Because people used to say "We won't work with a Jewish Lawyer"

I am lucky to be a Jewish lawyer in 2010.
When I leave early on Friday for Shabbat dinner no one bats an eye. When I ask to spend the Jewish high holydays at shul instead of at my desk, I get emails of “enjoy the holiday” instead of snubs in the hallway.
But Jews weren’t always welcome in the practice of law. Even in our progressive, hip Twin Cities, it used to be that clients would say, “sorry, but we won’t work with a Jewish lawyer.” Many law firms said that too.
Do you know about those Jewish lawyer experiences? Have you heard them told? Or do you shy away from those stories, scared of what you’ll hear?

This Thursday evening, May 27th, the Twin Cities Cardozo Society, a joint project of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Jewish Federations, is hosting an event called “Personal Perspectives of the Twin Cities Jewish Lawyer Experience in the Last Half Century.”

The event will be presented by the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, an organization that has conducted more than a dozen oral interviews with lawyers in the upper Midwest, most of whom entered practice after World War II. The interviewees were a diverse group that included successful practitioners in large and small firms and a variety of practice areas, judges and social justice crusaders. The interviews focused on the subjects’ family background, education, career and community involvement as they related to their Jewish identities.
The Jewish lawyers sharing their stories on Thursday’s panel include Judge Roberta Levy (b. 1937), Mel Orenstein (b.1926), Morris (Moe) Sherman (b.1935), Ken Tilsen (b.1927) and Arthur Weisberg (b.1926). JHSUM volunteer and attorney Helen Rubenstein will be moderating the panel.
Thursday’s event will be “their chance to tell their stories,” said Maslon Law Firm attorney and member of the Cardozo Society Steering Committee Haley Schaffer. “We tried to select people on the panel with different experiences so we can understand the different kinds of barriers that existed for Jewish lawyers and to see how far we’ve come.”
Thursday’s Cardozo Society event (Click here for the event invitation) will be held at the Fredrikson & Byron Law Firm (200 S. 6th Street, Suite 4000, Minneapolis). Reception with hors d’oeuvres at 5:15pm; Program and Discussion from 6:00 – 7:45 pm. Dietary laws followed. Space limited (and the event is sure to be popular). Please RSVP to Terri Miranda at [email protected].
If you can’t make it to the event, all interviews have been transcribed and are a permanent part of the JHSUM archives. If you aren’t already a member of the Cardozo Society (a great opportunity to network with Minnesota’s Jewish lawyers and attend Jewish legal programming throughout the year), email Terri Miranda at [email protected].
But since no one in “our” generation will be on the panel, I want to pose a question to you, and encourage you to think about it as you attend (hopefully) the event on Thursday.

What does it mean to be a Jewish lawyer today? And would you consider yourself a Jewish lawyer? Or a Lawyer who happens to be Jewish?

Add your thoughts in the comments below.

(Photo: Jasoon)