Rabbi Bernard Lander, the founder and president of Touro College, died February 8 of congestive heart failure at his home in Queens, the college has announced. He was 94.
Lander started Touro in 1971 after spending two decades as a sociology professor at Yeshiva University, where he also served as dean of the university’s Bernard Revel Graduate School.
“Dr. Lander’s passing is a profound loss,” Dr. Alan Kadish, the senior provost and chief operating officer of Touro, wrote in a statement from the school, according to Israel National News. “His vision and leadership has been phenomenal. His care and concern for the Jewish people and all of humanity knew no bounds.”
Kadish, who joined Touro in September, has been chosen to succeed Lander as president.
The Orthodox four-year institution has become an alternative to Yeshiva University.
A social scientist and educator, Lander was named one of three associate directors in 1944 of the Mayor’s Committee on Unity, which eventually became New York City’s Commission on Human Rights.
A statement released by Touro said Lander was inspired to launch the 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.” He found little unrest at small, faith-based colleges. At the same time, he was plagued by the specter of Jewish youth losing their Jewish identity on American college campuses, and envisioned a network of Jewish-sponsored colleges that would combine liberal arts and sciences with Jewish studies.
Lander firmly believed that Jewish studies should be combined with secular education to give all Jews the opportunity to earn a living and support their families with dignity, the college said.
Initially a single small liberal arts and sciences college for men with Jewish studies — Touro grew into network of undergraduate, graduate and professional schools that would serve Jewish and non-Jewish students. Following the opening of its first college for men in 1971, a women’s division was added in 1974. Touro College grew from 35 students in midtown Manhattan to 29 schools, educating 17,500 students at undergraduate, graduate and professional programs in New York, California, Nevada, Florida, Israel, Russia, Germany and France.
Lander was born in Manhattan on June 17, 1915, the first of three children of David Lander and Goldie Teitelbaum, who immigrated in the early 20th century to the United States from Poland. He grew up in lower Manhattan, where his father worked predominantly in the garment industry.
He attended local public school and at the same time began Torah studies. At nine, 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, the Yeshiva College’s affiliate high school. He continued his studies at Yeshiva College, where he graduated with honors in 1936. He studied for his rabbinical ordination at the Rabbi Issac Elchaan Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1938. He earned a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University.
JTA contributed to this story.