I first met Dr. Bernard Lander at the Orthodox Union’s 1964 Biennial Convention in Washington, DC. He was already a legend in OU circles, having served as a director or officer since 1938 (at his death he had served on the Union’s Board for seventy- two of the organization’s one hundred and twelve years). I knew that he had played a pivotal role in the creation of NCSY in 1954. I had heard that he had used his extensive contacts in the Civil Rights movement (he had been New York’s City’s first human rights commissioner) to help ensure that Martin Luther King’s historic 1963 March on Washington would be held on a Wednesday instead of on Shabbat. I would later learn that he had been a prime force in crafting the MacIver Report of 1951 that helped create the current structure of local and national Jewish community councils. However, I had no way of suspecting in 1964, that within a few years, I would be joining Dr. Lander in his audacious dream of creating Touro College, an adventure which continues to provide me with both employment and intense personal satisfaction.
Dr. Lander was the last survivor of an intrepid band of Americanborn Jewish children of the Depression who would boldly assume the mantle of lay leadership of American Orthodoxy in the post-war era. Tested by privation, tempered by the twilight struggle against fascism and communism, they would succeed in building a vibrant Torah community in the very North American environment in which so many “experts” had declared it could never survive, much less flourish.
Harold H. Boxer, Samuel Lawrence Brennglass, Moses I. Feuerstein, Nathan K. Gross, Harold Jacobs, Dr. Bernard Lander. They all became involved in the OU in the years just before or just after the Second World War, and they are now all gone. But what a legacy they leave! How they defied all odds and helped create and shape the contemporary Orthodox Union: OU Kosher; NCSY; a vigorous Orthodox voice in public policy; an Orthodox presence on college campuses; the Seymour J. Abrams OU Jerusalem World Center. And none of these giants were involved for as many years as Dr. Lander, whose last OU convention in 2006 in Jerusalem was sixty-six years after his first one in Atlantic City in 1940.
Of all of Dr. Lander’s many achievements at the OU, the one he was proudest of was his role in creating and nurturing NCSY. He often spoke of the 1954 OU Convention where he helped Harold Boxer convince a skeptical plenary session to endorse the concept of a nationwide Orthodox synagogue youth movement. He served for over twenty years on the Joint Youth Commission, fighting to ensure that NCSY received the support it needed to survive, including the historic decision to hire Rabbi Pinchas Stolper in 1959 and backing his insistence on uniform halachic standards at all NCSY programs (how strange it is to remember when mixed dancing and mixed swimming were burning issues in NCSY).
As soon as Touro College opened in 1970, Dr. Lander insisted on providing “NCSY Leadership Scholarships” to enable NCSY officers to attend the new college. Over 200 NCSY graduates have received these scholarships during the past forty years. And he ensured that Touro cosponsored and helped fund numerous NCSY programs, including Machon Ma’ayan Seminary in Israel, the annual weeklong Yarchei Kallah learning program in December, Yom NCSY in Jerusalem for summer program participants and specific projects in almost every NCSY region from coast to coast.
One evening in the spring of 1997, I received a phone call from Dr. Lander urging me to call my rebbi, Rav Ahron Soloveichik to wish him a happy eightieth birthday. I was delighted to do so and promptly called Rav Ahron who asked me how I was aware of this occasion, which he assured me he had never publicized. When I told him that Dr. Lander was the source of my “inside information,” he began to laugh and declared “historians in future generations will have heated arguments over how many people named Bernard Lander were active during the last half the twentieth century. No one will even consider that it was just one man–rather they will postulate that there was a Rabbi Bernard Lander who allocated yeshivot and Jewish colleges, a Dr. Bernard Lander who founded law schools and medical schools and a lay leader named Bernard Lander who was deeply involved in communal affairs.”
“But,” said Rav Ahron, “I must add a fourth person for them to ponder–Dov Beresh Lander, who remembers his classmates’ birthdays sixty years after they sat together in my father’s shuir.”
Dr. David Luchins, a senior vice president of the OU, is professor and chair of the Political Science Department at Touro College in New York, and was a senior advisor to former US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.