(photo credit: PMO)
His American accent noticeable along with the fluency of his Hebrew, new Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel was one of 25 jurists who on Wednesday took the oath of office before being officially appointed by President Shimon Peres.
Three of the new judges were appointees to the Supreme Court, 21 to district courts throughout the country and one to the vice presidency of the National Labor Court.
Hendel, who came to Israel from New York in 1983, settled in Beersheba, where he became an assistant District Attorney in the Traffic Courts, then was promoted to district court judge, eventually becoming vice president of the Beersheba District Court, his most recent position.
Hendel, a graduate of Brooklyn's Yeshiva of Flatbush High School and Yeshiva University, has many former school friends here, as both institutions have an excellent aliya record. Hendel studied law at Hofstra University and is married to Marcie; the two have five sons.
The other two new Supreme Court justices are Uzi Fogelman, a graduate of the Tel Aviv and Hebrew University Law Schools and of Harvard University's School of Public Administration; and Yitzhak Amit, who graduated with outstanding results from the Hebrew University Law School and worked for many years as a successful lawyer prior to being appointed to the Haifa Magistrate's Court.
The thumbnail biographies of the three were read out by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, a change from the usual practice at such ceremonies, in which the biographies of all the new judges are read out by the court registrar; there were simply too many judges on this occasion.
Of the 25, seven are women - a much lower ratio than usual - and none were Arabs or Druse.
Judge Nili Arad was appointed vice president of the National Labor Court, which is headed by American-born Judge Steve Adler.
Noting that Hendel is religiously observant, and not the only observant member of the Supreme Court, Beinisch declared that there are no marked places on the bench - "not a religious seat, not a seat for a woman and not a seat for an Arab." Judges are appointed in accordance with their abilities and values, she emphasized.
Beinisch was particularly gratified by the number of district court appointees, especially in view of the country's increasing violence.
Peres was much more outspoken about the violence, noting the incidents of domestic violence, murder within the family, the barbaric killing of children by their parents, and murders by and among youth - sometimes generated by hatred and sometimes for no apparent reason.
He also condemned violent theft against elderly people who are unable to defend themselves, human trafficking, ugly protection rackets, threats against law enforcement officials, sex crimes and battles between criminal elements in the struggle for power.
He was particularly perturbed by the fact that the perpetrators of such violence are often very young people and that the age level keeps dropping.
"All of Israeli society is under threat. It's a form of interpersonal terrorism," he said, insisting that the fight against violent crime must be in the forefront of the national agenda.
In listing the attributes of a judge, both Peres and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman cited the qualities epitomized by the Rambam: wisdom, humility, fear of God, disdain of profit, pursuer of truth and justice, love of fellow man and a good reputation. To this they also added sensitivity.
Adler pointed out that the occasion also marked the 40th anniversary of the labor courts which were established in September 1969. Over the years he said, the labor courts had become integral to the Israeli court system and contributed considerably to labor relations and social security.