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  • Justice for Dan

Remembering Danny on his 50th Birthday



Today, on what would have been Dan's 50th birthday, we honor his memory by sharing the thoughts of those whose lives he touched. Here are the words shared at his 2014 memorials by:

  • Dan's rabbi, Shaul Robinson

  • His very oldest friend, Mitch Belman

  • His dear high school friend, Avery Kolers

  • His dear law school friend, Tamara Demko

Please join these with your own, and tag #danmarkel #justicefordanmarkel

 

Rabbi Shaul Robinson


Members of the family, this is the most heartbreakingly sad day for all of us.

Having listened to all the beautiful tributes that have already been paid, I realize that I have nothing new to add. It has all been said. We have heard what a friend, a mentsh Dan was. How he loved people and created this unique sense of love and friendship wherever he went. I am proud to say that Dan was a close friend, but I realize that that is a statement that hundreds of people can make with complete sincerity.


But I think the very fact that we have all said the same thing today reinforces what a unique person Dan was. We all know people - we do this all the time - where we are one person with family, another kind of person at work, someone completely different with college friends as we are with new friends. That wasn’t Dan at all. Wherever he went, whatever circle he was in, he was the same Mentsh. The sages speak of the importance of being ‘echad bpeh vechad blev’ - consistent - ‘tocho k’boro’ - the same on the inside as on the outside - that was Dan.

I knew Dan because I was his Rabbi at Cambridge University in England when Dan was there for two years, I officiated at his wedding, and entirely thanks to Dan’s gifts for friendship we remained close until this day.


I am really here today because I feel a tremendous sense of Hakarat HaTov - gratitude to Dan. When I met Dan I had just started my Rabbinical career. I had been the Rabbi at Cambridge for just a few weeks when we met. I of course was very uncertain, and very much in awe and feeling completely out of my depth and unsure of myself. And sometime during that year Dan sent me an email - I so wish I had kept it, but I remember it almost verbatim. And it was the most incredibly encouraging email - Dan laid out what he thought I was good at, pointed out my strengths and capabilities and was so positive and upbeat, i have never again received another email like that. And from that day on, I had a real sense, that ‘I can do this.’ And I will be forever grateful to him.


There is a phrase we use in our liturgy - it comes from the Bible, an adjective to describe the personality of the biblical Daniel. “Daniel, Ish Chamudot’ - Daniel, the beloved man, the man of pleasantness, affection, love.


And that was Dan.


We have already heard what an incredible connector he was. The outpouring of comments this week on so many blogs and Facebook are testament to that. And in reading these comments I am struck with amazement. I never knew that the human heart could be so vast, large enough to contain so much room for so many people.


Dan was so very smart, and so accomplished. He worked so hard on his legal scholarship, and when he was awarded tenure he was so happy and proud of his accomplishments. And of course he devoted so much time to his family. And whenever I look at those beautiful pictures he used to post of his beautiful Ben and Lincoln, you can see the love and the adoration he had for them and how playful and fun he was as a father.


And even after all that dedication, and that love, he still had time for - us. For me, who happened to have been his rabbi nearly 20 years ago, and for countless others, he found the time - he made the time, to be this unique Ish Chamudot, funny, wise, talented, engaged, caring, encouraging, wry, silly and utterly loyal and steadfast friend.


And I wonder, really marvel, how was he able to find so much time, to devote so much of his heart, to so many people.


From time to time Dan and I would discuss religious, spiritual matters. Dan loved Judaism, Israel, the Jewish people. He learned a lot of spiritual lessons during the breakup of his marriage. He wanted so much for the boys to have the same love of Judaism as he had, it was so important to him. My heart broke over and over again as he revealed to me some of the struggles he was going through, and he always felt that if only he showed more good will, more patience, all would be well.


After his divorce we had a long conversation where he explained to me some of the things he felt Rabbis should know about what it was that he had been through.


But Dan wanted so much to love, and had so much love to give, and was so happy that he had found someone and was creating a loving relationship again.


The love here in this room today is palpable. The tributes have all been so moving, I feel so unexpectedly uplifted. But I want to confess that I have another emotion that I want to express today. And that is anger. And I want to say to this monster, whoever you are - “ How dare you? - How dare you take our Dan away from his parents, and from his children and from all of us?” With every fibre of my soul I will pray that those guilty of this obscene crime be swiftly brought to justice and punished and made to understand this evil thing that they have done, this world they have destroyed.


In our tradition, it strikes me that we have two different ways of imagining, describing the souls experience in Olam Haba - the world to come.


