From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
One of the jewels of our community is an advanced kollel, or institution of higher Talmudic learning, named Tiferes Avos. The students are a bit different from those you would find in a typical yeshiva or kollel. Presently under the leadership of Rabbi Dov Bressler, the attendees are older gentlemen, mostly retirees, and they meet during the week and on Shabbos to explore and debate the Talmud. Rabbi Bressler also serves as a dean at Touro College in Brooklyn, where he supervises the business programs.
The kollel is having its annual breakfast in a few weeks in Lawrence, and the guest speaker will be Rabbi Doniel Lander, Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Hachaim in Queens and son of the late Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander, Touro’s founder. I have known Rabbi Doniel Lander for some 25 years, dating back to my days at Touro where I spent two years as an undergraduate, five years working in the admissions office, and four years attending Touro’s law school.
Almost anywhere you travel, be it New York, Israel, Moscow, Los Angeles, or Miami, it is easy to see the impact that Touro has had on the workforce, in the educational setting, and in the Jewish communities. Dr. Lander, z’l, dreamed and dreamed again, and then built upon those dreams, creating educational opportunities for thousands of students who otherwise would have been left out of the process. Machon L’Parnasa, another jewel in Dr. Lander’s crown, is located in Boro Park. The two-year program provides young men and women who in all likelihood never thought earning a living one day would be a reasonable attainment, with exactly that—the golden opportunity to earn an associate’s degree or to continue on to the Touro Flatbush campus to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
Touro’s graduate programs are second to none, and the Touro universe continues to grow.
I have come full circle, as besides my position as a professor of business law at Machon L’Parnasa, my eldest daughter will enroll in Touro this summer and begin what we all know will be a rich educational experience.
The Touro roots run deep—sometimes deeper than you would imagine.
Most of my personal-injury cases are venued either in the five boroughs or in Nassau County. On rare occasions I will accept a case in Rockland County. But a few years ago, when a former client called and said she had been involved in another accident, I was reluctant to accept the case. Her accident occurred in Putnam County and both she and the defendant resided in Putnam County. The practical application of that was that the case would have to be prosecuted in Putnam County, which is quite a distance from anywhere familiar to me.
Throughout the duration of the case, I hired a per diem attorney to make the various court appearances. But the final pretrial conference is one that the attorney who will be trying the case should attend. It’s good to get a feel for the judge, the courthouse, the courtroom, and the adversary well in advance of a case that might have to be tried.
Additionally, by showing up myself, it conveys a certain sense of seriousness in terms of resolving the case before trial.
In both secular and Jewish law, we know how to deal with decisions of prior cases that are at odds with one another. But last time I checked, there were no such instructions on how to resolve a contradiction between driving directions that MapQuest provides you via computer and instructions being hollered at you by your vehicle’s GPS.
Faced with such a quandary, I chose the worst possible alternative and ignored both. I was on my own, exploring parts of Connecticut I had no desire to see, at least not then. Somehow, some way, after almost three hours of travel, I wound up in Carmel, New York. My GPS had redirected to me to what it believed was the Putnam County courthouse. Well, unless court was being held in a barn, and unless my adversary was a cow, I was clearly in the wrong place.
I kid you not; there was not another human being in sight. I turned my car around and drove to back to the last spot where I had seen humanity, and I was properly directed to the courthouse.
Once inside I was impressed by the state-of-the-art courthouse nestled away in the rural surroundings. I took my seat in the gallery and waited for my case to be called. The cases are called alphabetically, and my client’s name began with a “C.” It provided me with great comfort, as my plan was to get in and out in a hurry so I could begin my trek home before nightfall. (It was only 10 a.m. and it didn’t get dark till around 7:30, but when you don’t know where you are going, the trip seems longer.)
The judge, a warm and friendly middle-aged man, was on a first-name basis with all the other attorneys in the room. There are only two judges in that courthouse, and they see the same cast of characters on a routine basis. I stood out like a sore thumb, primarily because I was the only one in the room who didn’t know anyone else in the room.
The judge called my case and I approached the counsel’s table. “I see you drove here all the way from Brooklyn. How are things down there in Kings County?” asked the judge.
“Fine,” I replied.
“Did you enjoy the ride up?” the judge asked. I wasn’t sure if I should tell him how beautiful and relaxing the trip was or if I should tell him the truth. I opted for the truth and told him how I became lost and wound up on Old MacDonald’s farm.
“What would my friend in Brooklyn, Judge Battaglia, say this case is worth?” quipped the judge. I responded, “Millions, your honor. Judge Battaglia was my law-school professor.”
“Mine too,” said the judge, and with that he asked me to approach the bench. He informed me that he too had graduated from Touro Law School, and we began to share stories of the law school in its infancy.
In my wildest dreams I never would have believed that this Putnam County judge had any connection to Dr. Bernie Lander. To Touro, of course. Touro’s graduates are all over the world. But a personal connection to Dr. Lander? Not even MapQuest could have predicted that.
So we spoke. And spoke. And spoke some more about a man whom both of us were close with and whom both of us revered. About a man who did not know the word “can’t,” because if it was something that could be imagined, it was something that Dr. Lander could build.
The anxiety I had felt on my way to Carmel dissipated as I connected to the memories of a giant who provided so much to so many.
As I was leaving, the judge called me back to his bench again and said, “Here, I figured you would need directions home.”
I felt as if I had been at home. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.