Repairing the World

David Inlander builds bridges between world religions

Published in 2019 Illinois Super Lawyers — February 2019

On an unseasonably cold September day in 1986, David Inlander found himself in the middle of a contentious 45-minute debate with his fellow Chicago condominium board members about whether to turn on the heat before Oct. 1. When the final vote split 3-3, says Inlander, a family law attorney, mediator and managing partner at Chicago’s Fischel Kahn, “I started to pound my head into the table out of frustration. And the woman next to me, Marcia Lazar, put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘David, you must stop that immediately because, No. 1, you’re going to hurt yourself, and No. 2, you need to come to lunch with me tomorrow, because you need to get involved in an organization where you truly can make a difference.’”

The organization was the American Jewish Committee, a global advocacy group. Its mission—defending human and civil rights—resonated with Inlander. 

Thirty-two years later, Inlander is deeply involved with the AJC. He’s currently chair of its Interreligious Affairs Commission, which seeks to improve understanding between faiths worldwide. In this role, he leads AJC representatives at home and abroad in talks with religious leaders. 

In India, they attended an interfaith celebration during the annual Diwali festival. In the Holy Land, they met with 31 Christian leaders in and around Israel. In Morocco, they brainstormed with Islamic leaders on how to promote religious pluralism and fight extremism and bigotry.

Inlander has also met with Pope Francis on three occasions, twice at the Vatican and once at a prayer service at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. That first time, before a small audience of American Jewish leaders in 2013, the Pope spoke out against anti-Semitism, Inlander says, going so far as to pronounce “‘You cannot call yourself a good Christian if you are anti-Semitic.’ A very powerful statement, one that we’ve heard periodically from American Catholics but never before from the Pope.”

Inlander was charmed by Pope Francis’ unassuming personality, calm demeanor and warm smile. “I felt this as a Jew,” he says, “this overwhelming sense that this is a charismatic religious leader who is someone we need in the world.”

Over the past eight years, Inlander, who joined Fischel Kahn fresh out of law school in 1975, has shifted away from litigation and toward alternative dispute resolution, with a major focus on mediation. The seed was planted a decade ago when his co-counsel on an extremely complicated divorce case turned to him and said, “You would be perfect for collaborative law.”

“I had no idea what he was talking about,” Inlander recalls. Two years later, as he was walking out of the courtroom at the close of a grueling 14-week matrimonial trial, his opponent congratulated him on the “great win.”

“I don’t know how you can say that,” Inlander replied. “This was a disaster for this family. It doesn’t matter who won.” 

So he made the switch; he feels it suits him better. “Even during my litigation years,” he says, “I always tried to see if there was a way to resolve cases, because that was my nature.”

Both his practice and his work with the AJC are guided by tikkun olam, a Jewish concept that translates to “repair the world.”

“What I try and do is to impact one person at a time to work to repair something, whether it’s repairing the world, which is basically one of the goals of the work with AJC, or repairing something within a marriage or within their litigated dispute. If you listen and you are respectful and you understand the other, then you can help repair what is necessary in order to come up with creative solutions that are beneficial, whether it’s a family or a community or the world.”

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