We speak, in the El Maleh Rachamim prayer, of the soul having ‘Menucha Nachona’ a proper rest. In English we use the expression ‘Rest in Peace”


But Dan did not want to rest, he did not need to rest, his rest has come far too soon. But there is comfort in our faith that the soul enjoys bliss and peace in the world to come. I am sure Dan would have appreciated the Maimonidean idea that the world to come is a cerebral, contemplative experience, an eternal accumulation of knowledge and understanding.


But as well as rest, we have another aspiration for the soul. We say ‘May the Neshama have an Aliyah’ - May the soul rise - higher and higher, stronger and stronger. When the good deeds - the seeds that a person plants in his lifetime blossom - when his children mature and reach adulthood, when Dan’s influence on all of us, as so many speakers have so beautifully expressed - changes us, makes us, as Dan was, more caring, more loving, more thoughtful, bigger mentshes - then Dan’s soul rises higher and higher, stronger and stronger, more and more a force for good in this world.


Dan, we love you, and we will miss you for ever.


 

Mitchell Belman


Hi there, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Mitchell Belman. I’m lucky to have known Dan for a long long time. In fact, I have the distinction of being Danny’s oldest friend, or so he liked to tell me. And I liked to hear it! Our long history was something that was comforting to me, because no matter how far away he lived or how long between visits, we were always able to be incredibly direct with one another, to cut out the hyperbole.


We first met at summer camp around 30 years ago, and became fast friends. Unlike the pledges made to so many other camp friends, we actually did keep in touch in the city. Our sisters were friends, and eventually our parents as well. Our families both had places up in Thornbury, so through our adolescence we got to spend lots of time together.


We had a great community of people up north, spending weekends and holidays with a core group of families. Sometimes it was movie night, other times we’d play games. Danny developed a reputation for being unbeatable at Trivial Pursuit… “how could he be so good?” we wondered. Then one day we saw him bringing a stack of cards out of the bathroom! Case closed.


Danny and I both liked to be active. In the summer we’d play tennis, go swimming and for bike rides. In the winter time there was skiing. At 14 years of age we were lucky enough to go on a trip with our fathers to Aspen. We felt like men, out in the big mountains! We were so exhausted at the end of each day, I think we were asleep by 8pm on most nights…


For a time we worked during the summer or on weekends doing shipping and receiving at Asta Fashions, Phil’s business at the time. Unpacking boxes full of merchandise was not the most exciting or intellectually stimulating job ever, but being there with Danny was always fun. We would often talk at length like SNL characters Hans & Franz as we ripped open the plastic packaging protecting the clothing… “Neck, shoulders, abdomen, fleeep!”


Back in those days, Ruth would call us her “Young Boys of America”. We would go to the movies, read magazines or spend time looking for rare CDs at Ed’s Record World. I was lucky to spend time with Danny’s family regularly, and I learned that he had a nickname that just would not go away: Bozo or more affectionately Bo. I think it was a name just for his family to use, but I adopted it as my own. I never asked him if this was what gave him the motivation to go to Harvard or not…


As we got older, of course we matured, but Danny never lost his joie de vivre. He laughed when I called Harvard “America’s McGill”. In the early days of email, he would write regularly and wax poetic about every detail of his Shabbat meal. At my wedding, he danced as if nobody was watching. He would always greet me with a smile, a hug, and we’d sit around and talk for hours about life, love, and possibilities for the future.


He had a zest for life, was a true romantic, and a dear friend. Bozo, you will be greatly missed.


 

Avery Kolers


My name is Avery Kolers. I got to know Dan in the 2nd half of high school at Forest Hill.

Dan wasn’t like other people. He had these broad horizons. He knew about stuff, and read about it, and cared about it, and wondered about it. At the time I was all Blue Jays and Bruce Springsteen. Dan would say, “you want to go out and hear some jazz tonight?” I’m pretty sure no one had ever said that to me before. And I’m all, “sure,” as if I do this every day. And then Dan says, “great. I think I’ll go read for an hour or so, and then I’ll call you.” And no one had ever said that to me before, either. Consequently, I learned so much from him, things great and small. I learned from him how to be interested in stuff.


Dan brought his friends along on an intellectual adventure. And I should say about the people I got to know through Dan, too: they were smart but unpretentious, people who could have a conversation that was simultaneously serious and funny. Dan was the keystone, the one whose questions and observations started us going, and whose jokes or humorous asides would keep the tone light and the pace fast. Every idea was open for irreverent examination, not because it didn’t matter, but precisely because it did.


