PROVIDENCE – The Cardozo Society, an affinity group of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, met March 22 for the first time in several years. And if attendance was any indication, the group and its programs have been missed: the early evening meeting attracted 70 lawyers, judges and law students to the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center.
The legacies of two prominent Rhode Island lawyers, Robert Berkelhammer and Ronald Markoff, were highlighted during the program. And author and historian David Dalin, a senior research fellow at Brandeis University, spoke about his book, “Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court from Brandeis to Kagan.”
The program opened with brief tributes to Berkelhammer and Markoff, who were also philanthropists in the Jewish community. Bruce Leach spoke about Berkelhammer and Marc Gertsacov talked about Markoff.
Berkelhammer, a Providence native and member of Temple Beth-El, passed away in 2020. Markoff, a member of Temple Emanu-El and a lifetime resident of Providence, passed away in 2022. Members of each family were on hand for the touching tributes.
Dalin followed with remarks about his book, the first history of the eight Jewish men and women who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court. He spoke extensively about Justice Louis D. Brandeis, the first of the Jewish justices, and how he came to the court in an historic appointment in 1916, when antisemitism was still very prevalent in the American legal profession.
“It would have been unimaginable that there would have been an American Supreme Court with three Jewish justices” at the time, said Dalin. But by the time of Justice Elana Kagan’s appointment, in 2010, that was the case.
He told the audience about how the campaign against Brandeis’ nomination was largely because he was Jewish.
“Brandeis went on to become one of the most important justices to sit on the Supreme Court,” Dalin said.
Dalin also spoke about each of the other Jewish justices, their time on the court and their religious lives.
About Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo: “he was the only Jewish justice not appointed by a Democratic president.”
About ensuing years: “With Brandeis, there was a tradition of a Jewish seat on the Supreme Court for 24 years,” until Abe Fortas resigned.
“In following the lives of these eight Jewish justices, I found that antisemitism played a steadily declining roles in their careers,” Dalin said.
Susan Leach DeBlasio and Jeff Prystowsky chaired this meeting of the Cardozo Society, whose mission is to strengthen relationships among legal professionals in the Jewish community through educational, social and philanthropic activities, as well as community involvement and opportunities for leadership. For more information, contact email@example.com.
FRAN OSTENDORF (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.