From Our CEO
A 90th Birthday
December 23rd, 2021

One of the consequences of the pandemic is that we’ve become more appreciative of family, time together, and the importance of living more purposeful lives. In that spirit, and recognizing the many Omicron-related concerns currently weighing on our minds, the subject of my last weekly message of 2021 is deeply personal — my mother, Gloria, who turns 90 this Shabbat.

This Shabbat also marks the anniversary of my own bar mitzvah, which appropriately connects to my mother’s milestone. While the Torah portion I read all those years ago, Parshat Shemot, may be best known for the birth of Moses and the burning bush, what has always stood out for me are the stories of the incredible women in Moses’ life — his mother, the midwives, his sister, and in particular Pharaoh’s own daughter who defies her father to save Moses and raise him as her son.

OK, so my mother might not rise to the level of a biblical figure…but in the eyes of her three children, she comes pretty close.

Born in Brooklyn, my mother’s life took an unexpected turn when her father, a lawyer, passed away when she was 12 — leaving her mother, a housewife, alone to care for their four children. My mother describes a household that was both full of love and constantly struggling to make ends meet. She recalls walking everywhere, because she could rarely afford the fare for a bus or subway.

But my mother was determined to follow in her father’s footsteps, committed to becoming a lawyer, something that very few women — let alone Orthodox Jewish women — did at the time.

With no money for law school tuition, or even to buy books, my mother was given a full scholarship. She was one of only four women in her law school class, and like other women law students of her generation, often heard from professors that she was taking a seat from a man. Undeterred, my mother ended up graduating first in her class. That year, 1956, the law school suspended the long-standing practice of having the top student deliver the valedictory address — apparently concerned about the perceived stigma of having a woman in that role.

My mother gained much from her time in law school — including, importantly, my father, a fellow student. After graduation, my parents married and practiced law together for decades, until my mother became a judge in 1979.

My parents’ first law office was a storefront on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, catering mostly to low-income clients in need of legal representation. And throughout their careers, they’ve served as legal lifelines for many with nowhere to turn. Maybe for that reason, from their earliest time together, my parents saw law as a noble profession. And they not-so-gently “encouraged” their three children (and, now, their grandchildren) to follow them into the profession.

Perhaps most satisfying for my mother is the trail she helped blaze for women in the field, including her own daughter.

On the cusp of 90, my mother still works as a mediator. My father, who turned 90 last March, still also practices law with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew. Inspiringly, my parents still see law as a noble profession. No wonder. Whether as practicing lawyers or serving on the bench, they’ve always seen law as a path to justice — a way to give voice to the voiceless. And my parents’ stories — still being written — have indelibly shaped the lives of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Happy birthday, Ma. Your family couldn’t be more grateful for the extraordinary example you’ve set. In my case, it ultimately led me to leave the practice of law and assume this role.

As we wind down to the close of 2021 — another long and very challenging year — I hope we all take the time during this holiday season to express gratitude to those we hold dearest. If nothing else, the pandemic reminds us of the importance of cherishing these relationships.

May the coming year bring a greater return to normalcy, with many opportunities to hold our friends and family close.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom and a healthy and happy 2022.