The Atrium at Queens Borough Hall’s Helen Marshall Cultural Center was a sea of excitement on Tuesday, December 14, as the Honorable David J. Kirschner was inducted as Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York. In this position, Kirschner, who ran unopposed in the November General Election, will serve Queens residents at the highest level. David’s journey to the top is a celebration for frum Jews around the globe, especially in his hometown of Kew Gardens Hills.
In an interview with the Queens Jewish Link, David credited the open home and exhilarating lively Shabbos experience at the table of Perry Fish z”l for his successful path to Yiddishkeit and law. Fish was a famed educator at Yeshiva University and the Lander College for Men, an erudite lawyer who spread the light of Hashem from his Long Beach home alongside his wife Debbie.
David first met Fish at a Rosh HaShanah experience for Jewish law students at Hofstra University, where he earned his Juris Doctor in 1989. There, while serving as Managing Editor of the Property Law Journal, David slowly saw a model of how to build a religious Jewish family that he emulates daily. A Shavuos experience with Fish and Rabbi Baruch Chait led to David taking on a shomer Shabbos lifestyle that has evolved into David participating in Mishnah Yomis nowadays. This eventually led to David first participating in a Gemara shiur at the Jewish Heritage Center of Queens and Long Island with Rabbis Moshe Turk and Naftali Portnoy, and most recently learning Chovos HaL’vavos with Rabbi Dovid Welcher.
David noted that, despite not growing up with a rebbe/talmid relationship in a typical yeshivah setting, his experiences and influences, and the bond he shared with his grandfather, dashed with a good dose of “mazel,” allowed him to achieve the successes of today. David holds dear the advice of his father, a surgeon, to always be involved in honest work and know it best at your own level. “Do not look for wealth or power; rather walk into a room and be happy to be there,” David reminisced of his father’s encouragement. This led a matured David to lead his life as a cautious optimist and not to be upset that he is missing out, because in the end all works out. “Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest person, who lived his life on the highest level, yet he was the humblest,” said David. “I believe the message is to always evaluate yourself and your self-worth and what value you bring to society.”
At the induction ceremony, Rabbi Herschel Welcher of Congregation Ahavas Yisroel led the invocation. David, president of the kehillah since 2021, found a warm and caring home within the confines of the shul. “A baal ha’bayis needs a kehillah, not a yeshivah or a minyan,” recalled David in the name of the mara d’asra.
The concept of serving in the community seeped into David over the years, despite its roles often being thankless. From 2012-2016, he took on being the co-president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, along with co-president Jennifer Martin, after the passing of Pat Dolan. Counted amongst their successes was ensuring that KGH would not have a bus lane on Main Street. Little League took on a tremendous role in David’s life, starting with being a coach from 2005 until 2012. With the passing of league president Marc Katz, David assumed the role of president of the Jewish Community Youth Baseball League in 2014, a role that he continues to hold today. The league has over 300 youth and serves Queens and Long Island and included his son Dovi who was trained as an umpire. From 2011 through 2014, David was the Rules, Liability, and Compliance Officer. Together with Sam Hershkowitz, David now operates the league with Marc’s vision of bringing together Jewish elementary school-age children from all corners of the Jewish community in one shomer Shabbos league.
David also found a home away from home at Alpha Epsilon Pi, an international Jewish fraternity, where he developed leadership skills and has been on its International Board of Directors since 2018. In 1985, David graduated with a Bachelor of Science with Honors from Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Today, David is a member of several professional organizations, including the Queens and Bronx County Bar Associations and the Jewish Lawyers Guild. At his induction, David was presented his robe by Hon. Mojgan Lancman, Justice of the Supreme Court and Chair of the Brandeis Association, where David has been a member since 2007 and on their Board of Directors since 2018.
To be active within the Jewish community, David took on positions within the yeshivah system. From 2011 through 2015 at Mesivta Ateres Yaakov (MAY), David coached mock trials, spending upwards of six hours at a time working with students. David ensured that they did not miss critical Judaic studies when involved in these activities. Started in 2016, David assumed the role of Mock Trial Program Director at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns in Nassau County (HAFTR), where he teaches his students tips to be able to speak on their feet in an energetic tone that allows them to be better communicators, participate in public speaking without being a parrot, and conduct a cross-examination. And, since 2000, David has served as an assistant adjunct professor of business law at both CUNY’s Queens College and Touro College’s Lander College for Men. Though continuing to teach at Queens, he laments having had to leave Touro upon ascending to the bench, where he saw men coming into his class after spending long days in the batei midrash of Ohr HaChaim, Chofetz Chaim, and LCM. “These men were certainly an inspiration and something that I greatly miss,” mentioned David.
