In our fast changing and eclectic world, we have witnessed significant cultural progress in women’s rights over the decades as well as those of in our own communities. Careers that were once considered within the exclusive bailiwick of men have now opened their doors to exceptionally qualified and motivated women.
Sitting with Gina Levy at a local restaurant in the heart of the Syrian Jewish enclave in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn and listening to her life story is one of those instances when the realization that hard work combined with conscientious commitment and intellectual prowess can propel a woman to the loftiest of heights.
A sophisticated, well bred and erudite woman, Levy, 41, is not only a lifelong denizen of the Syrian Jewish community, but has become a great source of pride to the community that nurtured her and watched her grow up.
A proud graduate of Magen David elementary and high school, today Levy is a seasoned lawyer who has thrown her hat in the political ring, as she has recently announced her candidacy for civil court judge in Brooklyn’s 8th municipal district. As she gears up for the September 13th primaries, she offers her unique perspective on the critical nature of public service, balancing home and career and upholding the concept of justice for all.
Asked how she felt about becoming the first woman in her community to run for public office, Levy demurs, and says, “I love the community that I was raised in and have inculcated the strong and healthy values that my family and those around me constantly emulate. I want to share these values as judge in the civil court system; treating each person equitably and with the respect and dignity that they deserve. As a woman, being the best I can be in the court system will be a lasting legacy to people that helped shape my career trajectory.”
It appears that others see it that way as well. Having received the full-throated endorsement of such prominent personalities as Brooklyn Democratic party leader, Frank Seddio, Abadi also got the thumbs up from the Democratic screening committee and a membership in the Thomas Jefferson political club.
“The Democratic screening committee consists of lawyers representing various groups including representatives of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the Brooklyn bar Association, the Columbian Lawyers Association, etc. This process allows for the most qualified candidates to receive the much coveted imprimatur of these attorneys who valiantly represent all segments of Brooklyn’s diverse population,” said Levy.
Having represented litigants on a pro se basis for many years in lower civil court in downtown Brooklyn, Levy has gained a keen understanding of the needs of defendants as she also volunteers her time in the evenings as an arbitrator in civil court. Not an easy juggling routine for a full time mom, assistant to a judge and community leader, but Levy manages to get it all done with a palpable deftness.
Taking a proverbial stroll down memory lane and offering a retrospective of her life, Levy credits the mock trial program that was offered by Magen David High School with motivating her to turn her attention to a career in law and justice.
“When I was a student at Magen David, I was totally inspired by Lola Kahn who was coach for the mock trial program. She was an attorney and a teacher and she infused in me a great interest in learning about our legal system as well as offering me an understanding that laws are the bedrock of our society,” recalls Levy.
Moreover, Levy says that Mrs. Kahn recruited her daughter Deborah (also a lawyer) to help with the mock trial. “It was then that I knew that this was something I wanted to do. I went to college and applied to law school. I then began working for Deborah Khan. It was then that my career really went through an amazing period of growth,” she said.
In addition to graduating from Brooklyn Law School with stellar grades and working at the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Consumer Affairs, Levy also worked for the Cohen & Goldberg law firm on Court Street in downtown Brooklyn as well as clerking for Judge Kurtz.
At that juncture in her professional life, Levy offered her profuse appreciation to Deborah for serving as her devoted mentor and assisting her in getting her career off the ground.
Levy says that she not only wanted to thank Deborah for all that she had done for her but that she really wanted to reciprocate in some kind of tangible way. “I wanted to express my gratitude by taking Deborah out to dinner or buying her a gift, but she had a better idea, “ recalls Levy with a smile on her face.
It was then that Deborah suggested that Levy return to Magen David High School to assume the role of mentor and coach in the mock trial program. “Deborah told me that her mother had left the mock trial program as a coach and they needed a replacement,” Levy explains.
While coaching the mock trial program was not exactly what she had in mind,Levy returned to the place that held so many memories for her. “At the time, I was committed to fulfilling my word to Deborah, (who was doing matrimonial law at the time) so I volunteered to do it for the year.
Fast forward, as they say. Levy has now been the mock trial coach at Magen David for the last 15 years and enjoys every moment of it. “I distinctly remember that the first year in which I was coaching was quite memorable and very impactful for my students and myself, “ Levysays.
At the onset, Levy recalls that her students were so excited to have her as a coach. “They said that we are doing this ourselves and we really a coach to help us. I sat with them. I wrote the materials. I practiced with them. I recruited my friends from law school to judge. Before you knew it, my study group at law school was coaching the mock trial group,” she says.
For Levy , her students eventually became an integral part of her extended family as they often spent time in her home, working on projects. “They ate dinner with my family on a regular basis, played with my kids and even helped put away the groceries from Costco,” she recalls.
“The truth is that watching my students grow up and find careers of their own, whether it be in the field of law or just about anything gives me tremendous joy. Just knowing that I was part of their lives, that I gave back to the school and the community that offered me so much is beyond gratifying,” Levy said .
For Levy, running for a civil court judgeship is also part of giving back to society at large as well as playing a pivotal role in the majestic legacy of Brooklyn public servants. This time however, the public servant is not a man, who is part of the “old boy” network. It is Gina Levy ;a proud Syrian Jewish woman who has “broken the mold” and has dedicated herself to impacting the constituents in which she serves with the kind of ethics and values that are treasured the most.
For further information on Gina Levy, please visit her web site at: www.GinaforJudge.com
By: Fern Sidman