Touro College Mourns the Passing of its Founder and President, Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander

Date: February 12, 2010
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Barbara Franklin
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New York, N.Y. - Touro College mourns the passing of its founder and only President, Dr. Bernard Lander, who died in New York City on February 8, 2010 at the age of 94. The cause of death was congestive heart failure.

Dr. Lander was a social scientist and educator, an ordained rabbi and preeminent leader in the Jewish community, and a pioneer in Jewish and general higher education. His record of achievement in creating and building new educational institutions was unparalleled. He opened Touro College in 1971 as a small Orthodox school in midtown Manhattan, with 35 male students. Under his tutelage, Touro grew into a multi-campus, international institution that today educates more than 17,500 students at 29 locations in New York, California, Nevada, Florida, Israel, Russia, Germany and France. It has become the fastest-growing independent institution of higher and professional education under Jewish auspices.

Through his years as rabbi, scholar, teacher and administrator, Dr. Lander built his reputation as a man of genius, an advisor to presidents, a sociologist of distinction, a man who moved easily from the Jewish world to the secular world -- but above all, as a builder.

“I’ve lost a friend, I’ve lost a partner, I’ve lost the man who built this great monument to education, a citadel of learning,” said Dr. Mark Hasten, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Touro College and a colleague over many years in building the institution worldwide. “A man like Dr. Bernard Lander comes along once in a generation, or perhaps once in many generations.”

Until nearly the end of his life, Dr. Lander continued to put in full work days in his customary style, which was to multi-task relentlessly – conducting meetings in his conference room at Touro’s central office on West 23rd Street, while taking calls on his cell phone and receiving a seemingly endless stream of visitors.

“Although I was only able to work with Dr. Lander for a few months, I was overwhelmed by his talent and his passion for education and for fellow Jews,” said Alan Kadish, M.D., who joined Touro as senior provost and chief operating officer in September 2009. “He was a unique leader who carried forth a vision that built Touro into a remarkable institution.”

Dr. Lander said he was inspired to launch Touro College after completing a study for Notre Dame University of student unrest on college campuses and concluding that students were reacting to “becoming a number rather than a face.” At the same time, he was concerned about Jewish students losing their sense of Jewish identity. He decided to start Touro, which grew into a vast network of undergraduate, graduate and professional schools that would serve the Jewish as well as general populations. Even within these groups, Dr. Lander strived to serve multiple constituencies – the underserved, the aged, religious and non-religious Jews alike.

“If we are going to be integrated into society, we have to serve everyone,” Dr. Lander told The Jewish Week in an interview in 2006. “We have a responsibility to the needs of the world, to serve humanity and society. And so as we build Jewish institutions, we are also building general institutions, irrespective of the background (of the student).”

Following the opening of its first college for men in 1971, a women’s division was added in 1974. In the late 1970’s, a Flatbush division was established, and in 2000, a new Lander College for Men was established in Queens. The College also organized sister institutions in Israel and Russia. The School for Lifelong Education, offering a non-traditional contract-learning-based program, was organized in 1989. The Institute for Professional Studies (IPS) was established in 1999 to provide higher education with practical applications for the Chasidic community. More recently, Dr. Lander opened branches in Los Angeles, California and Miami Beach, Florida. In addition, Dr. Lander also organized a school of general studies, which catered to new immigrants and underserved populations.

Equally important to Dr. Lander was graduate and professional training. Early in Touro’s history, he established schools of law and health sciences, as well education, psychology, and an international school of business. Over the past 13 years, Touro established colleges of osteopathic medicine in California, Nevada and Harlem, along with associated programs and colleges of pharmacy, and programs for the allied health professions in these same locations. In 2009, Dr. Lander took a major step toward fulfilling a long-held dream of bringing an allopathic medical school into the Touro family of colleges with the announcement of an affiliation agreement with New York Medical College, a 150-year-old institution in Valhalla, New York.

In building Touro College, Dr. Lander had to weather many challenges from segments of the Jewish community. “Since the days of the Talmud, our Sages have maintained different approaches toward the proper balance between the pursuit of religious studies and an occupation,” Dr. Lander once said. “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai believed that only Torah pursuits are worthwhile, while Rabbi Yishmael supported the value of preparing for and engaging in parnasa - in earning a living - alongside the individual’s primary responsibility to religious studies. Touro has established institutions that support both positions.”

Bernard Lander was born in Manhattan on June 17, 1915. His parents, David Lander and Goldie Teitelbaum, immigrated to the United States from Poland. He grew up with two siblings in lower Manhattan, where his father worked predominantly in the garment industry. Dr. Lander attended local public school and at the same time began Torah studies. Early in his youth he left public school and enrolled in the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, one of the first schools of religious and secular studies. In 1929 he transferred to the Talmudical Academy, a high school affiliated with Yeshiva College and the first American high school to combine Jewish and secular studies. Dr. Lander continued his studies at Yeshiva College, where he graduated with honors in 1936. He studied for his rabbinical ordination at the Rabbi Issac Elchanan Theological Seminary (“RIETS”) and was ordained in 1938.

That same year, he took a rabbinical position in Baltimore at Beth Jacob Congregation and commuted to New York to study for a doctorate in sociology at Columbia University. While in Baltimore, he also worked as a consultant to the Maryland State Commission on Juvenile Delinquency. In 1944, Dr. Lander returned to New York, where he served as a professor of sociology for over two decades at City University of New York.

In 1948, Dr. Lander married Sarah Shragowitz, the daughter of the rabbi of Port Chester, New York. They lived in Queens, where they raised four children. Sarah, who was the consummate Jewish mother and homemaker, passed away in 1995. She nurtured her children and believed in her husband’s ability to achieve his dreams, including building Touro and other educational institutions.

In 1950, he served as president of the Queens Jewish Center where, under his leadership, a school building was constructed. Two years later he co-founded Yeshiva Dov Revel, a major day school in Queens. He also served on the founders committee for Bar-Ilan University in the early 1950s. He was dean of Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School from 1954 through 1969, and reorganized Y.U.’s graduate programs into the schools of social work, education and psychology between 1954 and 1959.

Among his many other accomplishments were his participation in the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), where he served over thirty years as a vice president. He acted as a senior director of a national study on the problems of youth for the University of Notre Dame. He was appointed associate director of former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's Committee on Unity, a precursor to the city’s Commission on Human Rights, where he promoted fair employment legislation and attacked discriminatory quotas.

Dr. Lander also served as a consultant under three U.S. presidents. He was a consultant to the White House Conference on Children and Youth; served on an advisory council on public assistance established by Congress; and was a member of the President's Advisory Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime in the Johnson and Kennedy administrations.

He was the author of "Towards an Understanding of Juvenile Delinquency," published by Columbia University Press, and numerous articles in the field of sociology.

Speaking to a filled ballroom in New York City in 2007, where over 1,400 guests had gathered to celebrate Touro’s 36th Anniversary, Dr. Lander summed up his drive and passion behind his achievements: “One should live a long life, but a life of meaning, purpose and creativity. This is the purpose of life and the purpose of Touro.” Dr. Lander is survived by his brother, Nathan and his four children: Esther Greenfield, Hannah Lander, Debbie Waxman, and Rabbi Doniel Lander; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.