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Hornstein program founder Bernie Reisman dead at 85

Published: December 2, 2011
Section: News


Professor Emeritus Bernie Reisman died Nov. 21 after years of struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. Reisman has left a lasting legacy at Brandeis through his numerous achievements as director of the Benjamin S. Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program and through the personal impact he bore on countless members involved in it.

According to a transcript of the funeral service held for Reisman on Nov. 23, Rabbi Michelle Robinson explained the degree of significance he held within the Jewish community, saying, “In basketball, if you say Michael, there’s only one: Michael Jordan. In entertainment, Elvis. In Jewish communal leadership, all you have to say is Bernie.”

Since its founding in 1969, the Hornstein program has amassed more than 600 student graduates, who continue to demonstrate leadership in America and within international Jewish organizations. Reisman, who served as director of the program for more than 30 years, is said to have been “a visionary leader in the Jewish communal world,” according to comments on the Hornstein alumni page. Combined with the aspirations of Professor Leon Jick and the support of benefactor Benjamin S. Hornstein, Reisman succeeded in creating a leading graduate program dedicated to Jewish professionals. This program sought to establish technical and management skills in union with a continued commitment to and understanding of Judaism.

Beyond his prominent role within the Hornstein program, Reisman further founded the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Brandeis (BOLLI) in 2002, advancing educational opportunities and embodying the concept of learning throughout life. Named in his honor as founder, the BOLLI Bernie Reisman Fund accepts donations to continue to promote this program. As an author, Reisman published works such as Life on the Frontier: The Jews of Alaska and The Jewish Experiential Book.

In a tribute shared by alumnus Elliot Karp, Reisman is described as “an amazing teacher and true pioneer in the arena of experimental education. Reisman’s soft touch and voice bellowed the enormous power of his wisdom, experience and ability to inspire generations of professionals to provide visionary leadership to the Jewish people.” Perhaps what is most memorable about Reisman, however, as those who know him would say, was his ability to leave lasting impressions upon others, fostering personal bonds while also encouraging academic growth.

Reisman’s personal impact is evident through the array of dedications and sorrowful reflections found on the official Hornstein Alumni Facebook page following the announcement of his death. Former students stress Reisman’s role in illuminating their future career paths, while colleagues fondly recall aspects of his personality, including his infamous passion for the game of tennis.

One such post stated: “What I learned most from Bernie is to be mindful of the needs of other people: to be humble, non-judgmental, caring and concerned. Most of all, to be happy in the simple things: learning, good conversation, gardening, and most of all, a good tennis shot.”

While the passing of Bernie Reisman brings a sense of loss within the Brandeis community, his ability to forge lasting contributions and his influence upon those surrounding him allow his legacy to remain. He is survived by his wife, Elaine, and numerous children and grandchildren.