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  2005-12-28 Orly Lobel
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2005 blog


'Balance' is key 
to Israeli professor

San Diego Jewish Times, December 28, 2005


By Donald H. Harrison 

There are good reasons why Orly Lobel likes to speak about “balance.” She is excelling as an assistant professor of law at the University of San Diego while raising two daughters, ages 3 ¾ and 1 ½ . She is a Jewish professor at a Catholic university.  The seventh generation Israeli is an accomplished practitioner of the Indian practice of yoga.

 “Balance” also is the underpinning of a legal approach that  Lobel observed first hand while serving as a law clerk to Israeli Supreme Court Justice Itzhak Zamir after graduating first in her class from the Tel Aviv Law School.

Lobel researched and drafted opinions in some important Israeli cases in which “balance” and “pragmatism” rather than “ideology” or “philosophy” helped the court to reach its opinions.

Orly Lobel on the University of San Diego campus.  {Donald H. Harrison photo}

While eating a sensible salad during a recent lunch-time interview at USD’s Faculty Club, Lobel recalled for me one particular law case—one that was so volatile that it prompted an estimated 30,000 haredim to demonstrate outside the Supreme Court building during the justices’ deliberations.  The question before the court was whether haredim—whom the western press usually calls the “ultra-Orthodox”—should continue to be excused automatically from Israel’s military draft, notwithstanding the fact that other Jews are required to serve in the Army?

The court didn’t answer the question with a clear  “yes” or “no,” but instead opined that this was a decision too sensitive and too important to be left to lower level governmental ministries to decide through rule-making.  Rather, Israel’s legislative body, the Knesset, needs to consider this question and make clear and decisive laws.  The court gave the Knesset several years to consider the issue, with the result that the matter is now again returning to the public spotlight.

As I thought about this decision, I realized this was not exactly the kind of dramatic ruling we Americans like, one that would settle the matter one way or the other.  But it did temporarily defuse the situation, while putting the responsibility for responding to this national issue on the Knesset, whose members can be held accountable to voters through the election process.

In general, I think that Israelis tend to be more pragmatic than we are.  For example, in the matter of Israelis versus the Palestinians, something in our American psyche wants the whole controversy to be resolved right away—if only someone could come up with a once-and-for-all-solution!  Israelis, I  have come to believe, are far more sophisticated; they have adjusted to the idea that the issue may never be resolved—certainly not in their lifetimes—but it can perhaps be managed well.  True, neither side will be the absolute victor, or the absolute loser, but there could be a ‘balance” of interests.

After serving as a court clerk, Lobel came to the United States where, as a graduate fellow, she studied at Harvard University Law School and came under the influence of Harvard’s Kennedy School of  Government.  While she was about it, she also commuted between Harvard and Yale Law School, where she taught some classes.

Ultimately, Lobel forged a specialty in the administrative and employment law areas, writing scholarly articles exploring such issues as the ways government and industry can work together to develop new work-place rules that are well adapted to changing global economic realities.  She explained that during the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s  “New Deal” through approximately the 1960s, the government’s approach was “command and control.” In other words, government told industry what it had to do, and how to do it.  Now, she said, there is greater emphasis on collaborative schemes by which the U.S. government articulates a goal, and devises structures within which industry can participate in the decision making on how those goals can be attained.

I told Prof. Lobel about my own concern about government-private partnerships, at least in so far as they involve faith-based charities.  I worry that certain groups serve up heaping doses of religion along with their government-funded rehabilitation programs. Lobel responded that a strict separation model—“no touch,” you could call it—could be rife with problems if it excluded organizations, just because they are religious, from the process.

“I think that a country can be democratic and protect freedom of religion while using the positive energies of faith and the organizations that people are supportive of,” she said. “Of course, people should look at the options they have.  Is it only the Salvation Army (through which the government is offering a social program), or is there a secular or Jewish alternative? I believe that as long as people have choices in these programs… there are creative ways to help people in poverty.”

She didn’t say it , but I could almost hear her thinking that word again—“balance.”

Lobel met her husband On Amir when both were serving in the Israeli Army.  They were married in Israel in a Reform ceremony, which necessitated a second, civil, marriage in Cyprus.  Only the latter marriage is recognized by Israel’s religious authorities, but  Amir and Lobel consider their wedding anniversary date to be the day of  the Reform ceremony in which they read from a ketubah they both had prepared.

While Lobel pursued her graduate studies in the law, Amir obtained a doctorate in business from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and now teaches marketing at UCSD.   The couple’s daughters, Danielle and Elinor, attend UCSD’s preschool, and the family is considering affiliating at a  local synagogue.

Talk about distinguished lineage: Lobel’s triple-great grandfather, Zalman David Levontin, was the first general manager of Bank Leumi and a founder of the settlement of Rishon Lezion .  Her mother, Talma Lobel, is a dean at Tel Aviv University. Her brother Dory is a guitarist who has performed in concerts with such musicians as Jesse McCartney and the Back Street Boys. 

Banking, academia, rock music, all in the same family. Dare I say it? It’s a matter of balance.