Jewish Journal

Dan Markel, legal scholar, dies at 41

by Abigail Shrier

Posted on Jul. 21, 2014 at 6:29 pm

<em>Dan Markel</em>

Dan Markel

Legal scholar and Florida State University College of Law professor Dan Markel died on July 19, after being fatally shot in his Florida home on July 18. Much has been said of his prominence in the legal community, which was on its way to legend. But too little has been said about my friend Danny, the man himself.

Danny was abrasive. There is hardly a friend of his (or colleague, I imagine) who can’t remember a time when Danny pushed them past the point of comfort. He used to show up in Los Angeles (where he lived for a number of years, frequenting IKAR and B’nai David-Judea) and invite himself to a Shabbat meal at my home. He’d turn up empty-handed, having just come from some legal conference or another, with an insufficiently sheepish grin and a presumptuously sprawling hug. 

This habit of his — of imposing himself on people and the world — showed itself in his legal scholarship, which was daring (he once argued for the irrationality of anti-incest laws, for example). But I remember it also as a feature of Danny’s personality, and it was one of my favorite things about him. 

For all his intellectual sophistication, Danny was a simple man (the best so often are). He seemed to proceed this way: He was a Jew; the Sabbath was upon us; therefore, he had good claim to a seat at my Sabbath table. Danny was right, of course, and he had extended me the same courtesy, back in 2005, when I was fresh out of law school and single, in need of a seat myself. 

Danny imposed himself again and again on my husband, Zach, and me first by setting us up, and then by pressing Zach to take a flight from L.A. to D.C. just to meet me. He even told Zach where to take me for dinner. The idea of a bicoastal setup was outlandish, but then, so was Danny. Though I like to think Danny respected my intellect, when he goaded Zach into meeting me, Danny focused almost entirely on my physical attributes. This irritated me (later, when I learned of it), except that it did the trick. Danny knew what he was doing.

In the near-decade of our friendship, Danny was always unalterably himself. He spoke his mind freely, never tempering his views to suit his audience. This ruffled flocks of feathers but also won him as many admirers. I remember one meal he showed up to at my home, back in 2009, when things were going very well for him but not for me. Zach and I were struggling with infertility, and Danny was unhesitatingly forthright about his prodigious familial success, his second son on the way. Those boys were everything to him, and Danny saw no reason not to celebrate every second of their existence, whatever the company.

Although he considered himself a progressive, the truth is that Danny was a throwback. A Jew who so thoroughly loved being Jewish — doing Jewish things — that his spirit lifted those around him. He didn’t believe in klal Yisra’el so much as live it. Other Jews weren’t co-religionists; we were his brothers and sisters. He would insist on borrowing your favorite sweater, but he’d also coach your career, check up on your progress, press you to be your best self. You never doubted his love.

Which, in the end, is why it’s nearly impossible to imagine life without him — that a heart so full of love could be made to stop. He had so many hopes and plans for his two little boys, Ben and Lincoln, whom he worried over with febrile intensity and loved that way too.

There’s a Jewish saying that one who arranges three shidduchim — matches that end in marriage — earns a place in the world to come. Danny like to brag that setting up Zach and me, plus another couple he knew, had nearly guaranteed his spot. He had only one match left to go. 

I like to think Danny got his spot anyway. It’s hard to imagine anyone refusing Danny — or that the Almighty could be so chary with a mensch who gave so extravagantly of himself. Zach and I owe him everything. If only he were still here to remind us.

Abigail Shrier (@abigailshrier) is a writer and graduate of Yale Law School living in Los Angeles.

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