It was during the fall of 1968 when a young Civil Court Judge left a meeting of the Queens County Bar Association with a unique thought. “There are highly respected ethnic-based lawyer organizations throughout. Why not a professional organization of Jewish lawyers in Queens?” he pondered. And so a wondrous idea was born out of an inspiration. The Judge? Leonard L. Finz. The organization? One made up of lawyers of the Jewish faith in Queens County.
The major challenge now presented itself: how do you transform a far-reaching dream and make it into a vibrant-living reality? Judge Finz knew he would have to begin with a select cadre of highly respected Jewish lawyers in the county, and begin he did, summoning each to an initial meeting that could historically be recorded as the first gathering of the “Board” of this new association.
Specially hand-picked, they included, Bernard Hirschhorn, a highly respected lawyer and very close friend; Albert Elegant, Judge Finz’s law secretary; Honorable Seymour Boyers, a law school-mate and dear friend for many years then serving in the New York State Assembly; Wallace L. Leinheardt, an active member of the Queens County Bar Association [QCBA] later becoming its youngest president; Jerome M. Ginsberg [a future president of the QCBA, later receiving a Fulbright Scholarship]; Michael Dikman [a matrimonial law expert, nationally-ranked champion handball player, several years later becoming the president of the QCBA]; Jack Hunter [a close friend, outstanding lawyer, and exceptional tennis player who later became the first Chair of The Brandeis Tennis Trophy Awards]; Burton J. Apat [a recognized expert in real estate law]; Joseph P. Axler [a highly reputed Jamaica trial attorney and bon vivant sportsman]; Morton Povman [a dynamic politcal leader and City Councilman]; Gary Darche [a gifted young attorney, later becoming QCBA president]; Ronald Lebovici [a daily and popular fixture in the courts]; and Oscar Katz, a universally admired and revered elder statesman within the Jewish legal community. But there was one more participant who had to be brought in–one who could offer strategic credibility and validity to the infant organization. And this is how it all came about…
Several weeks before the initial meeting, Judge Finz met with that special person, stressing the need for such an organization, and persuading him that the time had come for full recognition of Jewish lawyers in the county. His name? Donald R. Manes, the then Borough President of Queens and one of the most powerful and influential voices in the county, city and state. Ultimately receiving Borough President Manes’ enthusiastic endorsement was indeed a gargantuan step toward the goal of acceptance –an indispensable component if the ambitious dream was to ever come to life!
The First “Board” Meeting
Held in a corner of the most popular restaurant in Queens—Stratton’s—located on Queens Boulevard and Austin Street [now the home of a large produce establishment], the first meeting was an adrenalin- infused success. That achieved, it was now essential that a strong message be dispatched throughout the Jewish legal community declaring the birth of the new association. Thus, the grass- roots work had to begin, and what better place than the Civil Courthouse [then physically splintered between an apartment building in Kew Gardens where the first four floors had been converted into make-shift courtrooms], and several borrowed courtrooms in the Kew Gardens Criminal Court building, where jointly many of the local Jewish lawyers were regulars at the daily Part One calendar calls… and wherever else they could be found [The Flushing Lawyers Club; The Jamaica Lawyers Club; etc.], persuading each to join this new organization that as yet was without a name.
A Name is Chosen
Judge Finz asked each member of the “Board” to meet in his tiny robing room at the Civil Courthouse] at 5 p.m. The purpose: 1. To choose a name for the organization; 2. To report the level of enthusiasm received from the lawyers solicited; 3. To prepare an agenda for the first general meeting to be held.
As for the name, several were offered, including “The Jewish Lawyers Club Of Queens County”; “Queens County Council Of Jewish Lawyers”; “Queens County Jewish Lawyers Association”; and others. Judge Finz offered the name of the first Jewish Justice of the United States Supreme Court—Louis D. Brandeis—proposing that the organization be named “The Brandeis Association”. The votes were unanimous in favor, and “The Brandeis Association” was as then and there, in reality, born!
