This duo rules! Orthodox judge and Muslim law clerk lead by example

This duo rules! Orthodox judge and Muslim law clerk lead by example
Photo by Maya Harrison

This Kings County Supreme Court justice and his law clerk rule in favor of peaceful coexistence.

Judge Noach Dear, an Orthodox Jew, and his court attorney Deema Azizi, a Syrian Muslim, have been turning heads at the Supreme Court since they began working together two years ago, Dear told this newspaper.

“When people see Deema for the first time, they always do a double take,” he said. “With the response, ‘What a combination, an Orthodox Jew with a Syrian Muslim woman — it’s unbelievable.’ ”

Dear, who wears a yarmulke daily, said that he and Azizi, who dons a hijab every day, talk openly about how their backgrounds overlap, including their shared commitments to wearing religious garb, keeping religious-based diets, and daily prayer.

“I could identify with her and her appearance because I wear a yarmulke,” the judge said. “Religious women who cover their hair are often not afforded the same opportunities by the way that they dress, and because of their backgrounds.”

Career-advancing opportunities, however, have not been few and far between for Azizi. The clerk previously served two judicial internships with magistrate judges in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and worked with clients locked up in the country’s notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba as a student at the City of New York School of Law.

But her refugee family’s escape from their native Syria to the United States, and the resilience she learned from that journey, played an equally important role as her legal experience did in landing Azizi her current clerkship, Dear said.

Azizi, whose family fled Syria when she was a child, said her early years spent living under a dictator inspired her to pursue a legal career, so she could learn how to advocate for herself and others like her.

“My family escaped when I was 6-years-old,” said Azizi, who grew up in Bay Ridge. “We did escape that dictatorship in Syria and we came here for freedom. I am grateful for Judge Dear because he gave me the opportunity to be here. He boosted my confidence in my capabilities by accepting me for who I am.”

The key to Dear and Azizi’s success as a team is their ability to present themselves in “an approachable, kind, professional way,” according to the judge’s Senior Court Clerk Suzanne Marsh, who said she has worked with him for three years, and forged her own friendship with Azizi in that time.

“They really came in as working people without any pre-judgement and that’s, I think, a big part of going forward as a team,” Marsh said. “That’s the way a courtroom runs — no pre-judgement.”

Dear and Azizi hope that by bringing the mutual admiration and respect they have for one another into the courtroom, they will inspire even more diversity within the local legal community, the clerk said.

“I think we need more diversity in the court system, because we need to recognize that everyone who walks into the courtroom deserves to be recognized and heard,” Azizi said.

Their partnership sends a powerful message that two people from completely different backgrounds can work together successfully and contribute to the common good, the judge said.

“God was good to me when I took the chance of hiring Deema,” Dear said. “She is our superstar.”