Bronx Beat

David Markus wields gavel, wears rabbinic shawl

Posted

Correction and clarification appended.

When Albany’s political crisis of 2009 put control of the state Senate into question, with both Democrats and Republicans at one point claiming leadership of the chamber, a sense of chaos permeated every room and hallway of the New York State Capitol.

A top lawyer for the Democrats found one place where he could gain perspective on the tumult: the capitol’s roof.

On many mornings, David Evan Markus, who had just begun his religious training at the time, would step on the couch in his fifth-floor office, open his window and walk onto a roof with a picturesque view toward State Street.

“The pressure was so severe, the craziness of Albany was so unprecedented, I think, that someone saw me do that and thought I was going to jump off the roof of the state capitol,” he recounted. “They thought I was going to commit suicide. No, actually, I was going to clear my head.”

While regular visitors of the capitol building got used to the sight, Markus brought other lawyers and acquaintances with him onto the roof, where he gave practical and spiritual advice.

“I found myself doing pastoral counseling on the roof of the New York State Senate,” said Markus, who is known as Rabbi David to his congregants today but eschews the title in his government work. “It was the best training I could have gotten in terms of how to create opportunities for reflection, refinement and prayer. Because, let’s face it, the times and places that we need these things tend not to be opportune moments.”

Once the leadership crisis ended, with Democrats regaining control of the Senate for a period, Markus remained as special counsel for the majority until 2010. He went on to become a judicial referee — a judge in all but name — for the State Supreme Court in Westchester, a position he still holds.

Fateful meeting

In the meantime, a unique spiritual journey continued. Today, he is the co-leader of Temple Beth-El of City Island. He described his path to that role with a sense of wonder, often remarking that he was “the last one to know” that what he was doing was characteristic of a rabbi’s calling.

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