“Irreverent” was Dan’s word for this attitude. But I think the irreverence was just a symptom of a basic humaneness about his approach to the world around him. Humaneness is when your world is at once both big and small: it’s big because your concern and affection extend to all the four corners, and backwards and forwards in time. Yet it’s small because you are focused on this particular person you’re with, right here, right now. Dan once referred to this as a love of the present moment. That was Dan’s world. It was at once the biggest world there is, and the smallest.


When I think of the many, many ways Dan influenced me – things as silly as insisting on tomato in your grilled cheese and crying “injustice!” if it should be served without, and as profound as his retributivist theory of punishment – what I hope most to learn from him now is that humaneness.


 

Tamara Demko


Many have wondered why Dan Markel was so special, why his friends in New York, Boston, Florida, across the nation and globe have been so particularly grieved by his loss, having already organized multiple memorials, memorial funds, and even walks in his name.


It's taken me some time to find the words I've wanted to say. I am sharing this publicly for people to know who Danny was, although it is quite personal to me, and to share this with his other friends who loved him dearly:


Danny was one of my best and oldest friends, close from our first week of Harvard Law School to the last several years both living in Tallahassee. He was my classmate, my waltz partner, my constant, my advisor, my confidant, my dear friend. We shared past, present, and future. I love him and I always will.


Many have spoken of Danny. He was indeed a prolific writer, a brilliant mind, an innovative scholar, professor, mensch, and friend who was devoted to his family and faith community in every way. His contributions to the legal and academic communities are well-documented in more than 30 published articles, in his writings and commentaries on PrawfsBlog, and in the minds and hearts of the countless colleagues and students he inspired and influenced over the years, whether as a resident tutor at Lowell House during Harvard Law School days, a traveling fellow and scholar, or a full professor of law at Florida State University in Tallahassee.


There has been a tremendous outpouring of grief, love, and support from friends, family, colleagues, students, and communities, not just in Tallahassee where he lived, in New York where he often traveled, or at Harvard where he attended college and law school, but from across the nation and around the world. From formal memorial services to gatherings of remembrance, people have spoken this past week and will continue to speak of his life and how he personally touched and changed their lives.


Why? How could one man have such an impact on so many? He was not an actor, politician, or preacher. How could so many feel his loss so deeply?


While no words can ever hope to fully capture him, so many stories provide wonderful glimpses of him. I knew Danny’s heart, and so I will start by talking about his boys.


He had a dozen nicknames and terms of endearment for those he loved, most especially for Benjamin and Lincoln, who were Ben and Lincy, Ben-Ben and Lincabus, Cubby and Dewey, the little bears, the delicious ones, little love balls of light, his wonder balls, and the magical ones. They were indeed magical to him, for he was in awe of them in every moment. They opened his eyes and heart to life and love in an even deeper way. As a kohen in the priestly line, he loved teaching them about Judaism – faith, tradition, ritual, songs, and the importance of community, going to synagogue, holy days, and Shabbat dinner as a family, and with his extended family of friends.


He was a shamelessly proud and involved Abba. From before birth, through bris, learning Hebrew, swimming, bike riding, preschool, taking them to shul and celebrating holidays, and every single moment in between, Danny glowed with love and pride in his boys. As someone who appreciated fine art, Danny found no art better than that of his sons, and their artwork was frequently displayed throughout his house. As a lover of classical music, jazz, and even more eclectic, alternative music, Danny found no sound sweeter than his boys singing songs of Jewish faith. I now treasure a video Danny sent me one night as we were texting of him singing with the boys as they were getting ready for bed.


Whenever he could, often daily, he would go to preschool just to share snack time with the boys. He was simply one of the best fathers, if not the best dad, you will ever meet.

Jewish or not, if you were within traveling radius and Shabbat dinner or any dinner was to be had, you were invited to join Danny. If dinner was at his house, you were always encouraged to explore the entire contents of his refrigerator and pantry for additional treats. If Danny came to your house, he was sure to have you laughing and sharing stories in moments.


I am so grateful to Danny’s friends for the beautiful stories they have shared that can now be collected for his boys. To the hundreds of people who have donated to their fund in Danny’s memory. To so many who have personally reached out to me to share memories. Every story shines a little more life and light into Danny’s very present memory.


Despite very diverse circles of friends across the world, he managed to be there for his friends. In the last week, he has been referred to as the Great Connector, an Internet before there was Internet. He has also been referred to as the Kevin Bacon of legal academics and as the Johnny Carson of academics, inviting you to the stage, and then encouraging and inspiring you to reach new personal levels. He has been called a Collector of People. The kind of friend who you could not speak to in years, and in a moment of contact, you picked up exactly where you left off. He was quick to foster your potential, to challenge you toward your best, to support you in the best and worst of times. He would drop everything to write a recommendation for a student on short notice. He took the time to share meals and outings with his students, to learn about their hopes and dreams.


