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Thursday, November 21, 2019

At the 13th annual Jewish Law Symposium, close to 800 legal professionals were serenaded by a violinist playing “Fiddler on the Roof” tunes. After a plentiful and delicious cocktail hour, Chabad-style, Rabbi Shalom D. Lubin, founder of the prestigious event, a project of the Rabbinical College of America, sounded the shofar signifying the month of Elul.

Rabbi Lubin welcomed everyone including the dignitaries and distinguished panelists. This year, the symposium, which is geared to attorneys throughout the state of New Jersey who have an interest in exploring, studying and debating the ethical and moral dilemmas facing the legal community today from both civil law and Talmudic law perspectives, had a “Fiddler” theme.

The discussions for the 2019 symposium centered on the timely topics of persecution, immigration and tolerating tradition, augmented by five clips from “Fiddler on the Roof” shown on big screens. This year, before the presentations, Rabbi Lubin acknowledged two teens, Oliver Simon and Sophia Smith, as recipients of the first-ever Teen Visionary Award. Rabbi Lubin noted their Jewish values in being “a light unto the nations” by delivering leftover homemade meals to help the poor.

Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court James R. Zazzali (Ret.) introduced Justice Barry T. Albin, featured presenter, to discuss ethical lessons from “Fiddler” as they relate to the legal community. Zazzali, who said he watched the movie on Turner Classic Movies while preparing his presentation, said Albin is a great friend to non-citizens of New Jersey, and a custodian for help and hope for those who need it most.

Zazzali called Albin a 14-hour-per-day worker who is devoted to his wife and two boys just as he was to his parents and brothers, going on to call him a Renaissance man. Zazzali gave a shout-out to Governor McGreevey in the crowd, stating that appointing Albin to the Supreme Court was the best thing he did for the state.

He suggested that Albin resembles Justice Brandeis in so many ways, especially in his fight for the little guy, while including reverence for law and justice. Before turning over the mic, Zazzali thanked Albin for being clever and kind, for his integrity and intelligence and for being a mensch.

Noting with fervor that courts do not operate in a vacuum, Albin declared that an enlightened public is the most important thing for the courts by reiterating U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert’s famous line in the Obergefell case, “Just who do we think we are?” A self-proclaimed “Fiddler” junkie, he wove lines from “Fiddler” into the speech, such as Tevye’s, “One little time I pulled out a thread / Where has it led?” Speaking of traditions in law, Albin mentioned, “We have our traditions in law…why do lawyers say, ‘May it please the court?’ when they know their argument will displease the court?”

Albin ended by receiving uproarious applause for a rendition of the one-person Fiddler parody he performed at a Wilentz Law Firm party while working there before becoming a member of the bench. “Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles” he chimed, they named him to be a justice.

Albin’s remarks led to the evening’s panel discussions. The topics for the four featured panelists, Lawrence Lustberg, Esq., Barbara Byrd Wecker (Ret.), Christopher Porrino, Esq. and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, were introduced with clips from “Fiddler.” They covered topics including what lawyers face in accepting cases and offering pro-bono legal services, which had Lustberg chant a round of, “If I were a rich man.”

There was also discussion on changing traditions, with a new breed of lawyers opting for a balance of life, and not willing to put in the grueling hours of the prior generation. Porrino noted that not everyone today wants to be a partner in a law firm. The partners in the firms are battling to become open to change and listening to young lawyers and their demands for change in tradition.

To sum up the panel discussions, before taking home her honey-glazed challah giveaway, Shelley Slafkes, Esq., from the Maplewood law firm of Levitt and Slafkes, P.C., stated, “I found it both interesting and illuminating how the panelists tied one of my favorite plays, “Fiddler,” with my experience as an attorney. It truly gave me a new view of “Fiddler” and my traditions both as an attorney and a Jew.”

By Sharon Mark Cohen