A host of Austrian politicians joined international businessman and philanthropist Ronald S. Lauder last Wednesday to inaugurate Vienna's only Jewish university. The fete in honor of the Lauder Business School coincided with a series of other events in the country's capital celebrating the 20th anniversary of Lauder's foundation, whose first project was the Lauder Chabad elementary and high schools in the city.
Lauder, the cosmetics magnate and avid art collector who is also the president of the World Jewish Congress, serves the business school as its chairman and president. The school welcomed its first students in 2003 with a curriculum drawing on methods and courses used at the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, and recently won accreditation for its bachelors and masters programs.
The school also places an emphasis on developing Jewish leadership skills. To that end, its Jewish Heritage Center, directed by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shaya Boas, provides some 200 students from 26 countries with a religious community, complete with prayer services, activities, speakers, kosher food and workshops. The center was officially unveiled at the inauguration ceremony.
At the event, Rabbi Jacob Biderman, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Austria, presented Lauder with a new Torah written in his honor. With tears welling up in his eyes, the philanthropist held the Torah tight and said: "The Torah will be my most cherished treasure."
In his remarks, Lauder thanked Viennese mayor Michael Häupl and former mayor Helmut Zilk for supporting the school, thereby making it a success. He also took a stand against what many have seen in recent years as a growth in European anti-Semitism.
Ronald S. Lauder greets students at the Lauder Chabad school in Vienna during a ceremony celebrating the school’s 20th anniversary and the opening of a new floor at the campus.
"I left Vienna 19 years ago [and have come to] bring back the spirit of Jewish life" to Austria, Lauder said at an event in the Vienna city hall. "You can only succeed, if you work constantly."
In addition, Lauder visited the new floor of the Lauder Chabad campus, meeting with students and helping affix a mezuzah to the floor's entry. Continuously expanding, the campus today boasts of educational programs spanning from kindergarten through high school, as well as a seminary.
Following the day's events, Lauder said at a dinner in his honor that he owes all of his accomplishments in establishing Jewish education to the merit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.
"Without me meeting his emissary, Rabbi Biderman, 20 years ago in this city," said Lauder, "all of that I have done would not have happened."
Back at the business school, student Zevegeja Veselova said that her dream of becoming a CEO is well on its way to fruition.