Touro turns 50
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Touro turns 50

University president Alan Kadish of Teaneck tells his story and talks about the school’s future

Dr. Kadish is in a Touro boardroom. (All photos courtesy Touro University)
Dr. Kadish is in a Touro boardroom. (All photos courtesy Touro University)

As Touro University celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, marking its growth over that half century from a small college to a sprawling international university, it also will honor its president, Alan Kadish of Teaneck, who made a similarly unexpected — but when you stop to consider it, logical — journey from practicing physician to academic administrator and visionary.

(See the below for information about the celebratory dinner set for Sunday, December 4.)

Dr. Kadish, a cardiologist, was born in Crown Heights, lived there until he was in second grade, and then moved to Kew Gardens Hills, in Queens. (Queens is nearly the suburbs if you’re from Brooklyn.)

Dr. Kadish went to Columbia University for his undergraduate degree — he graduated in 1976 — and then to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to become a physician. Next, he trained at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for three years and topped off his training with another three years at the University of Pennsylvania, as a fellow in cardiology, and then as a faculty member. After yet another three years, this time as an associate professor at the University of Michigan, he spent 19 years at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University’s medical school, in Chicago.

In other words, Dr. Kadish was a physician, a practicing cardiologist, for a long time.

Why did he choose cardiology? “When I was in my teens, my uncle, Moshe Gelber, who was in his 50s, dropped dead at a bus stop in Brooklyn,” Dr. Kadish said. “I became interested in cardiology at that time, and that always was my interest.” As a clinical physician, “I saw patients, did procedures, put in pacemakers and defibrillators, did ablations. I saw about 30 patients a week.”

He also was an active researcher; “I ran a research institute at Northwestern,” he said; he was the director of clinical trials at Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute and was the hospital’s associate chief of cardiology.

Dr. Kadish sits with the school’s founder, Dr. Bernard Lander.

This is just a partial list of Dr. Kadish’s accomplishments as a clinician and researcher. He loved his work, and he did it well. “I was very much enjoying what I was doing,” he said. “I published several hundred peer-reviewed papers. I am very proud of that research.” Also, he said, with audible pride, “some of the people I have mentored have been very successful.”

He also is and always has been an involved Orthodox Jew. “I didn’t really have time to do that much, but I was a member of a couple of school boards,” he said; he meant the boards of yeshivot.

So why is he now not in suburban Chicago — he and his family had lived both in Northbrook and in Skokie, both flourishing communities just north of the city — but in Teaneck, not practicing medicine but overseeing a growing university?

Really, it makes good sense, he said.

“I was very happy with what I was doing. But I was contacted by a recruiter about the Touro job.” That was in 2009.

How did a seriously busy academic and clinical physician come to find himself in that position? “It was a typical serendipitous Jewish story,” Dr. Kadish said.

“Dr. Lander, who had founded Touro in 1972, was still president 37 years later. He was in his 90s.” Dr. Bernard Lander was an inspirational leader, whose vision lies behind Touro, but reality dictated that a succession plan was necessary.

Students at Lander College for Women work together in a science class.

“It was a very hard job to fill,” Dr. Kadish said. “Nobody wanted to follow a very successful founder.”

But that’s where Jewish connections come in. “My brother-in-law, an oncologist, Michael Eleff, happened to see the recruiter in his synagogue, in Edison” — Dr. Eleff since has moved to Boca Raton, Dr. Kadish added — “and he told the recruiter to call me.”

The recruiter made the call and, well, “although I was very happy with what I was doing, it seemed like a unique opportunity,” Dr. Kadish said. “It seemed like it would be very interesting — and that turned out to be an understatement.”

Yes, but isn’t that an odd move? To go from being a doctor to heading a university?

Not really, Dr. Kadish said. Just think about it. “Some college presidents were politicians, but primarily they had been professors and university administrators. They can come from any discipline in the university. And it’s not that unusual for them to have been physicians.”