The balance of that historic meeting addressed the friendly reception each member reported when speaking to Jewish lawyers; the target date; and the agenda for the first general meeting which everyone agreed had to be accomplished and viewed with supreme success if the infant Brandeis Association was to live beyond its initial enthusiastic burst.
A Venue for the First General Meeting is Selected
All that remained for a successful kick-off of The Brandeis Association was the selection of an appropriate place where the first general meeting would be held. Various locations were considered, but it had to be the right choice. All agreed that the official opening had to be held in a highly respected venue, one that would be consistent with the lofty and idealistic image all were so anxious to present.
As a start, Judge Finz called upon a special relationship he had with the beloved and distinguished spiritual leader of the Hillcrest Jewish Center—Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz. Meeting with him, he asked the Rabbi if he would open the first Brandeis general meeting with a benediction. In addition, he was asked whether the first general meeting could be held at the Hillcrest Jewish Center. The Rabbi’s answer…an enthusiastic “yes” to both questions. Thereafter, a firm date was set.
Almost overnight, The Brandeis Association was becoming the talk of the Queens legal community as word spread. Indeed, the Long Island Press, the most read newspaper within the Queens lawyer’s circle carried a positive and detailed article announcing the creation of the new association following a meeting held with its very dynamic managing editor, Ed Gottlieb – a titan in the newspaper business, and a trusted alter ego of the influential Newhouse publishing family. [We later learned that not only was Mr. Gottlieb completely sold on the Brandeis Association idea, but also that Mr. S.I. Newhouse had echoed his personal support as well, without which, the start-up organization would have had a difficult course].
The First Brandeis Association General Meeting
The initial meeting at the Hillcrest Jewish Center attracted approximately 75 Jewish lawyers and Judges- a staggering number for a new organization at the time.
As for the meeting itself, after Rabbi Mowshowitz’s inspirational benediction that included the need for such an organization in Queens County, Judge Finz opened by introducing Borough President Manes, who followed up on Rabbi Mowshowitz’s uplifting theme. Following Mr. Manes, Judge Finz set out the further goals of the association, thereafter calling upon many of the original cadre, including Bernie Hirschhorn, Wally Leinheardt, Sy Boyers, Morty Povman, Mike Dikman, and others, each of whom pumped up the audience that responded with remarkable enthusiasm.
The next item on the agenda was the election of officers and of the Board of Directors. Judge Leonard L. Finz was nominated to serve as the first Chairman of the Board [a position he held for 8 years]. Borough President Donald R. Manes was nominated to serve as its first President. Both were elected unanimously. Other officers and Members of the Board were similarly elected.
After opening up the floor for spirited questions, each being answered by various officers and Board members, the first meeting was adjourned, but not until time was set- aside for each lawyer and Judge in the audience to join this new and exciting venture. Thereafter, member lists were drawn with the collection of nominal annual dues. A full display of pastries and coffee, surrounded by spirited and enthusiastic conversation finished the evening off – a landmark, and first official coming out of The Brandeis Association.
A Call From the Presiding Justice
Following its first successful launching, The Brandeis Association appeared to be on its way when Judge Finz received a telephone call from the Honorable Samuel Rabin, the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, requesting that he report to his chambers.
When Judge Finz arrived, both Justice Rabin and Supreme Court Justice Charles Margett were there to greet him. After the exchange of courtesies [Justice Rabin and Justice Margett were two of the most prominent and respected Jurists, not only in Queens, but indeed throughout the City, and State. Justice Margett soon became the Queens Administrative Judge and thereafter was appointed to the Appellate Division).
Together, Justices Rabin and Margett had been the founders and leaders of the Queens Lawyers Club, an arm of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies that met once annually for a fund-raising dinner. This singular event and its raising of money for the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies was its sole, but extremely vital project for the year.
Both Justices shared their concern with Judge Finz that the new Brandeis Association could possibly dilute the strength of the Queens Lawyers Club, its important work for Federation, and the deserving charities it supported. Therefor, rather than fragment the Queens Jewish legal fraternity, it was proposed that the Brandeis Association be brought under the umbrella of the Queens Lawyers Club. This however, was resisted strenuously by Judge Finz who countered that the two organizations had completely separate and different goals, and that the emergence of The Brandeis Association would neither compete with, nor diminish either the Queens Lawyers Club or the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, but rather that all could continue to prosper and grow in harmony with each other considering their common and extremely dedicated Jewish roots.
