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Meet the Bar Leaders: David Chidakel’s poor, humble origins can forge leadership

November 17, 2016 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
David Chidekel started in the music industry and worked in the healthcare industry before he went to law school. Today, he is the first vice president of the Brooklyn Bar Association. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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David Chidekel grew up in the Bronx in the shadow of Yankee Stadium and the great teams of the ‘50s and ‘60s, he likes to say. But as great as those teams were, the surrounding neighborhood was just the opposite as poverty, drugs and violence ran rampant.

With the help of his education, Chidekel was able to rise up out of the neighborhood which was the setting for “Fort Apache: The Bronx,” to eventually establish himself as a pillar of the Brooklyn legal community who is just two years away from being president of the Brooklyn Bar Association.

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“I grew up in the ghetto,” Chidekel recalled. “I was in one of maybe three or four white families in a huge neighborhood. I remember in the third grade, I had a white teacher who would call me poor white trash. I saw people shooting up all around me, horrible violence. It was just craziness. It gives you an understanding of what’s important. Money or titles or clothes don’t really make a person.”

Chidekel didn’t just jump out of the Bronx and into a law career, though. He embarked on a long path that brought him to Kentucky and Florida before winding down in Brooklyn. It all started when he tested into Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.

“I was shocked and all of my teachers were shocked because I was one of the few kids from my school that managed to do well on the test,” Chidekel said. “It was really a turning point because it was the first time that I saw middle class society.”

Chidekel went from Stuyvesant to Hunter College in the Bronx, where he started his career in music. Chidekel, who played conga and Latin percussion and had hair past his shoulders, signed record contracts but never had any records produced. He likes to say that he got past the garage band stage but not much farther, though he did make some memorable friends in the industry and got to meet Jerry Garcia and Duane Allman, among other artists.

His music career ended when his mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and he decided to go to Boston University, where he got a degree in healthcare management. By his late 30s, Chidekel was living in Florida and ran a successful visiting nurse business. However, he said he sold the business when the medical industry began to consolidate, and by 40, he was unemployed again. That’s when he decided to try his hand at the law.

“I wanted to go to law school because it was a career where I thought that I could really make a difference,” Chidekel said. “I’ve always been acutely aware of social issues having been a minority in a minority community. My parents were the old fashioned Jewish community activists. They always taught me to be responsible, and that’s why I thought that I could really do something with a law degree.”

So, Chidekel went to the University of Miami School of Law. He eventually landed an internship with the Brooklyn District Attorney and moved back to New York. He stayed at the DA’s office for five years prior to going out on his own in private practice.

Once in private practice, Chidekel was talked into joining the BBA by Hon. Barry Kamins. He also credited Hon. Jeffrey Sunshine and Hon. Marsha Steinhardt as two mentors who helped to encourage him to get more involved in the legal community.

“It struck me because I was still relatively new in New York and these are bright intelligent people who I could learn from,” Chidekel said. “And we were doing something to help the profession and help the community.”

Today, Chidekel is a fixture in Brooklyn’s legal community. He is the first vice president of the BBA and a past president of the Inns of Court. He also regularly attends social functions thrown by the various other bar associations in the borough. He says it is important for him to get young, minority and female attorneys involved in the various bar associations, something that goes back to his days growing up in the Bronx, and he plans to continue doing that when he becomes president of the BBA.

“I want to continue my work on new membership, particularly when it comes to young people, minorities and women, they need to be well represented within the bar,” Chidekel said. “The BBA Foundation gives out scholarships to law school students and I’d like to expand that maybe even to high school students or just have some of our members go into the local high schools to talk with the kids. I’ve been very lucky and I want to try to help others, too.”

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