He founded a college that spans the world, and served as its president until his death Monday evening at his home in Forest Hills, New York.
Dr. Bernard Lander, 94, was remembered by family members, friends and associates as a hands-on but modest administrator who took the lead in ensuring that observant Jews had the educational tools to earn a living.
“For bnei Torah, he built yeshivas and kollelim,” said his son, Rabbi Daniel Lander. “For the unaffiliated, he built colleges as a means of outreach and building kiruv.”
The younger Lander serves as rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva Ohr HaChaim in Kew Gardens Hills, founded by his father in memory of his wife, Sarah Rivkah Lander. Dr. Lander’s funeral was held there Tuesday morning.
“Thousands attained the dignity of parnassa because of my father,” said Rabbi Lander. “He built different colleges for different populations.”
Dr. Lander founded Touro in 1970 with a class of 35 students in a midtown office building. Since then, its student body has grown to approximately 23,000, on 29 campuses in the U.S., Europe and Israel.
“There was a common misconception that Touro College was a private business, and he was a successful businessman,” said Rabbi Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University.
“But Touro is not-for-profit. He received a salary far below his counterparts from other institutions.”
Mourners recalled a leader whose energy and passion endured to his last days.
“He started Touro at age 55; that took guts,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack of the Orthodox Union. “He had a prophetic quality, he never aged, and he knew the future.”
Dr. Lander received his semicha from Yeshiva University and went on to earn a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University, where he wrote a dissertation on juvenile delinquency.
He was an associate director of the Mayor’s Committee on Unity, established in 1944 by then-New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, which became the city’s first Commission on Human Rights.
Prior to founding Touro, Rabbi Lander served as a professor of sociology for more than two decades at City University of New York and Yeshiva University, where he also served as dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School.
He was a consultant to three U.S. presidents, and served on the commission that established the War on Poverty program.
Dr. Lander was also an honorary vice president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU).
Dr. Lander’s ambition had no bounds, as recalled by Touro trustee Dr. Mark Hasten.
“On our visit to Israel, he proposed a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict. We met with then-Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon.” Dr. Lander told Sharon about his vision of an agriculture school on the Israeli-Jordanian border. “I almost fell out of my chair,” said Hasten.
At the same time, from his Forest Hills home, even as his vision and voice deteriorated, Dr. Lander continued to closely monitor his closest pupils, calling to check that his grandsons David Waxman and Josh Lander kept up on Yoreh Deah, using the same book Lander used as a rabbinical student.
Dr. Alan Kadish, senior provost and chief operating officer at Touro College, described Rabbi Lander’s passing as “a profound loss. His vision and leadership has been phenomenal. His care and concern for the Jewish people and all of humanity knew no bounds.”
Kadish called Dr. Lander, who is survived by his son, three daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a “great rabbinic figure and illustrious educator who was a caring and devoted father to his family and extended family.”
“He was a patriarch to us all,” said Touro dean Dr. Stanley Boylan. “He was our rebbe.”