From The Other Side Of The Bench

By David J. Seidemann, Esq.

I just returned from six days of meetings in Israel, and I could probably fill the next six articles with the details of my trip. Beginning with the flight to our Holy Land, till the cab ride back to my home last Friday morning, the trip was momentous and eventful. The only negative was that many of the Torah sages I would customarily meet with to discuss the complicated situations that arise in the family-law part of my practice are no longer living. There was no meeting this trip with Rav Pinchas Scheinberg, zt’l, or Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, or with Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, zt’l, as there was on my last trip. Their absence from my itinerary was sobering.

I was able to meet with HaGaon Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, HaGaon Rav Nissim Gerlitz, shlita, and HaGaon Rav Aryeh Leib Shtieman, shlita, whom I had the honor of spending close to half an hour with, receiving clear direction as to how to proceed with one particular case here in New York.

I spent an hour or so with a psychologist in Jerusalem who will be rendering an expert’s report in a transcontinental custody dispute. I then spent two hours with the directors of an Israeli organization, Kemach, whose board I am a member of, and six hours in Hebron receiving an update on political, security, and infrastructure developments there.

Then there was something that was not on my planned schedule. While I was waiting for lunch at the Plaza on Shabbos, I chanced upon a Chai Lifeline Shabbaton whose participants were also waiting for lunch. A young man in a wheelchair wheels himself next to me and we begin a conversation. He tells me he wants to be a chef one day. It’s a small world, and after a few minutes we discover that we are related.

Throw in a tour of Ir Dovid (the ancient city of King David), an hour with Rav Moshe Herman in Ramat Shlomo, Shabbos at the Great Synagogue with cantors Adler and Motzen, a few visits to the Kotel, a few shwarmas, and it was time to come home.

So where do I begin? Though perhaps not the most spiritual of all my encounters, the following episode, which occurred on the flight to Israel, was nevertheless instructive.

Equipped with a doctor’s note (bad hip), I proceeded to check in and asked to be relocated to an aisle seat. Good news: an aisle seat was available. Bad news: it was row 60, seat D. For those of you not familiar with the 747, that is the last row of the plane. It is also where everyone lines up for the lavatory; where, at least on El Al, all the minyanim take place; and where all mothers with screaming infants bring their children so as not to disturb the first 59 rows of passengers.

Because of my painful hip, I stood for approximately half the flight. I inquired from the flight attendant if there was a seat closer to the front where I could sit at least around landing time so that I would not be the last one off the plane. That alone could entail an extra 45 minutes of pain.

I was informed that there was one vacant seat in all of coach and that it was an aisle seat. And while I would not be permitted to move there immediately, I could relocate there ten minutes before landing. I’m not sure I understand the logic of that, but I did not want to seem ungrateful. Ten minutes before landing, I grabbed my carry-on and moved to seat 22D. As I was about to take my seat, the man sitting in the middle seat looked at me and said, “What are you doing? You can’t sit there!”

I replied that the flight attendant had told me that I could sit there. He said he didn’t care what the flight attendant said, and that his wife had a bad foot and needed to stretch out over his lap onto that seat. I’m not sure I understood the logic of that, either, but what do I know about medicine?

I returned to the flight attendant and explained my predicament. She informed me to ignore the man and take the seat. I returned to 22D and informed the gentleman that once again the flight attendant had said that I could sit there. I told him that I feel bad for his wife and her bad leg, but I had a problem with my hip, and all things being equal and the fact that there were only ten minutes left, perhaps he could oblige me and let me sit.

He was unyielding. “I don’t care what the flight attendant said; you can’t sit here,” was the response.

By now even his wife was urging him to acquiesce. I finally turned to him and asked, “If I were your brother, would you let me sit here?”

Recognizing the point of my question, as we were minutes away from landing in the home of our “fathers,” my Jewish brother made room for me.

I left Israel six days later with the feeling that real peace between the Arabs and the Israelis is as elusive as ever. Frankly, I never felt as if it was within reach, and I am not sure that in our lifetime it will occur. Nor am I convinced that it must occur in order for the State of Israel to survive.

But one thing I am sure of. In order for the State of Israel to survive and prosper, the rift between the brothers must be resolved. The chareidim, the Zionists, the chilonim, the dati; all of the various groups, parties, factions, tribes; all of the brothers must learn to come together. And if the present leaders of any of the factions are too shortsighted to see the peril of their ways, then they must be ignored or replaced.

Mutual respect, compromise, and a commitment to really understand the value of each brother’s contribution to the land of our fathers will ensure that the brothers will indeed inherit the land. v

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or


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