In a Hilton Hotel ballroom packed with everyone who was anyone, my father was awarded the B’Nai B’rith Man of the Year Award — the most prominent accolade given by the influential Jewish organization — for his legal contributions to the community. It was a big night.
The award was influenced, in part, by one of Dad’s longtime clients — the all-powerful Pope of Orthodox Jewry, Rebbe Menachem Schneerson. When it came to legal matters, the Rebbe would only speak to Dad, a born and raised Catholic, who he considered “the only real Jewish lawyer.” He insisted that Jimmy remove from the office all the Jewish lawyers who worked for him. “They’re new Jews,” he’d say, and that was that.
Weeks after Jimmy received the Man of the Year Award at the Hilton, Frank Terpil, a top gunrunner for the PLO was apprehended and taken to New York to stand trial. A prominently placed article in The New York Times announced that his lawyer was none other than Jimmy.
The next day, Rebbe Schneerson showed up at Dad’s office with hundreds of black clad Orthodox followers, who spilled out of the building on to Madison Avenue and blocked traffic. Jimmy waited patiently for everyone other than the Rebbe to clear the office. Before the Rebbe can say a word, Jimmy starts.
“We’ve known each other a long time, Menachem, correct?”
Schneerson nods seriously. He was always jovial around Jimmy — as if they were somehow long-lost brothers — but he was uncharacteristically serious that morning.
“Then you of all people should know that I have to take these clients to protect my credibility; so I can win the real cases, like yours.”
Schneerson starts to object.
Jimmy raises his hand. “Between you and me,” and he lowers his voice as if he is about to disclose something in confidence, “when I’m done with this Terpil fellow, he won’t be able to sell a water gun. Yes, he’ll get the best defense money can buy, but I’ll disclose every bit of his network to the government, whether they ask for it or not. He’s as done as done can be. A goy with no joy.”