Yale graduate, Harvard Law School, stand-up comic, observant Jew. Meet the irrepressible Diane Faber.
Diane graduated from Yale University in 1983, Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude, having completed two majors, History and Classical Civilization and somehow managed on the side a women’s a Capella singing group that toured the country. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1987, Diane joined the firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillps LLP in Los Angeles where she still practices today.
While an associate at the firm, Diane performed nightly as a standup comic in clubs in Los Angeles and New York for five years. She loves making people laugh but ultimately stopped accepting regular bookings when she came up for partner in her firm.
Diane specializes in the entertainment industry and has represented a wide variety of music and motion picture superstars, executives and studios in contract, copyright and personal disputes both in court and in private arbitrations and mediations. She was admitted to the Supreme Court bar last year, and has seven published decisions that bear her name.
In her spare time(!) she teaches public speaking at a small private girls’ school.
Diane is an observant Jew who makes it a priority to find time for learning Torah and doing myriad acts of kindness. She also found time to meet with Aish.com. We asked Diane how she was able to embrace such a multi-faceted life.
WALKING ACROSS EUROPE
My father had grown up very poor. My grandfather, whom I never knew, left his ten siblings and walked across Europe at the age of nine or eleven, depending on whom you ask, and got away before the rest of the family was taken to Auschwitz. He watched what was happening from America, and got the letters he wrote to his family in Auschwitz returned, “no such person”.
This greatly affected my dad. So from his perspective, the end of the rainbow was always family, home ownership and a comfortable, safe life. My older sister and I grew up in the San Fernando Valley where we went to public high school. We were the standard American nuclear family of two. My parents were very invested in the desires of post-war America -- to own a home, to have their kids go to college, to live a decent life in a free country.
At Yale, I rejected anything that would make me seem different or inferior, including Judaism.
They inculcated us with the values of accomplishment and decency. My father’s biggest compliment to me is that whatever you have, you never stepped on anyone to get it.
My parents were both Jewishly identified but they did not share a religious conviction. Since my grandfather left his family before he was Bar Mitzvahed, he didn't really have much to give over as a Jewish father. However just before my father's Bar Mitzvah, the local synagogue (an orthodox one actually) took him in and trained him. He was called to the Torah, which was a very powerful experience for him.
He was not much of a synagogue goer at anytime after that, until he had children. When his father died, they didn't know any rabbis. At the funeral, the officiating rabbi who eulogized my grandfather didn't know him at all. It was very apparent at the funeral and my father was devastated. It was so painful that he still talks about it 50 years later. He then made a pledge to himself that he would always have a relationship with some rabbi, so that at the end of his life he wouldn't just be thrown into a casket without any sense of who he was.
When he had children, my father sought out a synagogue and every Friday night we went to services with him.
My mother was from the Russian side of the family and very reform. Remarkably when I was in my 30's, my mother's mother confessed to me that she grew up in a kosher home, and they kept Shabbos. She was one of nine children and they lived in a farm town in Iowa. It was a very unusual Jewish life.
It was very important to my parents that my sister and I knew we were Jewish, that we cared about being Jewish. But it was equally important to them that we succeed in the secular world.
FAST FORWARD: COLLEGE YEARS
I didn’t want to do anything that was too Jewish in college. I was very enamored of being at Yale and the people there were very wealthy and very worldly, and those two things appealed to me greatly.
They were from very accomplished families -- the children of Senators and Presidents and actors. Jodie Foster was a year behind me. I was very impressed with everyone, and I rejected anything that would make me seem different or inferior, including Judaism.
I went to law school because I couldn't think of something else to do. Fortunately I was able to go to Harvard and after that, I got a job working as an associate in a law firm. That was very, very hard for me emotionally, just to get up every day and sit there in that office. Although I had joined a firm know for its “good lifestyle”, it was still very oppressive. I'd lived a very charmed life up until then. I'd spent a year in Europe and after law school I went around the world by myself. I was in all kinds of weird places and eating interesting food and then suddenly it's the daily grind and routine, five, six, seven days a week of work, endless piles of paper.
