My Father died from leukemia when I was barely a boy of fourteen. He imbued many warm and rich values in me. Likewise, my Mother deeply influenced me on several issues. No surprise. One thing I carry from her is that a Black doctor and his family moved into our all-White Brooklyn neighborhood. Soon, the real-estate blockbuster vultures were leaving flyers, and all the Caucasians ran to Long Island — the Italians, the Irish, the Jews, the Poles. It is similar to the way that Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of “Ben & Jerry’s” and Brooklyn’s Bernie Sanders all fled racially diverse New York for Vermont, which assured them the opportunity to become multi-millionaires amid an apartheid lifestyle in a state that is 97% White.
A beautiful Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn — the area in the East 50’s, just before Ralph Avenue, at avenues like Glenwood Boulevard, Farragut Road, and Foster Avenue — changed overnight.
My mother was the only one who would not leave. She loved her house, decorated and renovated it exactly as she liked, and she saw no reason to run from a Black doctor. We soon were the only Whites on the block. I grew up with that, living as the sole Caucasian on a street that not only was racially diverse, but that was populated virtually completely by Black households.
In the end, all the others sold their homes at good prices, converted their home equity to Long Island, where their home values shot up even more. When my Mom sold her home decades later, as we four kids not only had left the nest, but now had kids of our own, two of us in Southern California and two in Queens, Mom sold to move to Queens to be near her grandchildren and two of the four of us. Mom found that, with her house mortgage completely paid off, her house sold for $35,000 instead of the multi-hundreds-of-thousands her former neighbors’ Long Island homes were worth. So the White Flight meant:
1. It was financially smart to flee to Long Island if everyone else is.
2. It is financially foolish to stay.
3. A Black family that tries to move into an upscale upper-middle-class neighborhood could not get a break, because their presence — at least in those days — turned it into the same neighborhood from which they were trying to move up. The Bernie Sanderses and Bens and Jerrys always flee Whiter.
I never know whether this is the day that someone will try to cancel me and call me one of the names that Hillary used to fill her basketful of deplorables.
Years later, my dear precious Ellen of blessed memory and I flew back to Brooklyn for a wedding. We arrived early in the day, and the wedding was at night, so I asked Ellen whether she would mind seeing where I grew up. We rented a car and drove to both homes of my boyhood. Those neighborhoods, once a blend of Jews, Italians, Irish, and Poles, now were 100% Black. And, y’know what? They both still were lovely, tree-lined communities. We had just driven through Flatbush (Avenue J or so, around East 16th Street or so). Without going into detail, hands-down the Black neighborhood was far more lovely and elegant than the Jewish one. I have no data which real estate was pricier; I can infer.
All the shuls of my childhood now were Black churches — Rabbi Ashkenazi's shtibl, Rav Drillman’s Glenwood Jewish Center. So many Torah institutions now were Black churches — because a Black doctor had moved in back in the 1970’s. For all my pain and outrage at the implied racism, I also knew that everyone but my Mom had made the right financial decision, while my Mom took a bath financially, although she always had enough, ultimately experienced the joy of living among her grandchildren, and had kids who saw to it that she always had more than enough.
Years later I went to UCLA Law School. I was seated in many classes alongside a Black woman who had graduated from Harvard. We soon found we had nothing in common — and everything in common. She was “New York sharp,” had the best sense of Catskills-type humor, did a mind-blowing great imitation of a Lawng Eyeland suburban Jewish housewife. She was Harvard-brilliant.
We both were a decade older and life-wiser than everyone else in class. Like me, she had decided after a career of ten years to go back to school to get a law degree. I had three kids then with a fourth en route. She had a daughter. She and I became study partners for two years. We studied together for all our classes. She often studied with me at our home, where I still was married to my first wife. She and her daughter ate over frequently. During the Rodney King riots, we offered her to move in with us with her daughter for a month because she lived in a place near the disturbances, and it was Final Exams season.
Politically, she and I were poles apart. She had Black radical sympathies at the time. I was a JDL supporter, in favor of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s activities to liberate Soviet Jews from Communism. She believed America should cut off support for Israel. I agreed — but for a very different reason: so that Israel would stop feeling pressure from our State Department to refrain from building more Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. It was a time in America where a pro-Black Panther woman and a pro-JDL rabbi could be best friends and study partners.
We ended up both being accepted onto Law Review. I actually was not going to try for it, but she persuaded me to go for it. I ended up Chief Articles Editor, and she ended up Chief Comments Editor. (The former deals with articles submitted by professors; the latter with articles submitted by law students). We were inseparable through law school until the last year when she met the wonderful fellow she would marry, also on Law Review. As her relationship with that gentleman and mutual classmate blossomed, it was appropriate that he and she became study partners and otherwise exclusive.
Moot Court season arrived. You need a teammate if you want to do Moot Court. You don’t have to do Moot Court, but it is a good resumé thing. The President of Black Law Students of UCLA approached me and asked me to be his teammate. I asked him: “Why me?” He told me that several of his best friends regard me as the only Jew in the law school they really respect. All the others walk around with baggy shorts and t-shirts like they are in the “boyz in the ‘hood,” insert the word “man” at the start of every sentence with an occasional “dude,” and hang around like they are Black Wannabes.
“But, Dov, you are the only Jew in this place who is at home in his own skin. You wear that thing on your head. You dress and talk like a White guy dresses, none of this ‘Look how cool I am.’ So I would like to be your teammate.” So we were. We became friends. Years later he became a district attorney in Seattle.
