Alan Dershowitz’s house is a bit of a mess.
The rooms of his Martha’s Vineyard home are cluttered with half-unpacked boxes from his Cambridge house, which he and his wife sold after he retired from Harvard Law School in June.
Dershowitz, unshaven and dressed in black track pants and a faded blue T-shirt that says “Martha’s Vineyard” in English and Hebrew, looks utterly unlike America’s most famous super-lawyer. Judging solely by appearances, he looks ready to pad comfortably into retirement, with no ambitions beyond a nice walk on the beach.
But appearances can be deceiving. Even at 75, there is nothing retiring about Dershowitz.
Despite leaving Harvard after a 50-year teaching career, and despite publishing a nostalgic memoir last October, Dershowitz says he isn’t slowing down.
“I’m now busier than ever,” he told JTA. “When I was teaching at Harvard, there were limits on how many cases I could take. Now there are no limits.”
Dershowitz’s caseload currently includes the trial of former President Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan and a case stemming from April’s deadly ferry disaster in South Korea.
He also has six books he is writing or plans to write, including one provisionally titled “Abraham: The World’s First (But Certainly Not Last) Jewish Lawyer.” There’s also the opera he’s working on about the Polish Cantor Gershon Sirota, based on Jewish liturgical music.
In addition, Dershowitz wants to create an alternative to J Street, the dovish Israel policy group with which he has frequently clashed. His group, he said, would seek “a reasonable resolution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “with compromise, but without any compromise to Israel’s security.”
He also continues to churn out opinion articles, many of them focused on Israel.
“My theory about writing books is every book is a first draft for me,” he said. “I don’t obsess about them. … I want my ideas out there. Life’s short.”
At his Martha Vineyard home, the walls are covered with a mix of family photos, Jewish memorabilia and maritime-themed tchotchkes.
There’s also shots of him with luminaries such as Shimon Peres and a “rogues gallery,” of former clients that includes O.J. Simpson, who, Dershowitz says, stiffed him on a sizable portion of the legal bills.
Dershowitz leads an active social live on Martha’s Vineyard, moving in high-profile circles. President Obama has rented the house next door. Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen live down the street and have played host to Bill Clinton, with whom Dershowitz has dined many times and even davened once, on Rosh Hashanah. Dershowitz’s poker circle includes comedian Larry David.
He is also devoted to a standing noon lunch date on the front porch of the Chilmark General Store. There he kibitzes with a group of mostly Jewish, mostly older regulars, trading news, gossip and jokes. Upon hearing that a reporter is present, the friends crack that now they will finally spill the truth about Dershowitz — and then lapse into effusive praise.
“The thing people don’t know about Alan is what a mensch he is,” gushed Sharon Bialy, a front porch regular and a prominent Hollywood casting director. “He is so nice, and he is so kind to all the kids.”
Dershowitz estimates — or at least hopes — that he has another 10 productive years ahead of him. Once he hits 85 he will be ready for a more sedate type of retirement.
In the meantime, though, he prefers to remain in the mix while there are still good arguments to be had. In his typology of Jewish lawyers from his upcoming book on Abraham, Dershowitz said, “Clearly I’m the guy who argues with God. For me, the higher the authority, the more I like to argue.”
“I’m just critical of everybody and everything,” he said, adding, “there’s nobody with whom I completely agree, including myself.”