Tauber: Reminiscences of a Mentor
Jerome A. Chanes
Yeshiva University, New York
22nd June, 2008
Celebrating the life and works of a friend is a great joy; celebrating and honoring the contributions of a teacher is a universal joy.
Arthur Tauber was more than my friend for lo these many years, and more than merely a teacher—although he certainly was those things. He was one of a few individuals in my life whom I would characterize as mentor. I remember well the conversations Arthur and I had twenty-five years ago—twenty years after I had fenced for Yeshiva—in a time when I was stumbling around the borders of a career that had one foot in the public-policy world, one foot in academia. Tauber the teacher—my coach nonpareil—came together at that crucial time with Tauber the friend. Arthur was once again my mentor.
At one level—elemental, basic—Coach Tauber taught me, to be sure, the mechanics and techniques of fencing—and Coach was a great fencer, and he was a great teacher, a demanding teacher. His lessons were models of pedagogy. At another level, Tauber taught us that fencing is a sport that is developed and matured more above the neck than below; it demanded that you use what you have upstairs; it required a sharpening and mastery of analytical skills. And then there was discipline—no small matter for one in whose vocabulary the word “discipline” might very well have been in Swahili.
Beyond these, Arthur Tauber represented for me the realization of what the Classical Greeks called the ideal of “arête”—my rebbe Louis Feldman will be proud of me—usually, and imperfectly, translated as “virtue,” or better, “excellence.” I know of few people to whom “excellence” meant more than it does to Arthur. But it’s means more than “excellence” in a particular skill; it is all-around excellence, a respect for the wholeness of the human being and of life; it was and is the whole man.
And this is what Arthur Tauber is all about, and this is the person we are celebrating today—the whole person in the pursuit of excellence, and the truly decent human being. And, in a curious way, Arthur Tauber represented in his own way the old Yeshiva University ideal of Torah U’madda, unfortunately gone missing in the YU of the twenty-first century—the idea that traditional religious studies and secular studies and activities are not in conflict but in fact enhance one another. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Tauber was entirely comfortable with this kind of notion. He and I discussed it at length.
Arthur Tauber gives new meaning to the words of the Bavli, “The place of a person does not honor that person; but the person gives honor to his place.” “Ein m’komo shel adam m’chabdo, ella ha’adam m’chabed es m’komo.” Arthur Tauber gives honor to this place, and to us.