‘We are all your family'

Brandeis school dedicates Lawrence campus to Harry Laufer

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Rabbi Andrew Warmflash said that his friend, Harry Laufer, would first head to synagogue in the morning and after that to The Brandeis School, then he would go to work.

“Jewish community and Jewish education came first, then he would go to work to earn the money to support them,” said Warmflash, the rabbi at the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Center in East Rockaway, as he addressed the gathering at The Brandeis School on Sept. 16. The event also included a carnival in the back of the school.

Jewish education and Brandeis were so important to Laufer, that when the school was short on money, he made sure the teachers were paid, and he was not above some good-natured subterfuge for his cause. Warmflash said that Laufer told business connections that when Brandeis was honoring him, he didn’t mention that it was the school in Lawrence not the university, resulting in larger donations.

Family, friends, schoolchildren and their parents gathered on the front lawn of the Lawrence school’s Frost Lane site it shares with Rambam Mesivta High School to honor Laufer and name the property The Harry Laufer Jewish Educational Campus. Laufer, a Holocaust survivor, was a strong advocate of Jewish education.

“I met Harry some 30 years ago and he urged me to get involved and I did,” said Stu Kotler, whose three children graduated from Brandeis and is a co-chairman of the school’s board. “He was a humble and simple man who never forgot where he came from.”

Laufer’s family, mother and father — Mela and Yaakov — and brother Jack, came to the U.S. in 1950, after surviving leaving their native Poland, being sent to Siberia, living in Uzbekistan, returning to Poland, and then going to Germany. Laufer worked in a Brooklyn hat factory, saved money and started a wholesale food business with Jack.

After the brothers went their separate ways, Laufer with a partner, took over and developed the Associated Foods brand, which grew to 250 stores and roughly $500 million in annual revenue. He retired as co-president in 2014. The Hewlett Bay Park resident died two years later.  

“Harry came to my office to make sure that everything was OK, I referred to him as our ‘grandpa,’” said Brandeis Head of School Raz Levin. Directing his remarks to Joan Laufer, Harry’s widow, he said: “We are all your family.”

Noting that Laufer saw firsthand Nazi Germany’s attempt to eradicate Judaism, Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, Rambam’s dean, said that Jewish education was vital to Laufer. “He was a doer, who never stopped doing and giving,” said Friedman, who along with Laufer helped to establish Rambam 27 yeas ago.

“It was so important to my dad that [Brandeis] would provide a Jewish education to any Jewish child,” said daughter Pamela Laufer, a past president of the school’s Parents Association, who also graduated from Brandeis. “He instilled in us the love of Jewish education. We hope Jewish education has an ever-lasting life on this campus.”