He mentioned the former president of Cornell, David J. Skorton, like Dr. Kadish a cardiologist, and the president of the University of Miami, Julio Frenk, who is a fourth-generation doctor.

Touro’s School of Health Science in Manhattan trains a wide range of health-care professionals.

“Every college president has a substantial, highly successful background in one discipline or another,” he said. And his own career has “taught me how to multitask,” he understated. “That’s something that proves very valuable in my current job.”

Still, “I absolutely had not thought about becoming a university president” before he first talked to the recruiter his brother-in-law met at kiddush in Edison. And it also made sense because “part of being a researcher is being willing to try new things.”

And it was time, he added. “I did technically challenging procedures as part of my career, and that part would go away eventually anyway.” Some of his contemporaries found themselves stepping back from the more physically challenging aspects of their work; being a doctor is hands-on work, and practitioners, who are as flesh-and-bone as their patients, often develop back, neck, or other physical problems. So why not stop before they develop?

But the most compelling part of heading Touro is “I don’t think there is another institution in the world like it,” Dr. Kadish said. Not only could he head a university that is growing, that has students around the country and the world, that has a range of different schools working with a wide range of students — it’s also Jewish.

“I was very excited about that,” he said. “I didn’t have the same background that others did. I wasn’t a rabbi. I hadn’t been heavily involved in the Jewish community.” But in the end, his background, both academic and Jewish, and his enthusiasm won the votes of Touro’s board. He was in.

“I came to Touro as the provost in June of 2009,” Dr. Kadish said. That was the plan; he would learn from Dr. Lander and take over when the founding president was ready to step down. But “Dr. Lander became ill in the fall of 2009 and passed away in the spring of 2010. And then I became president.”

These young women are students at Touro’s Lander College for Women, in midtown Manhattan.

In 2009, Dr. Kadish and his wife, Connie Eleff Kadish, moved to Teaneck; Ms. Kadish works at the library at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she catalogues the print collection. The Kadishes have four children. Deborah lives near Haifa; she’s married, with two children. She has a master’s degree in public health and is a teacher and researcher. Baruch lives in Berkeley, California, where he is a software engineer. He’s married — his wife, a lawyer, works with veterans — and has a child. Tova, who just moved to Teaneck, also is married and has a child; she is a graduate student of archaeology at Bard College. Naomi, a privacy engineer, and her husband live on the Upper West Side now; as the youngest of the Kadish children, she’s the only one who moved to Teaneck with her parents.

Touro is “a complicated institution,” Dr. Kadish continued. “In many ways we are like other universities — we have a law school, a business school, medical schools, a dental school, a social work school; we have undergraduates and graduate students. But we are geographically and academically diverse. We have some schools that are very competitive, with a four percent acceptance rate, and other schools that are designed for people without strong academic backgrounds, where we accept most applicants.

“We’re in 10 cities. The majority of our students are in New York City, but we have some small schools and some larger ones in a variety of cities. We tend to try new things when we think they will improve the education we offer, and we tend to focus on our students being successful both academically and personally. So while we have areas of the school that have growing, active research programs, the focus always has been on making sure that our students succeed.”

He described some of the range of Touro’s offerings, and its approach, which is consistent across the university.

“Some of our schools take students from underserved backgrounds, both from the general community and the Orthodox community,” he said. “They are designed to take people from complicated academic backgrounds and help them succeed. These schools all are different and not traditional. We pride ourselves on being able to take students, mentor them, and help them be successful.” He’s defining successful as being able to “graduate, get productive employment, and be successful personally. We focus on making sure that the education we give our students puts them on a pathway to successful employment. While we have a liberal arts core for our students, the majority of them major in fields that help them get into the workforce.”

And being successful personally means “we focus on people who give back to the community, who participate in the community,” he said. “We find that people who do that generally are happier and more successful personally, so a big part of what we do is educating our students, whether or not they are Jewish, whether they are undergraduates or in medical school or in any of our other schools, about the importance of giving back.

