Thursday, 2 February 2017

Goldstein, Cohen, Weintraub & Goldstein

[Media prompt] More than 4,000 lawyers are working in airports around the country in the wake of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Friday that blocks nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.


Goldstein, Cohen, Weintraub & Goldstein

Abe Goldstein was the younger of the two Goldsteins whose names were etched onto the law firm of Goldstein, Cohen, Weintraub & Goldstein’s nameplate, a two-hundred-pound rectangle of polished German steel bolted to the wall behind the reception desk. Abe’s uncle, Alter Cohen, claimed he had scavenged it from a Bremerhaven shipbreaker’s yard in November 1952, on the day before he sailed from Germany to America. It was a piece of hull plate from the MS St. Louis, which, as every Jew above a certain age in New York City knows, was the doomed ship carrying 937 Jewish refugees seeking asylum in the US, which Franklin D. Roosevelt turned away in 1939.

“You see, Abe” he said every now and then, retelling his story, “you are patient enough, you win.”

Abe was disinclined to believe his uncle’s story; he was sceptical a Jewish refugee would, or would be allowed to, lug a hunk of steel in steerage to America. Besides that, even in his physical prime it was unlikely Alter Cohen could have lifted a regular suitcase above his head, let alone something almost twice his weight. But survivors had rights; embellishing the truth was one of them, and he had inferred from an early age that to challenge them would only lead to regret.

Then again, there were times when Uncle Alter’s story, widely circulated within the community and in the media for decades, could be exploited for profit. The initial chaos after President Trump’s executive order blocking nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering America was one of those occasions.

“Abe, Abe,” his father said on the morning all hell broke loose, “take this with you.” It was a photocopy of a feature from Jewish Week more than fifteen years ago on the origin story of the nameplate. “You never know.”

Abe dutifully took it, sliding it into his briefcase as he waited for a taxi to JFK Airport. As usual, his father knew best. A young reporter, Ariel Shapiro from the New York Times, interviewed him, organised for a photographer to visit the office where he posed him next to the St. Louis nameplate, and wrote a long article resulting in an almost immediate uptick in business.

“You did a good job, Abe,” said Uncle Alter. “Three days of pro bono for more than seventy in new business.”

Abe nodded. “I didn’t help a single person, really.”

“It’s doesn’t matter,” said his father. “It’s not about who you help or you don’t help. It’s about business. There’s a rumour that President Obama is going to visit and wants to meet some of the airport lawyers.”

“If you meet him,” said Alter, “and it’s in the papers, then it should be worth at least two hundred days of billable new business.”

Abe looked at the nameplate and understood how much it was worth.

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