Nature v. Nurture

Post Authored by: YLS Chair Jeff Moskowitz

You can read on my website that I went to DePaul for law school and Indiana University for undergrad. That I received the Benjamin Hooks’ Distinguished Public Service Award for my pro bono advocacy. That I serve as the current chair of the Young Lawyers Section, am on DePaul Law’s Dean’s Advisory Counsel and Alumni Board. That I am a member of the Chicago Bar Foundation’s and Lawndale Christian Legal Center’s Young Professionals Board, and the Decalogue Society of Lawyer’s Board of Managers. But that’s my resume, and I would rather you get to know me.

Nature v. Nurture. No matter which you believe is most important, we are all shaped by our collective experiences and DNA. When trying to understand someone you must look at where they come from. I remember in grade school we were asked to make family trees, each leaf representing one relative. I think for most of us a name is all we know about our distant family members. I was one of those people. When the pandemic hit and we were stuck at home, my mom starting going through old boxes and she came across something very interesting. It was a collection of notes made by our cousin from her conversations with my great grandmother. From the notes, I learned that my great grandma grew up on a farm somewhere between modern day Austria and Hungary, I learned she immigrated to the US just before WWII and that she left behind a large family.

As an American and a Jew, I am acutely aware of the Holocaust and its horrors. I have visited Auschwitz and Birkenau but to be totally honest, I always felt removed from it. As I read through the notes, I found out that my grandmother and her immediate family left for America knowing that they probably would never see most of their family again and they never did. The reason she never saw many of them, she could not have possibly fathomed when she left. The reason was many of her relatives were killed in the Holocaust. Luckily, a few survived and were able to make it to America, she helped support them when they did.

Less than one lifetime ago, many of the branches of my family tree were abruptly cut off. I was lucky enough to personally know my great grandmother. Even though she was only alive when I was still quite young, I always knew she was a strong woman. Until I read about her past I did not know how strong.

She had my grandfather; he was the best man I ever knew. He was kind, loyal, caring and smart. In Highschool I ran track, once I had a track meet where the skies opened up and it was a full on torrential downpour. My event was last, the stands were empty except for one person. I thought what idiot is sitting in the stands right now, it was my grandpa. He died of a heart attack in 2007. It was the single greatest loss I have ever suffered.

My grandmother attended college in a time when women did not go, she received a certificate in library science. She is tough as nails, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 25. She lost an eye, spent months in the hospital, sustained injuries during insulin attacks, broke her hip, toughed it out through physical rehabilitation multiple times, survived COVID, twice!  She encourages me to reach for the stars and tells me I need to make my dreams happen yiddel by yiddel. A joke that the Yiddish speakers among us will get. When I was a child she would sing “summertime and the livings easy…” to get me to sleep, I recently got a puppy and the song seems to work for him too. She raised two incredible kids.

My uncle was a commodities broker by 19 and a millionaire in his early 20’s. He is the most interesting person I know. He is kind, generous, smart and hilarious.  

My mom is the kindest, most generous and occasionally funny. My parents divorced when I was quite young and my mom was a single mother. She raised me and worked full time as a special ed teacher. She was the first to graduate college in her family, she was the first with a masters and even obtained 60 credit hours beyond her masters.  When I was young we used to do meals on wheels. My mom would drive all over to deliver food to people in need. She didn’t do it because she was on a board or wanted some sort of recognition, she did it because it was right. She is an amazing woman.

I remember how proud she was when I graduated from college and then law school. I was the first to graduate college on my dad’s side and the first to graduate law school on my moms.

My great grandfather on my dad’s side was gunned down in front of my grandpa. My grandpa was a lot of things but a good father was not one of them. My father did his best to not follow in his father’s footsteps but it is hard when you do not have a decent example to follow. My father is brilliant, graduated High School in three years and went to Knox College to become a doctor but dropped out because he did not have the money to continue. A man I idolized in his absence, resented in his presence and ultimately came to understand as I got older.

I hope that I am as smart as my dad, as generous as my mom, as beloved as my grandfather, as interesting as my uncle, as tough as my grandmother and as brave as my great grandmother.

Who am I, I am Jeff Moskowitz, the Chair of the YLS, and am proud to be at your service.

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