Rabbi Elihu Marcus Remembered

Azkara held in tribute to beloved teacher

October 15, 2013

Rabbi Marcus, who died in July at the home he shared with his wife, Chaya, of 56 years, in Israel, had a distinguished career at Touro College and University System. He had a special place in his heart for LCW and the young women who attended the college. Speaker after speaker described a man who was never too busy for the countless students who sought his advice. He was always one to make the phone call and put in a good word to ensure his students were taken care of. The azkara, which was attended by a cross section of students, faculty, administrators and friends of Rabbi Marcus, took place at the LCW campus on the Upper West Side.

Janaya Kerben, ’09, spoke about the impact that Rabbi Marcus had on her life. She said that in high school, she was “not always the best student” and had not grown up particularly observant in Jewish practice.

“The very first day when Rabbi Marcus walked in [to class], not only inspired me, but changed my entire life,” said Kerben, who went on to graduate from Touro College Graduate School of Business. If not for Rabbi Marcus, she said, “I would not be here today and I would not be leading a Torah life.

“He believed in me. He cared for me. He told me I could do anything I put my mind to. [He told me] ‘Believe in yourself and most of all, believe in God,’” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.

Kerben, who attends Touro’s Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, told of visiting the rabbi in Israel in the summer shortly before his death. Although he was already quite ill, he still made time for his former student.

As a way to honor Rabbi Marcus, Touro has established the Rabbi Elihu Marcus zt”l Memorial Scholarship Fund as a tribute to a man who was an inspiration to and an advocate for his students, said Marian Stoltz-Loike, dean of LCW and vice president of online education

“In this way we can continue his legacy in a way that is most appropriate for him,” she said.

Rabbi Marcus worked closely with Dr. Bernard Lander, the founder and president of Touro, as a professor and as his executive assistant. He taught a wide range of introductory and intermediate courses, not only at LCW, but also at Lander College for Men (LCM) and the Lander College of Arts and Sciences in Flatbush.

“He influenced and mentored countless young women, but he belongs to the entire Touro,” said Rabbi Doniel Lander, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim and Chancellor of Touro.

Rabbi Lander contrasted Noach and Avraham, saying that the rabbis argue whether or not Noach would have been considered a righteous person in his own right had he lived in the generation of Avraham. Noach, according to the Rambam, served God in fear, however, while Avraham served the almighty out of  love, Lander said.

“The Rambam provided an example: ‘If you love an object, you want to share that object.’ So it was with Rabbi Marcus,” he said. “He was not content to live a life of ahavas Hashem (loving God) unto himself…he wanted to engage others and sensitize others to ahavas Hashem.”

Rabbi Marcus served as a pulpit rabbi in Queens for 15 years, and as chairman of the Board of Education at Yeshiva of Central Queens for 10 years. In 1968, he founded Ezra Academy in Forest Hills, Queens. The school serves middle and high school students who have had limited or no Jewish education by providing a Regents-level dual curriculum in secular and Jewish studies.

In 1970, Rabbi Marcus spent a sabbatical year in Israel and subsequently made aliyah with his family. For 20 years, he held the positions of Israel’s national director of synagogues and the state’s director of international affairs with Jewish communities in the diaspora. In that capacity, he traveled extensively in Europe meeting with Jewish leadership. He was also sent to the former Soviet Union to meet with and to teach refusniks in Moscow, Leningrad and Riga.

His sons, Rabbi Nahum Marcus and Rabbi David Marcus, both spoke at the azkara. They described a man steeped in yiddishkeit and scholarship, who brightened people’s days with his cheer and good humor and touched thousands of lives through his learning and caring.

Rabbi David Marcus told a story about a former student of his father who came to the shiva house. The man gathered all the children and spoke about how he was always around, day and night, seeking out Rabbi Marcus and peppering him with questions.

“‘I was a wild animal, and your father grabbed me off the street and bought me tefillin. When my older brother tried to break my arm for putting on tefillin, he grabbed him and taught him to put on tefillin, too,’” Rabbi David Marcus recounted the former student saying. “‘You thought I was the only one, but there were a thousand like me. And he never told anyone, because that was his derech.’”

Other speakers at the memorial service included Rabbi Moshe Krupka, executive vice president of Touro College; David Luchins, chairman, Touro political science department and founding dean of LCW; and Rabbi Yitzchok Sladowsky, executive vice president emeritus, Vaad HaRabbanim of Queens, rabbi emeritus, Forest Park Jewish Center, a close friend of Rabbi Marcus.

To make a donation to the Rabbi Elihu Marcus zt”l Memorial Scholarship Fund call 212.463.0400, ext. 5203 or email giving@touro.edu or alumni@touro.edu. Checks can be addressed to the fund and mailed to 27-33 West 23rd St. 10010.