Dr. Kadish is surrounded by students at Touro’s School of Osteopathic Medicine; that school’s main campus is in Harlem, and it has a satellite in MIddletown, NY.

“Our law students do a great deal of pro bono work. Our medical schools have a strong emphasis on clinics and volunteer and educational programs. We teach the ethos that contributing to society is an important part of what our students ought to do, and that it makes them happier when they are doing it.”

That’s Jewish, Dr. Kadish said. “The ideas of both intellectual success and of serving come from Jewish values.

“We don’t teach Judaism to students who are not Jewish. We are not a proselytizing institution. But we believe that those values are important.”

Touro formally became a university earlier this year, when the New York State Board of Regents granted it that status. It was in the first — and very small — cohort of institutions to be granted that upgrade in four years. It has schools in New York State, California, Nevada, and Illinois, and is planning to open in Florida, New Mexico, and Montana. It has schools in Berlin and in Jerusalem, which are doing well; it also has, more problematically, because of the world around it, a school in Moscow. Touro has several new doctoral-level programs, including one in Jewish studies, and its social work school has been researching and publishing papers. It’s begun a journal in biomedical ethics. It’s also providing “an increasing number of public programs open to the community,” Dr. Kadish said. “We have a series of programs called Touro Talks in a variety of areas,” with interviewers talking to experts; recently, he said, “we focused on autism. We have an institute called the Forum on Life, Culture, and Society that used to be at NYU and moved over to Touro.”

Touro has about 3,000 undergraduates in “schools designed to serve the Jewish community in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Los Angeles, Chicago, Berlin, and Jerusalem,” he continued.

The other places seem intuitive, but why Berlin? That program “was started to help reenergize the rebuilding of the Jewish community there,” Dr. Kadish said. The program is “over 20 years old and offers a master’s in Holocaust studies. It’s a small school and provides a high-quality education. The students are talented. The language of instruction is English, so students have to be fluent.

Lander College for Women students smile at the camera.

“About one-third of the students in the program are from the Jewish community in Berlin,” he continued. “And the others feel that an American degree would be useful for the future, and there are not so many available in Berlin. Every student in that program has to take a course in the Holocaust and European Jewish history.

“At the graduate level, we have three smicha programs” that train rabbis. “Two are in Queens. One is at Lander College for Men, and one is at Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim in Queens.” They are both Orthodox schools, but they teach men from vastly different parts of the Orthodox world. “Lander is a combined college learning program, where students learn Talmud in the morning and go to college in the afternoon. The program in Queens is a full yeshiva program. Some of the students go to college at night.

“We also have one in Chicago, Hebrew Theological College.” It’s similar to Ohr Hachaim, he added.

Touro has expanded its programs in health care, a field in which career possibilities are expanding. “That’s an example of how we can serve both our students and the community,” Dr. Kadish said.

Although many Touro students are not Jewish, and many of the schools are not aimed at Jews, “the food is kosher in all our schools when we have a cafeteria,” Dr. Kadish said. “The schools are shomer Shabbes. We try to promote Jewish values without talking about religion per se.”

Touro “started with 35 students, and now we’re up to 19,000,” he concluded. “Outside of Israel, it’s by far the largest Jewish university in the world.”


What: Touro University’s 50th anniversary gala dinner

When: On Sunday, December 4, at 4 p.m.

Where: At the New York Marriott Marquis in Manhattan

Honoring: Dr. Alan Kadish; entrepreneur, real estate investor, and Touro board member Dovid Lichtenstein; Touro vice president and Lander
executive dean Dr. Robert Goldschmidt; Touro
senior vice president and former Nevada congresswoman Shelley Berkley.

Special guest: An honorary doctorate will go to Dr. Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer, who oversaw the creation and production of the covid vaccine.

For more information: Call (855) 33-TOURO or go to 50.touro.edu/gala.

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