(Credit: Touro University)
On Sunday evening, December 4, Touro University celebrated two great historic milestones: its 50th anniversary and its ascension to complete university status as mandated by the New York State Board of Regents.
Unlike many of the post-pandemic in-person fundraising events sponsored by numerous organizations and groups, the 1,000-plus event at the Marriott Marquis was not simply a fundraiser but rather a multifaceted evening of pure gratitude and thankfulness to Hashem and to those who made these great accomplishments a reality. This gratitude manifested itself by honoring those who made the dream possible including Teaneck resident and Touro University President Dr. Alan Kadish and a university convocation granting an honorary doctorate to Dr. Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer.
The Touro College that was created in 1971 by Dr. Bernard Lander z”l, a man with a dream and enormous wisdom and tenacity, is now Touro University, the largest private institution of higher and professional education in the United States under Jewish auspices.
The essence of Lander’s dream was an institution of excellence in academics; a commitment to the highest level of Jewish observance of Torah and mitzvot; and the highest standards of behavior and extreme sensitivity to the Jewish values of love of God, and love and concern for one’s fellow man.
Today, Touro University spans the educational spectrum of being both a top Jewish educational institution with numerous schools of Torah learning and a variety of colleges for Jewish men and women and non-Jewish men and women from varied backgrounds. The Graduate and Specialty Schools span the most sought-after professions such as medicine, osteopathic medicine, physician assistant (PA), nursing, dental medicine, pharmacy, physical and occupational therapy, radiology, law, social work, psychology, education and business.
From humble beginnings with 35 students, Touro now has over 19,000 students in 245 undergraduate and graduate programs, with 2,236 faculty members in 32 schools in the U.S. and three schools in Jerusalem, Berlin and Moscow. All the schools are strictly kosher and are closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
The dream of Lander to create schools of higher education that would impart Jewish values and reach out to men and women from persecuted minorities and underprivileged and poor backgrounds has been a resounding success, much as a result of the faculty and administration’s dedication and of a deep family spirit of caring and going the extra mile.
The 50th Anniversary Gala was highlighted by honoring numerous individuals who have contributed to the growth of Touro.
The leadership of Kadish as Touro president since 2010 carried on the legacy of Lander. Kadish, a board-certified cardiologist and former professor of cardiology who has written over 250 peer-reviewed articles, was instrumental in bringing The New York School of Medicine into the Touro network. Kadish, who was honored at the Gala, has been a driving force in the rapid expansion of Touro.
In an interview, Kadish was asked to reflect on his years at Touro. “It’s been an honor to be at Touro for the past 13 years,” he replied. “I think I have the best job in the world. I get to do something that I feel will be important for the Jewish people, I meet fascinating people and get to continue to work on biomedical research.”
What are his visions for the immediate future and for the years ahead?
“We have several projects going on to expand Torah learning at Touro, to expand our profile in biomedical sciences with a new medical campus that is going to open in July in Montana and expanding other medical programs along with the PA programs and the addition of two biomedical research institutes,” Kadish said. “In the coming years we want to continue to make Touro the best place possible for Jewish students, being able to be in a friendly, positive environment where they feel comfortable and not giving up anything in their academics and their potential for the future.”
When asked about Touro being an institution that carries the Jewish responsibility of being “a light onto the nations,” Kadish responded about the non-Jewish population at Touro.
“We have a very positive response from our non-Jewish students, almost across the board, who really feel good about the education they have gotten and the things we do. It dramatically improves the opportunities for all our students because they have preferential admission to our graduate schools; the reputation of the institution is advanced by the reputation of those graduate schools. “
The award to Kadish was presented by Rabbi Doniel Lander, the son of Bernard Lander and the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr Chaim and The Ryzman Torah Center and the chancellor of Touro.
Rabbi Lander exemplifies and continues the dream and legacy of his father. The yeshiva was created by the elder Lander in 1983 as Touro’s center for Torah scholarship, as a place to build the next generation of rabbinic and lay leaders. The yeshiva was designed for young men seeking full-time Torah study and rabbinic ordination plus the ability to earn an academic degree and prepare for a future profession and career. Its affiliation with Touro’s Lander College has afforded that ability. The synergy between Rabbi Lander and Dr. Kadish, himself a Torah scholar, has expanded the yeshiva to additional Torah centers as part of the Touro network, including the addition of the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois.