He was a seeker of truth and justice, an exceedingly insightful man, unafraid to hear and believe the hardest of truths, unafraid to tell you what he was thinking, unafraid to love and support his friends, unafraid to show emotion. He was truly a man of wisdom and discernment. Friends have recounted when they met Danny. He did not beat around the bush but went into meeting someone with the confident assumption that you would be great friends and that, as such, it was his place and duty to learn the most important personal things about you within minutes of meeting you. Many friends have laughed describing how this felt odd when Danny would learn about your family and dating history upon meeting you, but they quickly realized that was just a part of who Danny was. He truly cared about you. He was fully present whenever he was with you. And that quick level of intimacy he so easily achieved led to deep personal connections and diverse circles of friends.


That he had a hundred best friends was true. He opened his home and kitchen to friends regularly. He went to the gym regularly. He was a keen observer of fashion, often providing helpful hints and delivering, with a playful smirk, amusing comments at his friends’ choice of clothing over the years. He recently noted that I had worn the same jeans two weeks earlier. I had absolutely no idea that I had. He was able to give constructive critique and disagree on fine points with friends and colleagues alike and yet still manage to remain a friend.


Danny was unforgettable. His 3rd grade girlfriend wrote me to say how she still has stickers he gave her. A law school classmate wrote me to say that despite only talking to Dan once or twice a year, Danny’s death was hitting him very hard. He recalled to me how he remembered Danny and I becoming instant friends our first week of law school saying, “you were like two pieces of the same puzzle, finally reunited.” After 17 years, through loves and losses, children, distance, and closeness, that remained true for us.


I am blessed to have had him as a part of my life throughout these years. From waltzing with him in law school, to many walks around Harvard Square and Tallahassee’s Lake Ella, nights of music, dancing, and dinners wherever we happened to be in the U.S., intellectual discourse and debate, discussions of Judaism, meeting up for our children to play together, and countless hours sharing our deepest of truths and understandings over meals, on the phone, or at his home, he was my dear, beloved friend. I watched him grow and evolve over the years from a political philosopher and thinker whose photo could easily represent everything a Harvard student and future professor should be, to an even greater lover of life with his boys. He seized every moment. He lived every moment. He took such joy in his family, his Jewish community, and his larger communities in the U.S., Canada, and around the world. He took joy in gathering his friends and meeting up with them during travels.


He took joy in his students and in his scholarly works. He loved to teach and shape young minds. He changed views on criminal justice through his Confrontational Conception of Retribution and writings on shaming punishment and the death penalty, among others. In grossly simplified and imperfect terms, he believed that communication with the offender in the context of retributive punishment was necessary to avoid innocent people being shamed or punished, to fairly allow for explanation and understanding of violation of social expectations and legal norms, to affirm that the actor had free will. He believed in just retribution, not revenge, in the state being the actor to impartially provide justice divorced from heightened emotion. He would not want anyone publicly ostracized, attacked, or shamed without knowing with certainty of their offense through a state process. Yes, Danny most assuredly would want justice, but only in that way. He would be angry and saddened that his boys will grow up without their Abba, and he would be heartbroken to see so many people torn in two from his loss. He would want us to ensure that his boys knew his heart and his beliefs. He would want us to treasure every single moment. He would love us to all grow and connect, to celebrate his life with joy the way he lived it, with food, song, dance, intellectual debate, and friendship. While none of us are ready yet, I pray that we will celebrate him that way in the future. Many of us want answers to help us transition to a path toward peace in his senseless loss. While we wait for justice, we think of what Danny would do, we lean on each other, and we grieve.


His students past and present adored and loved him. His colleagues deeply respected, admired, and loved him. His family and extended family of friends loved him unconditionally for the unique, witty, brilliantly sarcastic, loving, affectionate, intelligent, sometimes goofy, empathetic, kind, adventurous soul that he was.


No combination of words written or spoken, however eloquent, can fully capture Danny’s spirit, can fully convey his passion for life, can adequately pay him full tribute. Danny gave a little bit of himself to everyone he touched, and his spirit is rising higher and higher, alive and well in Olam Ha-Ba and in the hearts of all who knew and loved him, most especially his children and family. His legacy remains in them to hold dearly and let shine for the rest of the world to know him.


Dear friend to so many and to me. I love him always and I will miss him forever.


Whether you knew him as Dan, Danny, Daniel, Bo, Professor, colleague, friend, or family, his loss leaves a void that cannot be filled.


Dan Markel was simply … irreplaceable.

 

Other Memorials, compiled by TaxProfBlog


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