After law school, I clerked for a year in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for the Hon. Danny Boggs. Having lived all my life on the two coasts — in New York City and in Los Angeles — I now was in Middle America, based in Louisville, Kentucky. During vacations, I took my wife and kids to explore America. We did 28 states in depth. Among the places I brought my kids: (i) the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis; (ii) the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered; (iii) the basement museum of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, the church where Dr. King had served as he led the Civil Rights battle. We saw that his church was two blocks from the state capitol, where there is emblazoned a gold star on the spot where Jefferson Davis delivered his first inaugural speech launching the Confederacy.
I brought our family to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in years before they lost their way and became what they now are, and showed them the fountain outside where the words of Dr. King are inscribed, derived from Amos 5:24: “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
When Ellen of blessed memory and I married, we had decided on the two men who would witness and sign our Ketubah, the traditional marriage contract. As I looked around, I saw a gentleman whose wife was one of Ellen’s closest friends. The man, Alan, is Black and had converted to Judaism. He worshipped regularly at the same synagogue we attended. I always liked him. He was middle-aged then, like us. He was a seriously positioned educator in the public school system. I walked over to him quietly and asked: “Alan, have you ever signed a Ketubah?” He said no. “Ever been asked?” He said no. I said to him “Ellen and I would be honored if you would sign our Ketubah. We would like you to sign the top line. Is that OK?” He was shocked. We framed the picture of Alan signing. There was whispering in the room: “Such a prominent rabbi as Dov Fischer, and he is having Alan sign his Ketubah? What’s that about?”
I don’t know what my future holds. In today's Cancel Culture, every time I publish an article or show up to be interviewed on talk radio or walk into a law school classroom, I never know whether this is the day that someone will try to cancel me and call me one of the names that Hillary used to fill her basketful of deplorables.
Among the 2,000-plus law students I have taught these past 16 years, I have had scores of Arab Muslims, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Armenians, Jews, LGBTQs, Whatevers. I treat them all the same. When their lives are falling apart, some of them ask me for private pastoral time, beyond the call of a law school professor, since most of their other law professors do not care about the individual human being the way I do. Word gets around.
I never know when Cancel Culture will next knock on my door. I do not know the methodology I will employ to defend because all the experiences and moments I have described above are sacred and holy to me, not to be leveraged to cover myself. Besides, we Jews squirm when an anti-Semite tells us that “Some of my best friends are . . .” But let no one dare lecture me about racial issues, “White privilege,” “systemic racism,” or about paying reparations to Obama and LeBron James.
As for Black Lives Matter: they are a despicable, anti-freedom, anti-Semitic organization that hates America’s core values of equal opportunity, law and justice, and free enterprise.
I am a taxpayer. None of my children went to UCLA, where admissions quotas for preferred demographic groups — including the children of illegal aliens — remove many seats from the pool available to taxpayers’ children, but they all got into other schools ranked higher than UCLA. And they did not have to join the crew team to get in.
Meanwhile, when I was studying at UCLA Law School, the career-placement office coldly scheduled all my “On Campus Interview Month” job interviews to take place during the weeks between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, so I had to miss my opportunities. I asked the Placement Office to reschedule mine. They refused — because Orthodox Jews are a population group that do not qualify for sensitivity nor for diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. My first-year mid-term exam in Criminal law was scheduled for a Jewish holy day; the oh-so-liberal professor refused to accommodate me.
UCLA Law School graduation the year before mine was scheduled for Shavuot. Leviticus23:21; Numbers28:26; Deuteronomy 16:10. As a result, Orthodox Jews — students and their families — were excluded from UCLA law school graduation.
Privilege? White Privilege? Not for Orthodox Jews.
From the day my father’s leukemia left me an orphan at age 14, with my mother left challenged to feed, house, and educate a family of four kids, I have had to scrap and scrape for everything I ever have had. If I still am a bit rough at the edges, even now, it is because I have had no privilege ever in my life. I had to buy an etiquette book to learn the right way to hold a knife and fork, continental style, and it took a person attending one of my speeches to tell me afterwards that my necktie needed to extend down a bit longer.
Success in life is not about privilege, and no one successful ever got there by whining and by being consumed with jealousy of others’ good fortunes. Rather, it is about taking the cards dealt and learning to play them wisely. It is about knowing when to believe in yourself, when to take a prudent risk built on that belief, and when to desist. It is about knowing whom to consult and understanding what motivates others to encourage or discourage.
I was a boy orphaned from his Father at age 14. I encountered my share of challenges — instances of forceful anti-Semitism in the street and of elegant dignified country-club anti-Semitism at the office, a tough first marriage, moments of profound unfairness at the work place, being targeted by backbiters, and financial setbacks caused by others who took advantage of a young part-orphanwho lacked a father’s guidance while being too idealistic and trusting in the inherent good of all people to realize when I was being cheated and defrauded.
That all is part of life.
Free countries and just societies do not guarantee equal results, only equal opportunities to mess up or to succeed. That is what propelled America to greatness and what changed the economic trajectory of Israel’s “Start-Up Nation” once the shackles of Labor socialism were removed . Not “diversity, equity, and inclusiveness” — code words for repressed diversity of thought and government engineering of people’s lives. Rather: Equal Opportunity.
In such a world, Critical Race Theory deserves a special trash can all its own. And don’t anyone dare lecture me about race.