“We Built a University”

Founding Faculty Member Dr. Emil Kon to Take Sabbatical

August 16, 2017

Friends, family and colleagues gathered for a farewell celebration on August 3 at Lander College of Arts and Sciences in Flatbush to celebrate Dr. Kohn’s myriad achievements and his history with the school.

Lander College of Arts and Science Dean and Touro Vice President Dr. Robert Goldschmidt opened the celebration, noting that Dr. Kon “might be the only academic professor in the US who waited 46 years for his first sabbatical.”

What followed was a trip through Dr. Kon’s colorful life, a journey that included the beginnings of both Touro and the State of Israel. Born in Poland, Dr. Kon’s family fled to then-Palestine before the outbreak of the Holocaust. He fought as a member of the Haganah in Israel’s War of Independence before pursuing his education in Zurich where he met his wife Edith. Afterwards, they emigrated to the United States where Dr. Kon completed his Ph.D. at NYU and enjoyed a successful career as a chemist. In 1971, his close friend Dr. Bernard Lander recruited him to join a fledgling institution, a place where he has remained ever since.

Dr. Goldschmidt spoke of Dr. Kon’s almost half-a-century dedication to the institution and its students. When the water broke in Touro’s original building, Dr. Kon carried up pails of water to the twelfth floor to make sure the students wouldn’t miss a lab class. Since 1995, Dr. Goldschmidt explained, twice a week Dr. Kohn began his day at LCW’s campus at nine in the morning, continued his work at LAS in the afternoon and returned home via two trains to the Upper West Side late in the evening.  (Dr. Goldschmidt noted that Dr. Kon rarely asked for a taxi back, with the possible exception of New Year’s Eve.)

Participants of the celebration were also able to witness part of Dr. Kon’s career thanks to a powerpoint presentation of old year book photos, a list of students from LAS and LCW that continued to medical school as well as personal dedications from older Touro graduates who studied with Dr. Kon.

Dr. Alan Kalker, a successful podiatrist who graduated from Touro in 1975, wrote, “You may have forgotten me, but I haven’t forgotten you.”

“Your presence is something we are going to miss,” Dr. Goldschmidt said.

LCW Dean and Touro Vice President Dr. Marian Stoltz-Loike called Dr. Kon an embodiment of LCW’s slogan: “Academic excellence and Torah values.”

“So many students owe their careers to Dr. Kon,” she said.  “You had an illustrious career; you have become a legend.”

Colleague Dr. Meir Peikes, an associate professor of finance at LAS and LCW, spoke of his own close relationship with Dr. Kon. Dr Peikes’s wife, son and his son-in-law took chemistry classes with Dr. Kon and both professors spent time together in Israel. Dr. Peikes also recalled Dr. Kon’s stunning erudition and the eighteen years he spent learning with a study partner to master the Jerusalem Talmud.

“We are going to miss Dr Kon’s Divrei Torah and his political analysis, but above all we’ll miss Dr. Kon,” said Dr. Peikes.  

Dr. Kon was presented with the iconic LCW Hasten mezuzah, an institutional plaque, and a bouquet of roses for his wife. He was also presented with a silver Kiddush cup with saucer sponsored by the participants of the celebration.

Asked for his own thoughts on his sabbatical, Kon laughed. “I still have to go through with it.” Then turning serious, he spoke about the 46 years he spent at Touro. “We accomplished something. We built a university.”