Growing Up Jewish in America

Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School. In addition to his teaching, Dershowitz is a prolific author who makes frequent media and public appearances, and who is known for his commentary on the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as his work on numerous high-profile cases. As a criminal appellate lawyer, Dershowitz successfully argued to overturn the conviction of Claus von Bulow for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny. He also served as the appellate advisor in the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson.

Dershowitz joined the faculty of Harvard Law School as an assistant professor of law in 1964. He was made a full professor of law in 1967, at the age of 28, becoming, at that time, Harvard's youngest full law professor in the school's history. Dershowitz is also the author of more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence (2007), The Case for Israel (2003), the bestseller Chutzpah (1991), and Reversal of Fortune (1986), which was made into an Academy Award-winning film. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide and in numerous languages.

Dershowitz joined the faculty of Harvard Law School as an assistant professor of law in 1964. He was made a full professor of law in 1967, at the age of 28, becoming, at that time, Harvard's youngest full law professor in the school's history. Dershowitz is also the author of more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence (2007), The Case for Israel (2003), the bestseller Chutzpah (1991), and Reversal of Fortune (1986), which was made into an Academy Award-winning film. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide and in numerous languages.

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Alan Dershowitz: I grew up in a frightened community. I was born on the eve of the Holocaust in 1938. When my brother was born, my mother kept saying she didn’t know whether she would have him in some bunker or in the basement somewhere. We were all terrified of war, and we were all terrified of what was happening to the Jewish community.

It was a powerless community at the time. Hard to imagine today, but no influence in Congress. No influence really in any aspect of politics. It was a community that really felt that they were guests in somebody else’s country. They were second-class citizens. They were tolerated at best and they’d better behave. And it was a community of people who were very patriotic, quite conservative in their outlook toward many things.

People sometimes stereotype the Jewish community as being a very radical community, and there aren’t many secular Jews who were radical during that period of time; some Communist, some Socialist; but in the Orthodox community that I grew up in, quite conservative, quite patriotic, and frightened is the word, I think, I would use more than any other.

The message I constantly got from my parents and grandparents was, “Shush. Still. Be quiet. Be quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t do anything. Don’t make your hosts – the real Americans – mad at you. Whatever you do, do quietly.”

Obviously it didn’t take with me and I reacted, I think, to that.

 

Recorded On: June 12, 2007

 


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