beginning French section, which had only two students.
As a result of this, I learned about the International Studies Program that had been created, starting in Third Grade, at Sunset Elementary School, and immediately began working to help it, so that my son could move there when he reached third grade in 1990. Because I had already started working with the program the year before, when my son joined the program, I immediately became a member of the Board of the Association de l’École Française de Miami, the original name of what is now FIPA, and was made Vice President. Since I had two more boys, who followed my oldest by 4 years, and 9 years, I remained involved with FIPA, and served continuously on the Board up until this past year, when I took a year off, although I’m now back on the Board.
Over the years, I served as President during five non-consecutive years, worked to lower the program entrance level first to Second Grade, and then to First Grade, helped arrange for additional teachers, and raised funds to help each of the schools. I was also involved, on more than one occasion, in re-negotiating the Letter of Understanding that was entered into between the School Board, and the French Government, relating to the French Section of the International Studies Program.
e-Toile: What did you implement or what type of events did you support at the beginning?
Steven Edelstein: After I had been working with FIPA for a few years, I was requested by then Consul General Denis Pietton, to help the French Teachers who were teaching in the program, but who had huge problems with visa issues, and had entered the U.S. as tourists. It took almost two years of work, but with the support and assistance of Senator Bob Graham’s office, representatives at the State Department, the Labor Department, and INS, we were finally approved so that we could utilize the H1B Visa for visiting French Teachers. I still had to prepare the applications and supporting documentation to obtain these visas for the teachers, which took a lot of work and time to complete.
Later, after additional meetings and negotiations, we were able to reach an agreement with the Florida Department of Education, to have it utilize the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program, and issue J-Visas for the French Teachers. During the course of working on this problem, other Consul Generals requested that I help the Consulate with other matters, which I agreed to do, on a Pro Bono Basis, for various legal matters that arose.
There were issues involving the French Trade Commission, as a consequence of which I became much more involved with the French American Chamber of Commerce. I rewrote and drafted the corporate documentation, including Articles of Incorporation, By-Laws, and applications for Exemption from U.S. Federal Income Taxation. In the process of doing this, I filed the Florida CCEF, Miami Accueil, and the FFFA. I was also approached by other French organizations, particularly with respect to obtaining exemptions from U.S. Federal Income Taxation, and the filing of information tax returns.
e-Toile: You are deeply involved in the military affairs. How do you perceive the relations between France and the U.S. in this field?
Steven Edelstein: As I indicated above, France came to the aid of the American Colonies back in the 1700s. In the 20th century the United States, in turn, came to the aid of France during the First and Second World Wars.
Over the past many years, France has made it clear that it will never forget how the United States has helped it, and has demonstrated this, it has been awarding its highest decoration, the Legion d’Honneur, to U.S. Veterans who fought to help free France from Nazi oppression during World War II.
Today, French Troops are fighting alongside of Americans in Afghanistan and other locations around the globe. I know that both the U.S. troops and the French troops have tremendous respect for each other, and aid each other in every way possible. They are brothers in different uniforms, fighting the same battles. I fully anticipate that if France needs the help of the U.S. Military at any time in the future, or if the U.S. needs help from the French Military, each will be there for the other. I believe that our two countries are bound to one another in many ways, including our respective military services.
e-Toile: Since 2014, you are also the President of the FFFA, could explain what are the motives of the organization, and what type of project the foundation is eager to support?
Steven Edelstein: The purposes for creation of the FFFA were originally set forth in its Articles of Incorporation, including promoting greater international understanding between France and Florida, and facilitating cultural, educational, and artistic exchanges between France and Florida. It was also organized for the purpose of promoting visual and performing arts, arranging exhibitions and performances, including music, cinema, theater, museum exhibitions, lectures, and presentations relating to the history, culture, and customs of France. These purposes remain the same today, and FFFA is working to expand and enhance its involvement with French Culture in South Florida.
In 2014, the FFFA helped to create a booklet, under a Grant from the Florida Secretary of State, tracing the 450 years of French involvement in Florida. It helped with fund raising for the 2015 visit of the Hermione, the reconstructed replica of the original French ship that brought Lafayette to the American Colonies, with news that Louis XVI was sending ships and troops, to help the Continental Army. Although the Hermione did not visit Florida at that time, it is working to try and facilitate a visit here in 2020. It has worked to support visiting artists, including "Les Arts Florissants", and has facilitated conferences and lectures at various museums here in South Florida, as well as other locations throughout the state of Florida. It is also currently involved in working on "Oui Design", a project highlighting French Design in Miami, New York, and Chicago, which will culminate later this year.
e-Toile: What else do you have at heart for the near future in either of the fields that you are so involved in?
Steven Edelstein: First I should point out that this past year, we have worked hard to create a Tri-Party Agreement between the FFFA, the French Consulate, and the French Cultural Service, which should help facilitate expanding the number of cultural events that can be presented throughout Florida, which, as President of the FFFA, I intend to pursue. Beyond this, I will continue to assist FIPA, the FFFA, the FACC, the CCEF, Miami Accueil, UFE France, the French American Society of Miami, and whatever other French Organizations request my help. For myself, I fully intend to continue doing everything I can to promote the involvement of the French community in South Florida, and the French presence here.
I will continue working with all branches of the U.S. Military here in Florida, and throughout other areas of the world; and I will definitely continue to reach out to our World War II Veterans who served in France, so that they can receive just recognition for their contributions.