The meeting, however, ended as it began: although a most cordial and friendly discussion was held, The Brandeis Association would in the end, continue as originally planned. [As an aside, Judge Finz in later years was honored by The Federation of Jewish Philanthropies as “The Man of the Year” at its fully attended annual fund-raisng dinner].
The First Installation of Officers
One month following the first general meeting, the first installation of officers was held before a huge audience (since in addition to members, their spouses, family members and friends, were encouraged to attend).
While most of the Jewish Judges of the Civil Court had become members (many being elected to the Board), it was difficult to break through what appeared to be a barrier in front of the Queens Supreme Court and Appellate Division. But there was a plan…
Six years earlier, Judge Finz had served as the County Campaign Chairman for a Judge then running for judicial office, who six years later was now sitting on the Appellate Division bench. Given that entre, Judge Finz requested that the Judge accept the role of The Brandeis Association’s first installing officer. Although reluctant at first, he did accept. His name?…Appellate Division Justice J. Irwin Shapiro, whose high judicial intellect and prolific insightful opinions gave him the coveted moniker of “a Judge’s Judge”. [It should be noted that Presiding Justice Samuel Rabin and Justice Charles Marget each honored The Brandeis Association by becoming installing officers in subsequent years].
Thus, with Borough President Donald Manes, the most powerful voice in the County on the political side, Appellate Division Justice, J. Irwin Shapiro on the Judicial side, Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz on the spiritual side, and the Long Island Press on the media side, The Brandeis Association was now moving ahead on a solid track toward full recognition and ultimate success.
A Constitution is Adopted
The Board met once a month [or more often as the need arose] in the most popular kosher delicatessen in Queens- the Pastrami King- located opposite the Criminal Courthouse in Kew Gardens. For each meeting, “Moish” the manager, who affectionately fashioned himself as an “honorary member of Brandeis”, would set aside a private meeting room, preparing lavish tables where the Board would convene and dine [with many special extras contributed by “Moish”]. Amazingly, except for those members on trial in another county, the attendance was almost always one hundred per cent.
At that time, one of the first orders of business was the development of a constitution. Toward that end, Spencer Steele, a highly regarded lawyer, was appointed Chair of the Constitution Committee, his Co-Chairs being Bernie Hirschhorn, Al Elegant, and Wally Leinheardt.
After hundreds of hours of research, reports, submissions, rejections, amendments, and spirited debate at each of the Board meetings for more that a year, the Constitution was finally approved by the Board, and later ratified at a general meeting- a major accomplishment at the time!
A Memorial Service Honoring a Law Secretary Held in the Supreme Court – A First
Albert Elegant, law secretary to Judge Finz [by then a Supreme Court Justice] died a few days after suffering a heart attack. When the Shiva period passed, Justice Finz made a unique request of his Administrative Judge, Justice Margett, as to whether one of the large courtrooms located on the second floor of the Jamaica Courthouse could be made available from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. for a special memorial service to be held in memory of the late Albert Elegant [which service in part was to be sponsored by the Brandeis Association]. Not only did Justice Margett consent, but he also agreed to open the service with his personal greetings before a standing room only audience including many of the Supreme Court Justices who recessed for one hour in order to attend.
A court stenographer was engaged to transcribe the proceedings. Thereafter, an engraved memorial book was created and presented by Justice Finz to Al Elegant’s wife and two young daughters [one of whom today is a Supreme Court Justice in Manhattan].
Albert Elegant, a gentle, charitable, and universally liked human being, and a past president of The Brandeis Association, was the first law secretary to be so honored –all in the Supreme Court.