I was floating in my pool in the backyard when I decided that I needed to take an art history class. I don't know where that came from. I got the UCLA extension catalog and all their classes in art history were at times that were impossible for me, so I took stand-up comedy instead. I had a taste of that running a cabaret in college. It makes you feel very sparkling and alive especially when you’re in a job that’s very routine.
At the stand-up comedy class, I met Rabbi Steve Baars who worked at Aish HaTorah. There were about 20 people in the class and it was obvious that he was a religious Jew -- he wore a yarmulke, had a beard and all of his humor was about the Bible.
I always laughed at the rabbi's jokes whether they were funny or not, because I wanted him to feel good.
My father had always told me that when a rabbi asks you do something -- you do it. So I always laughed at his jokes whether they were funny or not, because I wanted him to feel good. And when he invited me to join his family for Shabbat dinner, I went. I always found the company interesting, people who were educated, bright, dynamic, and excited about Torah. But I wasn't the slightest bit interested in traditional Judaism.
Rabbi Baars would call me periodically, just to check in.
“Diane, we never see you anymore,” he'd say.
And I would reply, “I'm not friends with you. Why would you see me?” But he just kept calling and calling. I was sick once and his wife Ruth called. “I have this pot of soup simmering on the stove. Why don't you just come over and we'll take care of you?” and I kind of pathetically limped over there.
The real crossroads came for me when Rabbi Baars asked, “Why don't you come to a class at Aish?” I wasn't interested in going to Aish, I didn't want to go to shul and I didn't want to go to a class.
“Well what if I came to your office and we learned there?"
And I said, “Since I've read The Iliad and The Odyssey in the original Greek, and found that to be really the way to get to know a book, let's start at the beginning of the Bible and read it in Hebrew, translate and discuss it.”
So he came every week for three months and we sat and learned. He'd come into my office in the middle of the day. I was totally mortified, wondering what people thought was happening in there!
Then the Baars packed up to move to Washington and I couldn’t stop crying. I realized at that moment that there was something really valuable to me in this learning of Torah and going for Shabbat, beyond humoring them and just liking them. When they left, the loss was something unacceptable. So they connected me to the Katsof family, who connected me to the Cohen family when they, in turn, left. I felt like the ward of the state.
Over time I concluded that I was irrefutably confronted with the reality that God exists and He wants Jewish people to live according to Torah. I don’t regret that conclusion: It’s good to know that I’m not being self-destructive and wasting time and living a confused life -- making the same mistakes over and over again, living a life that goes against my true purpose on earth. I believe we are supposed to live in a Jewish community as opposed to not knowing who your neighbors are. It’s funny: I have a colleague who is embroiled in a very hostile boundary dispute with his neighbor that is absorbing all his time and energy. Two Jews fighting over a tiny slice of earth in exile! In the meantime, my neighbors and I are thinking of cutting a gate between our yards so we can each benefit from the other’s property (their kids can play in my grassy yard and I can swim in their pool)!
Even though it was a clear intellectual decision, I have to say that I was also impressed with the unity of the community and particularly the way they respond to crisis as a group. It’s all the little things that may not be that inspiring individually that add up to paint a whole picture of a life that protects the weak and the needy, whereas I think the secular way of life protects and rewards the strong. When I saw how it worked in practice, I realized that it had the mark of the Creator on it.
But I probably would never have moved into the more observant Aish community if it weren’t for the attack. It's the one experience in my life where I strongly felt that it was micro-managed by God.
I closed my eyes and I said to myself, "God, please don’t let him rape me. Don't let him scratch my face. I want to live. I can basically deal with anything else."
One night, I woke up and the light was on in my room. Right beside me was a disheveled man, up to his elbows in my underwear drawer, rifling through it, presumably searching for valuables. Between us was the phone, my only chance to get help.
