Making A Difference… Community Spotlight With Leonard M. Friedman Bar Association President Eliezer Cohen, Esq.
Judicate West

We like to periodically shine a spotlight on organizations that are doing good work in the community.  We recently caught up with Eliezer Cohen, a partner at Sacramento-based law firm Gavrilov & Brooks, who is serving as the current president of the Leonard M. Friedman Bar Association (LMFBA). He shares how the organization teams up with other regional groups through the Unity Bar to increase the effectiveness of each organization’s mission to encourage a more diverse and respectful legal industry. He also discusses LMFBA’s steadfast commitment to stand against hate and its collaborative, community role in the wake of rising antisemitism. 

What is the mission of the Leonard M. Friedman Bar Association?

The Leonard M. Friedman Bar Association, formed in late 2008, is named in honor of the late Justice Leonard M. Friedman, a prominent member of the Sacramento Jewish community and jurist who served on the Sacramento County Municipal and Superior Courts, as well as on the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District. The LMFBA’s mission is to serve as an educational resource, voice, and forum for Jewish attorneys and judges on issues relating to the practice of law, the courts, and the community. Membership is open to anyone who supports LMFBA’s mission. Law students are welcome to join at no cost.

Why is the organization personally special to you?

The LMFBA provides a way for Jewish lawyers, judges, and law students to form long-lasting friendships and network both personally and professionally in a way that was not possible prior to LMFBA’s formation. I have made many new friends through my involvement with LMFBA. I also appreciate the opportunity to engage with the wider Sacramento-area legal community while introducing them to LMFBA’s values.

What are some specific ways that LMFBA is addressing diversity issues in our legal community and beyond? 

We are very proud to be a member of the Unity Bar of Sacramento. This past year, we co-sponsored or otherwise supported events organized by every Unity Bar member organization. For example, along with Women Lawyers of Sacramento, we co-hosted a program eligible for MCLE Elimination of Bias credit that discussed bias and antisemitism. We were proud to partner with the Sacramento Filipino-American community in the showing of “Opening Doors: Holocaust Haven in the Philippines,” a documentary film describing the Philippines’ provision of safe harbor to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. We actively look for ways to partner with members of Sacramento’s diverse legal community, whether it be through programming, joint events, or simply supporting diverse organizations’ activities through financial sponsorship, advertising, and/or enthusiastic attendance by our membership.

Along with the Unity Bar and the social and MCLE events we organize, LMFBA is proud of our law student mentorship. We hold at least two events each year for students from Sacramento-area law schools—a Fall dinner during the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot and a Shabbat dinner each Spring semester.

I’ll add that the Sacramento-area Jewish community is small relative to other parts of the country. I’ve received numerous calls from lawyers and law students either new to the area, or who have lived here or nearby for a number of years, excited to join the LMFBA to participate in our events, network, and grow their careers.

Are there specific LMFBA events or programs that you would like to highlight? Can you tell us more about the annual Unity Bar Dinner and that association?

We were very proud to have organized the 2023 Unity Bar Dinner. The Unity Bar was founded 35 years ago and is an association of the Asian/Pacific Bar Association of Sacramento, the Cruz Reynoso Bar Association, Leonard M. Friedman Bar Association, SacLegal (Sacramento’s LGBTQ+ Bar Association), Sacramento Filipino American Lawyers Association, the South Asian Bar Association, the Wiley Manuel Bar Association, and Women Lawyers of Sacramento.

The Unity Bar holds an annual dinner that provides members of Sacramento’s diverse legal community the chance to celebrate each community’s individuality while communing together as a unified group. The dinner also raises funds for law student scholarships and recognizes the people and organizations that provide charitable assistance to Unity Bar members’ communities. Each year, one Unity organization hosts the dinner with a theme, food, and entertainment unique to that group’s culture.

LMFBA’s theme for the dinner this year was “Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue,” a quote from Deuteronomy 16:20 that commands Jews to actively seek out and uphold justice while working toward a fair and equitable society. At the dinner, we were honored to introduce the Sacramento legal community to food and music from Jewish communities whose ancestors settled in Eastern Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Ethiopia.

In addition to the annual dinner, the Unity Bar actively encourages diverse attorneys to consider becoming judges and has worked to create Unity Bar organizations throughout California.

Reflecting on the global current events of these past months and the surge in antisemitism, any final thoughts to share? 

The October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and subsequent war against Hamas has awakened an alarming wave of antisemitism and hatred towards Jewish people here in the Sacramento region, across the United States, and throughout the globe. Antisemitic incidents in the United States have risen more than 300% from last year, ranging from antisemitic graffiti and swastikas placed on Jewish homes, storefronts, and cemeteries, to physical assaults resulting in death, death threats against Jewish families and college students, and genocidal chants to eradicate all Jews. There has been an extremely disturbing pattern of antisemitic messages and assaults on college campuses, and even in law schools, which should be places of physical and emotional safety, mutual respect, and decency.

The Leonard M. Friedman Bar Association is appalled by this wave of antisemitism, and we feel the Jewish community’s increasing alarm and fear. We cannot normalize or become indifferent to the proliferation of such heinous acts.  

The sharp rise in antisemitism must be unequivocally condemned and stopped. We will continue to speak out against all forms of hatred, and we condemn hate speech of any form, which has no place in Sacramento, the United States, or anywhere in the world. We hope to engage with all members of the legal community to educate others about this disturbing trend and encourage joint efforts among our diverse communities to reduce this prejudice.