David held other prominent positions in the community, including Jewish Child Care Association (2010-2016); Kew Gardens Hills Youth Center Advisory Board (2010-2016); New York County Lawyers Association, lawyer in the classroom program lecturer; Queens District Attorney’s Jewish Community Advisory Council (2010-2016); Queens Jewish Community Council, Board of Directors (2010-2016); and director of the Association of Law Secretaries to Justices of the Supreme and Surrogate Courts.
David lives his life seeking the challenge of the day and always has an open ear. “Being a judge is a 24-hour/seven-day job that does not allow one to be relaxed,” noted David. “The main challenge is finding a way to bring your personality into the courtroom.” In court, David mastered sizing up a case in an efficient, effective, quick, and proper manner. His down-to-earth mindset helps David run a courtroom in a way that is not overly intense, nor a circus, but still allows him to quickly grasp the value of each case. David is keenly aware that those who stand before him often are struggling with something he may not understand. However, it is always David’s goal to help these individuals take a step forward and make progress. “I explain, it is only you that is standing in your own way. So, step aside and let others help,” offers David, a strong believer in giving someone another chance when appropriate and handled correctly. “I let my sixth sense kick in and speak for each case.”
“I have listened to arguments in cases profoundly affecting people in life-altering ways. But, as much as courts are about accountability, they are also about compassion, respect, and fairness. Litigants and lawyers want to be heard, taken seriously, and have their case resolved with careful consideration. They leave knowing I thoroughly contemplated their circumstances and dispassionately applied the law. Each day and in every case, it has been an honor and privilege to serve the people of Queens County in Criminal Court,” said David.
David spent 11 years in the Bronx County district attorney’s office of Investigations Bureau from 1989 to 1993 and in the Investigations Division, Rackets Bureau, from 1999 to 2007, where he prosecuted white-collar crimes including racketeering, enterprise corruption, extortion, fraud, and public corruption. David also worked as a private litigation associate with the law firm Speyer & Perlberg from 1993 to 1994 and as a solo practitioner from 1995 until returning to the Bronx County DA office, before serving as Principal Law Clerk to two New York State Supreme Court Justices in Bronx County until his appointment to the bench in 2016. While specializing in the direction of covert investigations and electronic surveillance, David successfully litigated and tried numerous cases, several of which significantly impacted legal precedent. To date, David has drafted hundreds of judicial opinions and continues to write and speak on issues of criminal law and procedure for the bench and bar, including search and seizure, electronic surveillance, and bail reform. During his time, David successfully investigated, developed, and prosecuted cases involving organized crime, corruption, misconduct of law enforcement officials, economic crimes, fraud, auto theft crime rings, insurance fraud, and arson, amongst others, having handled thousands of criminal and civil cases.
In the Supreme Court, David understands that the stakes are higher, but it is the same skillset that will help to change lives. “I have seen people change. They look and sound different; sometimes a plea deal works. Overall, the best part of my job is sharing good news and seeing someone achieve redemption, being put on the right path and living up to his responsibilities,” expressed David. “I sleep knowing that I gave every opportunity to those who stood before me; I do not want to act too quickly or respond impulsively. It is the job of a judge to apply the law fairly and dispassionately, not reflexively act and then try to justify it later.”
In 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed David to the Civil Court. There, he served as an interim Civil Court judge and sat in Criminal Court. The mayor discussed with David how a decision on setting bail was made and being a flight risk was revealed as the determining factor. The mayor offered David that there is no legal metric to follow the moving parts of a given case, as each has different circumstances, places, and is a different case. With his instinctive sense, David realized that a judge can never turn off his or her analytics and must listen to all factors available to find a correct and plausible balance. The mayor asked David if his shoulders were big enough for the job, to which David replied, “Well, my shoulders have carried me just fine so far; I have no reason to believe they won’t continue to do so.”
By Shabsie Saphirstein
Photo Credits Yaakov Katz Studios