Helping to make the world a better place
By Brian Klotz
In honor of his 50th Reunion, Howard Scher ’67 chose to endow a scholarship that would give deserving students the opportunity to study at Brandeis. In selecting a name for the fund, he wanted it to reflect his personal philosophy and his reason for giving back. The Howard Scher ’67 Tikkun Olam Scholarship was born.
Tikkun olam – literally “repair of the world” in Hebrew – is a Jewish value often used to refer to acts of kindness or using one’s abilities and means to make the world a better place. For Scher, it is a way of life.
In recent years, Scher has been active with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, part of a nationwide organization devoted to exonerating the wrongfully convicted. His involvement began when a colleague asked him to make a donation to the new nonprofit. Scher wanted to do more than just write a check. He joined the board of the organization and volunteered to work on cases, and now serves as president of the board of directors.
“The idea that there are innocent people sitting in prison for crimes they didn’t commit is unacceptable to me,” he says.
An experienced trial lawyer, Scher uses his expertise and knowledge of the legal system to fight for the freedom of people unjustly convicted due to bad science, false identification or ineffective counsel.
He recalls one recent case in which a young man was sentenced to prison for murder, despite being videotaped on a mall security camera five miles away from the scene of the crime at the time. Through the efforts of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, the courts released him after 12 years of incarceration.
Scher, a partner at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney in Philadelphia, serves as the secretary of international relations for the International Academy of Trial Lawyers (IATL). IATL members support activities around the world that seek to extend the rule of law. In Morocco, IAEL raised funds to build the nation’s first all-female school for the Berbers, the indigenous people of North Africa. Scher is planning an IATL trip to East Africa in the fall, hoping to teach local lawyers and judges about American law.
Scher also has spent decades working with JEVS Human Services, a nonprofit that helps individuals find sustainable employment regardless of socio-economic factors or physical or mental challenges.
Reflecting on the motivation for his desire to give back, Scher remembers growing up in a single-parent household with limited financial means. “My mother made $40 a week at the phone company,” he recalls.
When applying to colleges, Scher was faced with the financial reality of pursuing higher education. “I had ambition, goals and a desire to learn,” he says, “but that desire could not have been fulfilled without financial aid.”
Fortunately, Brandeis not only accepted his application, but offered a financial aid package that would cover his entire tuition. Part of this aid took the form of work-study jobs, which provided an education outside of the classroom.
Scher’s job in the audio-visual department involved setting up and taking down equipment for lectures, giving him the chance to listen to presentations and watch film and slide shows in a variety of academic fields that he likely would not otherwise have attended.
As a driver, he shuttled individuals to and from campus. Passengers included the University’s founding president, Abram Sachar, and his wife, Thelma, as well as Jacob Goldfarb, chair of Fruit of the Loom. Scher remembers excitedly telling Goldfarb, “I wear your underwear!” Goldfarb was singularly unimpressed.
Transporting Peter Volid, the founder of King Korn Stamps, to campus to receive an honorary degree proved especially beneficial. Apparently impressed by Scher, Volid arranged for his foundation to pay Scher’s law school tuition at Rutgers.
Of course, Scher, a politics major, learned a great deal in the classroom as well. A class with Abraham Maslow on motivation, self-actualization and his famed “hierarchy of needs” still resonates with Scher today.
Currently, Scher serves as co-chair of his 50th Reunion committee, and he is looking forward to visiting campus to reconnect with classmates in June. “I’m interested to hear how Brandeis affected the arc of their lives,” he says.
Scher has made a gift to his alma mater in each of the past 45 years, and the Howard Scher ’67 Tikkun Olam Scholarship will provide students with the same chance that Brandeis gave him.
“To this day, I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to go to Brandeis, and I feel indebted to all the generous donors who made it possible,” Scher says. “I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay that debt.”