In his introduction, Rabbi Lander lauded Rabbi Zvi Ryzman of Los Angeles, chairman of the board of trustees, and Martin and Reva Oliner as partners and advisers to his father in creating his dream. He thanked the Oliners for the dedication of a beautiful historical volume about the history of Touro. He compared the dream that Jacob had about angels ascending and descending to his father’s lofty and heavenly dreams and the reality of the needs of men. There were great upward strides of angels ascending but also there were difficult times of angels descending. His father believed that because of his striving to fulfill God’s will the angels would never leave him. The miracle of Touro proves that they never did. He thanked Kadish for carrying on his father’s dream and the enormous growth of Touro and for his dedication to the Touro community and the people of Israel.
At an academic convocation prior to the dinner, Dr. Albert Bourla was presented by Kadish with an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Bourla, CEO of the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, is a son of Holocaust survivors who came to the United States from Greece. It was Bourla who spearheaded the campaign by Pfizer in association with BioNTech to create the COVID-19 vaccine in an unprecedented nine months. Bourla has received the coveted Israel Genesis prize and, as Kadish expounded, never since the time that Edward Jenner created the smallpox vaccine has there been a project so crucial to mankind as the COVID vaccine for combating an illness that was killing millions.
Bourla thanked the trustees and faculty of Touro for the honor and for becoming part of the Touro community. He mentioned his parents and how proud they would be of him and how emotional he was feeling about receiving the award. He compared Touro and Pfizer for their commitment to innovation and educating and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders. Bourla congratulated Touro on its 50th anniversary and for the opening of its new campus in Times Square.
Bourla spoke about a need for a collaborative ecosystem, such as between industry and education, that allows the accomplishment of great things when united by a common purpose. He addressed worldwide healthcare disparities and the need to make good care available to the poor and disadvantaged. He compared this to the work Touro is doing to bring higher education to under-resourced and disadvantaged communities. He spoke about the future of healthcare and how the years ahead will find both cures and ways to manage chronic illness. He lauded Touro for its medical and health schools and for its new biomedical research institutes.
Bourla finally spoke about disinformation, a prime example being antisemitism and the Holocaust. He stated: “Please remember the Holocaust didn’t start in Auschwitz, the Holocaust started with disinformation the Nazi propaganda started spreading about Jews and created the right environment. For me, we must build trust in science, which is based on facts and data and what can be proven, not on what we hope, not on what we presume or sometimes wish … We have no choice, lives depend on it and democracy depends on it.”
In addition to Kadish, the other honorees included Dr. Robert Goldschmidt, executive dean of Lander College of Arts and Sciences, who has been with Touro for 48 years and spearheaded the campaign to advance the college to university status. He stated, “I have kept my focus on what was the initial focus of the school, on the individual student, his or her needs, their career goals and their future. That is what the school is all about. “
Hon. Shelley Berkley, senior vice president of external affairs, who previously was CEO of Touro’s Western Division, which included Nevada and Northern California, was another honoree. She previously served Nevada as a congresswoman from 1998 to 2013.
Another honoree was Dovid Lichtenstein, a member of the Touro board of directors and the founder and CEO of the Lightstone Group, one of the largest and most diversified privately held real estate groups in the United States. Lichtenstein, himself a Torah scholar, has authored several volumes entitled “Headlines,” which highlight contemporary issues in Jewish law, based on his weekly podcast “Halacha Headlines.”
Tribute was also given to the memory of Dr. Mark Hasten, z”l, a brilliant inventor, entrepreneur, businessman and philanthropist, who was one of the early financial partners to Lander and later became chairman of the board and one of Touro’s staunchest supporters.
The event was coordinated and hosted by Rabbi Moshe Krupka, executive vice president of Touro University and university ombudsman, who has been with Touro for over 16 years and has been instrumental in the growth of Touro University.
By Tzvi Allen Fishman