Brooklyn, NY - Tapping into her own Jewish roots, an emotional Dr. Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, spoke passionately to members of the Jewish community at the annual Shema Kolainu legislative breakfast this morning at the Renaissance Ballroom in Borough Park.
Tisch was one of three people to be honored by Shema Kolainu, which offers a wide array of services to children with autism and their families, for her continued advocacy on behalf of special needs children. Also singled out for their efforts were Councilman Andrew Cohen, a staunch supporter of the disabled and those with autism, and Zelig Friedman of The Tantzers, a dance group which performed at Shema Kolainu’s alumni reunion.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Joshua Weinstein, founder and CEO of Shema Kolainu praised Tisch, a former school schoolteacher who has been part of the Board of Regents for 19 years, for her many years as of service as an educational advocate.
Weinstein described Tisch as a devoted, passionate leader.
“It’s an honor for Shema Kolainu to have someone who understands education, who understands children, but more so understands children with disabilities and feels for their rights to become who they are and who they can be,” said Weinstein.
Introducing Tisch, Abe Biderman, president of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, lauded Tisch for her myriad efforts, both for the general public and, more specifically, on behalf of members of the Jewish community.
“There were people who needed some extraordinary help for whatever it was,” said Biderman. “Without fanfare, without publicity, before, after or during, she rose to the challenge and did what had to be done and helped the people and truthfully to this day, many of them don’t know about it and that’s the way she runs her life.
A grateful Tisch accepted a framed painting created by the children of Shema Kolainu and noted that she hears all too often the frustration, anxiety and uncertainty that is the constant companion of parents of special needs children. Tisch noted that she has spoken to concerned fathers and mothers throughout New York State who often make requests that she cannot possibly grant.
“What the mother really wants me to do is say, ‘I can fix your child,’” noted Tisch. “We cannot fix what G-d has done. We must accept it, but what we can do is stand up to help every family and every child in these most challenging circumstances.”
Tisch acknowledged that difficulties that the Jewish community is facing just days before Tisha B’Av, mentioning the Iran nuclear deal and the need to show support for Israel.
“We are klal yisrael,” said Tisch. “We are a great people. We are a magnificent people and we are people on whom a great challenge has been thrust.”
Tisch also shared some personal moments of her life, describing how her elderly father and her husband businessman James Tisch CEO of Loews Corporation daven together every morning.
“This morning, as every morning, my 88 year old father came to my house, because he has for the past 30 years come to have breakfast with myself and my husband and my children when they lived with us and he taught my husband to lay tefillin.”
Tisch described how this morning, as her husband and her father were davening shmone esrai, she heard her father uttering the words of the bracha Shema Kolainu.
“I believe that with all my core,” said a visibly moved Tisch. “I am honored to be among you. I am honored to advocate for you and your children and congratulate you for choosing this as your life’s work.”
The yearly event is coordinated by The Friedlander Group.
The Regents are responsible for the general supervision of all educational activities within the State, presiding over The University and the New York State Education Department. The Regents are organized into standing committees, subcommittees and work groups whose members and chairs are appointed by the Chancellor.
The Board comprises 17 members elected by the State Legislature for 5 year terms: 1 from each of the State’s 13 judicial districts and 4 members who serve at large. Regents are unsalaried and are reimbursed only for travel and related expenses in connection with their official duties.