He held me down and was going to rape me. I closed my eyes and I said to myself, "God, I need three things: Please don’t let him rape me. Don't let him scratch my face. I want to live. I can basically deal with anything else." I opened my eyes and without explanation, the man got off me, got off the bed. As clear as anything I have ever known, I knew the Almighty was answering my prayers.
The man forced me into my car and took me all over Los Angeles. Originally, he was driving and I realized from his driving that he was vision impaired. He told me that he had one eye shot out by the police. So I told him I needed to drive. We went to an ATM for cash. We drove to Venice; he was looking to buy drugs. Then he wanted me to drive him to downtown L.A. He got to where he wanted to go and as he went upstairs, I said, "I'm not going to be here when you get back."
Throughout the ordeal I tried to treat him with respect so that he wouldn't get angry. He knew where I lived, so I wanted to get his permission to leave. I felt that if I gave him his dignity, he wouldn't need to chase me down again. It wasn't just to get away; it was to go back to my life.
"I'm going to go home now," I said. "I'm really tired and I have a brief to write."
“Okay,” he said, as if we were now friends. Then he reached into his pocket and gave me back my credit card and a bunch of stuff he'd taken out of my jewelry box.
When we had the trial a year later and I faced him again, I could see in his face that he really thought that we were friends. He was completely mystified that this was a criminal act that he had performed because it had all been so civilized between us. In trying to keep him from becoming violent, I had apparently been nicer to him than he was used to.
His mother was at the trial. She looked like a little old church lady, with her white bag, white shoes and reading glasses. At the end as I was leaving the courthouse, she came to the exit door the same time as I did. Out of habit, I held it open for her because she was elderly. It was a strange moment. I said to her, "I’m really sorry." She said, "Thank you,” and I could tell she really appreciated it.
I felt that her burden was so much worse than mine. I felt she had an experience there that she could never recover from, hearing about her son’s criminal behavior, and I knew I would eventually recover and move on.
The criminal justice system is very much a game between the state and the defendant and managing how to sort out the wrongdoer’s relationship with the state. It’s not really about helping the victim process what’s happened. In fact the prosecutor kept trying to classify this a rape crime, and I kept insisting that I hadn’t been raped. It was almost annoying to her because she could have done more with it if I had been raped. It would have been an easier plea bargain for her. I felt that the procedural aspects of the system are both its beauty and its shortcoming.
I had talked to God and He talked back to me.
One thing I learned from the whole experience is when taking a deposition, or even just talking to a friend, we can all listen a lot better than we do. I realized during the trial that I wasn’t being heard for what I wanted to say, and I experienced how painful that can be. And with the attacker I learned that once someone feels they’re really being heard, you have a whole different relationship with that person.
On the one hand, after the attack, I felt euphoric. It was exciting. I had a conversation with God and He actually responded. In my moment of saying, "God, I cannot do this!” He could say "Okay, I'm not going to put you through something that you can't take." I had a dialogue with God!
On the other hand, I just could not fall asleep in the house.
I wanted to get back to my life and I wound up moving to a Beverly Drive apartment which was in a high security building in a religious neighborhood. I needed the support of a community. The day that I moved in there, I sat on the floor and I just wept.
It probably took three years for me to return to “normal”. After the attack, I developed asthma, had six weeks of chicken pox, and four surgeries. While all that was going on, I went through a rough time at work .I’m grateful to my firm for keeping me on throughout the whole trauma and its long aftermath. People have said to me, “What happens to you in a week doesn't happen to other people in a year. It's like The Perils of Pauline."
My goal for the future is to find the best way to use all of my skills and life experience for the good of the universe, whatever that turns out to be…I’m open to new challenges, new friends and I’m sure I’ll have new adventures. Most importantly, I hope to meet my soul mate, marry and have a family. That is the yet unexplored frontier for me, and I am ready to throw myself into it completely.
Diane had to cut over interview short, as her typical day’s juggling resumed…