There is a concept in Judaism called “Hakarat Hatov”. Generally translated as “recognizing the good”, it means to appreciate the things others have given for you. It is more than merely saying thank you, but to have an internal as well as external acknowledgment of the positive impact others have had on you. It is one of the most basic behaviors a human being should display. There are few people in this world for whom I have more Hakarat Hatov than Doctor Bernard Lander. What Doctor Lander has done for me and for my family transcended the employer/employee barrier and became something much deeper.
My connection with Dr. Lander began before I was even born. As a young Political Science professor, my father was in what I understand to be a casual discussion with Dr. Lander , regarding the vision he had for what a Jewish College should be. My father tells me that he told Dr. Lander “If you ever decide to do this, let me know and I’ll come work for you.” I don’t know if my father even remembered the conversation, but a few years later the phone rang and it was Doctor Lander: “I’m making my college.” My father kept his word, and has been part of Touro ever since. That was in 1971.
My first personal interaction with Doctor Lander was a mere eight days after I was born. At my Brit Meilah [Circumcision], it was Doctor Lander who held me while my name was announced. This is not a minor thing. Indeed, it would foreshadow the dynamic that would continue – being supported by Doctor Lander. Not just in the fiduciary sense of his paying my father’s salary (and later my wife’s and even my own for a few years) but on a deeper level as well. Indeed, I could argue that without Doctor Lander I wouldn’t even be married – it was Touro that drew my wife Suzannah to New York, and to her Dean’s Shabbos table. When people ask who our Shadchan [matchmaker] was I usually say HaShem, but on a very real manner, it was Doctor Lander.
When I worked at Touro, I often found myself in the President’s office, working on a computer or printer. I don’t think there was a single time Doctor Lander walked past that he didn’t take a minute to stop and at the very least nod to me in acknowledgment. If there was a new baby in the family he would always ask “Now which of your siblings had the baby?” instead of a quick, forced Mazal Tov. He didn’t need to take the time, but he did, and it was appreciated. Indeed, even when I just got a nod, my father would later get “I saw your son in my office again today”. I’m also aware that he stuck up for me on more than one occasion, including at least one time when I certainly didn’t deserve it. This wasn’t a unique dynamic. Indeed, I once was called by his office to join his staff so that they could have a Minyan [quorum of ten] at a Shloshim [memorial service held one month after a passing]. The departed was the child of a Touro employee and he made sure that there was proper Kavod Hamet [honor for the departed]. When he spoke, you could hear the sadness in his voice – he wasn’t speaking as just the bereaved’s employer, but as someone who knew loss himself and understood what they felt.
Even after I left Touro his influence in my life did not stop. On the first day of my post-Touro job, I received an e-mail from someone who mentioned that his daughter was in the first ever class the college had. I thought it was just a small world moment until my boss informed me that the “someone” who emailed me was in fact the founder of our entire company. That he would take a moment from running a multi-national company to email a random new employee who happened to attend the same college that his daughter did decades ago speaks volumes as to the impact it had.
In his 94 years on this planet, Doctor Lander influenced many such people. It was hard not to be influenced by this amazing, dynamic man. His children clearly bear his mark, as anyone who has met them can attest. Touro has changed countless people’s lives in so many ways, and no-one can deny that it has changed the face of Jewish Higher Education. This was Doctor Lander’s vision, the one he mentioned decades ago to a young man, and a vision he didn’t just live to see, but that he made happen. This is why I have, and why anyone whose lives had been touched by this visionary should have, a tremendous debt of Hakarat Hatov.
May the Lander children and grandchildren find comfort in the loss of this amazing man, and may the entire Touro family (because it really is one) find comfort together.
I’m sorry this blog has been so serious as of late, and i will get back to the silliness, but I had to post this.