JEWISH ACTION Fall 5771/2010
by Steve Lipman

CURE music group gets ready to perform at a New York City
street festival.


It was David in the lion’s den.
Fresh out of graduate school and
a few years out of yeshivah, ba’al
teshuvah David Lazerson stood
before his junior high classroom in
Buffalo’s inner city for the first time.
The students in Dr. Martin Luther
King Community School in Lazerson’s
learning disabilities class were
African American teenagers, all
males, many nearly as tall as he. Lazerson
is a Lubavitcher Chassid, with
a beard and a kippa, a strange sight
for his students.

“What you wearing on yo head?”
one student asked.

Sarcastic answers and high-fives
flowed from the teen’s peers until
Lazerson–possessor of a PhD degree
in education–gained control of the
classroom and explained his religious
observance. That morning, some three
decades ago, began a unique interaction
between an Orthodox Jew and
the outside world. In the subsequent
years, Lazerson–he’s popularly known
as Dr. Laz–has gone on to teach at
other public schools in his native Buffalo
and in the Miami area, as well as
at Jewish day schools in the Greater
New York area. He became the Lubavitch
community’s point man in dealing
with the African American
community after the 1991 anti-Jewish
riots in Crown Heights, won numerous
local and national awards, and
wrote several books about his experiences,
one of which was adapted into
a movie.

Now sixty, Lazerson is, in the
words of New York magazine, “a one-man
cliché buster,” a Chassid who
sings rap songs and wears a Buffalo
Bills kippa, who is equally comfortable
layning Torah at his local Chabad
shul or taking minority children on
Boy Scout camping trips or using his
musical abilities to bring a smile to
developmentally disabled children
and adults.

While teaching in the Buffalo public
school system and incorporating
the chavruta-style of peer-tutoring
among learning disabled students, he
was named Teacher of the Year. While
serving as founder of Project CURE
an interracial grassroots organization
that sponsored joint African American-Jewish basketball
games, holiday celebrations and dialogue meetings,
he was honored by New York’s mayor and governor.
While teaching since 2002 as special education and
music director of The Quest Center, in Hollywood,
Florida, using hands-on music therapy to influence developmentally
disabled and medically fragile students,
he was named Broward County’s Arts Teacher of the
Year and was inducted into the National Teachers Hall
of Fame.

“A big part of what and why I do what I do is that
inner feeling of tikkun olam, which is a huge part of
Torah,” Lazerson says. “It’s a mitzvah for the Jewish people
to reach out to our non-Jewish neighbors and teach
them about the Seven Noahide Laws.”

He tells stories of sukkah parties to which he’s invited his
non-Jewish neighbors, of African American teens humming
one of his songs after he performed, of an elderly African
American lady in a wheelchair who was inspired at one of
his concerts to stand up and, with assistance, start dancing.
Lazerson tells of Lenny, a particularly troublesome student
at the first school he taught at in Buffalo. Under Lazerson’s
influence, he became less troublesome. After graduating
to high school, he turned up one afternoon in
Lazerson’s classroom.

“I came to ask you a special favor,” Lenny said. With
some prodding, he told Lazerson what he wanted: “Can I
have one of those Jew-hats for good luck?”

Exam time was approaching; Lenny wanted one of Lazerson’s

Lazerson took a spare “Jew-hat” out of his drawer. Lenny
stuffed it in his pocket. He left, and Lazerson rushed to the

“Outside, Lenny put my yarmulke on top of his Afro and
jive-walked down the street.” 

Fall 5771/2010 JEWISH ACTION


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