Controversial Programs Draw Crowds
Recognizing that meetings required controversial and provocative programs to attract a large attendance, hot button issues of the day were constantly searched out. When discovered, they would find their way into meetings that presented high profile advocates on both sides of the issue. Thus there were such programs as the “GIANT DEBATE”, pitting one “legal giant” against the “other” as in the case of “affirmative action” and college admission. The renowned Jacob D. Fuchsberg [who later became a Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, thereafter becoming the Founder of The Touro School of Law] represented one side. The other, by a well- known radio talk- show host and hardliner conservative. The specially selected moderator was one of the popular and respected reporters of the Long Island Press. The sparks flew, and the crowd roared. But when the dust settled, the evening was a booming success; made even more so by the photo and detailed article appearing in the Long Island Press the next day –The Brandeis Association being reported prominently!
And then there was the explosive front page story of alleged “police brutality’. Through the dogged efforts of Justice Finz and Bernie Hirschhorn, a reluctant Patrick Murphy, the NYC Police Commissioner, was persuaded to appear before The Brandeis Association to defend the position of his department that was under sharp attack. Again, the media, not only the Long Island Press, but the New York Times, Daily News, New York Post, and others, carried the story with photos. As before, The Brandeis Association received huge prominence in the coverage.
Also held was a fiery debate between the combative officers of the Jewish Defense League [a militant group], whose aggressive methods were opposed vigorously by establishment Jewish leaders. Hot words flew and tempers flared during the heated words, but when it was over, they all shook hands, bellicosity yielding to comradery. Again the audience loved the “battle” fray, as the evening proved to be another resounding success.
The Brandeis programs would always contain relevant subjects of controversy and mass interest thus underscoring the message that attending a Brandeis function would be collectively topical, riveting, educational, and entertaining, all at the same time, thus insuring large turn-outs for each event [as Irving Berlin said, “There’s no business like show business”, etc., etc.].
Six Years After Its Birth the Brandeis Association Had Become a Household Name
Justice Leonard L. Finz remained Chairman of the Board during its first six formative years during which period there were eight presidents in all: Donald R. Manes; Bernard Hirschhorn; Albert Elegant; Wallace L. Leinheardt; Michael Dikman; Burton J. Apat; Jack Hunter; and Joseph P. Axler. [The presidents who followed were equally distinguished].
At the same time, The Brandeis Association was growing and maturing through its huge member support, and its many diverse projects. These are but a fraction of its many projects at the time:
- Providing legal assistance to impoverished Jewish families;
- Many written resolutions passed by the Board and directed to the United Nations, White House, Congress, U.S. State Department, Department of Defense, U.S. Immigration Service, Governor of New York, New York State Legislature, Mayor of New York City, New York City Council, other branches of federal and state government, the Anti-Defamation League, American Civil Liberties Union, and other relevant organizations, in calling attention to timely and significant issues affecting the Jewish community in general, and the State of Israel in particular. Each action taken by The Brandeis Association was publicized by the use of detailed press releases sent to all media, thus elevating perception and actuality of the concern and influence that The Brandeis Association was exercising on behalf of the dedicated causes it passionately pursued;
- Successful annual dinners with Brandeis Association awards presented;
- Week-ends in the Catskills with special Brandeis Association golf and tennis trophies presented at special catered ceremonies;
- The inauguration of Brandeis Tennis Championship trophies presented at the Queens County Bar Association annual golf outings [and continuing to this day];
The Brandeis Association Becomes a Powerful Respected and Influential Voice in Queens County
Eight years after its founding, and satisfied that The Brandeis Association had gained full acceptance, had maintained overall strength, had achieved solid depth, had earned wide respect, influence, and a powerful voice, Justice Finz passed the torch to the second Chairman of the Board, Honorable Nat H. Hentel, a colleague and Supreme Court Justice, succeeded by other colleagues and Supreme Court Justices, Honorable Ralph Sherman, Honorable Seymour Lakritz, all followed later by other highly respected Civil Court and Supreme Court Justices, and Barry S. Tivin, a beloved lawyer who also served as president of the QCBA.
In appreciation of his role as Founder, and for his tireless service to The Brandeis Association, the Honorable Leonard L. Finz was elected to the lifetime position of Honorary Chairman of the Board. Thus, the idealistic dream of eight years earlier had become a dynamic reality eight years later. As for the rest…well, the rest is history!