Courtroom mavens give back on temple boards

One Century City law firm has assembled a dream team of high-powered leaders — in more ways than you might expect.
March 19, 2014

One Century City law firm has assembled a dream team of high-powered leaders — in more ways than you might expect.

Three partners at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP do much more than work long hours; they are, or recently have been, presidents at prominent local synagogues.

“It’s the culture of the law firm to serve and give back to the community,” said Norman Levine, 64, who practices real estate and intellectual property litigation, and is president of the Conservative Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino. “The firm has a long history of service to the Jewish community.”

His colleagues and fellow presidents — past and present — are Joel Weinstein of Sinai Temple in Westwood and Bernie Resser of Kehillat Israel (KI) in Pacific Palisades.

Arthur N. Greenberg, a founding partner of the firm, encourages the other lawyers to give back to the community, Levine said. Greenberg was a founding member of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Skirball Cultural Center. The firm as a whole has contributed to organizations like The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Free Loan Association, Bet Tzedek Legal Services and the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Levine, who has been VBS president since last May, said the volunteer work has never been an issue inside the firm.

“Maybe at other law firms if they had two synagogue presidents at one time it would be too much of a burden for the firm to carry, but it hasn’t impacted our legal practice,” he said.

Weinstein, 57, who practices corporate and securities law, among other things, said he pursued the position at Sinai, where he’s been a member since 1985, because “I wanted to give back to our temple, and I wanted to build on the successes of those leaders who were past presidents.”

Weinstein said that in his 10 months as president, he has helped enhance member-to-member and member-to-clergy relationships, sustain and boost membership, and answer to the needs of congregants.

From 2007 to 2009, Resser, 59, was president of KI, a Reconstructionist synagogue. A member for 16 years, he was initially inspired to get involved when his children were nearing their b’nai mitzvah ages. 

“We all ask our kids to do this stuff and commit to Judaism as adults,” he said. “I think instead of telling our kids what to do, we need to model the behavior that we want our kids to grow toward. When I was asked to be on a committee, I said yes.”

Resser said that during his term as president, he was taken aback by the similarities between his responsibilities at temple and his work in litigation and real estate; intellectual property; and restaurant, food and beverage law. 

“I was surprised by how much being a lawyer informed my job as temple president and how much being temple president has informed my professional life,” he said. “We need, as synagogue leaders, to be second to the goals of the organization. It’s not about me as a lawyer when it comes to my clients, and it’s not about me as a temple president when it comes to my temple. It’s about the congregation and making the congregation and lay leadership work together when it comes to their goals.”

Practicing law and serving on a board at a synagogue also require the ability to take the reins on issues and complete the work that needs to be done, an area where Weinstein said he’s been helped by his training as a lawyer. 

“Our relationship that we have with clients [requires that] we be responsive, reactive and proactive to them, just like at temple,” he said. “As a lawyer, I developed the ability to set agendas, [which helped me] serve as leaders of board meetings [at temple], welcome fresh perspectives, accept and implement people’s ideas, and set timelines and guidelines.”

At Greenberg Glusker, the three synagogue leaders know the importance of giving back, even if it means adding to their already strenuous schedules. 

“We volunteer what is a tremendous amount of time for our respective temples to enhance the values and benefits that all the members receive now and in the future,” Weinstein said. “We all recognize that we have a place in the world and that we’re here to do our best to make it a little bit better before we leave.”

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