By Michelle Dodek
For several years after beloved husband, father, grandfather, mentor and legal legend Morley Koffman, QC, z’l passed away, his family had been looking for a way to honour his legacy. With a smile on his face, Ted Koffman described a phone conversation he had with the Honorable Bruce Cohen last year that crystalized into the perfect way to keep Morley’s amazing memory alive. “Bruce explained that he and his committee were looking for assistance in continuing the Hebrew U-UBC Law Professor Exchange going. I immediately felt it was a terrific opportunity for our family,” Ted said. After conferring with his mother, Myrna, and his siblings, Lori and Robert they all agreed that this was the perfect project for the entire family to sponsor. “It was an easy decision,” Ted commented. “My dad wasn’t the kind of guy who wanted his name on something but this would make him happy.”
He explained that his father had graduated from UBC law school in 1952 and that the practice of law was such a huge part of Morley’s life. “Israel was very important to him and so was the Jewish community,” Ted mentioned. The Koffman family’s generosity provides funding for a professor exchange that was initiated with the participation of Morley Koffman in 2010.
Bruce Cohen explained that initially the professor exchange was launched as a pilot project with financial assistance from the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University and members of the local legal profession and members of the judiciary. From its inception, the program received enthusiastic support and acceptance by the Deans and professors at both law faculties. Given the early success of the program, the CFHU Vancouver Chapter program organizing committee consisting of Allen Zysblat z”l, Sam Hanson, Shawn Lewis, Peter Tolensky, Peter Hotz, Phil Switzer, Randy Milner, Bruce Cohen and Dina Wachtel set about to raise funding. The grassroots effort focussed on members of the legal profession, judiciary and business community to financially support a formal arrangement with both faculties for the continuation of the program.
“After the first year’s success, the organizing committee turned to Morley Koffman, a senior prominent member of the legal community recognized within the legal, Jewish, university and general communities as an exceptionally gifted lawyer and a person who set a high standard for volunteerism, philanthropy and professional accomplishment. At a lunch meeting attended by Allen Zysblat, Dina Wachtel and I, Morley expressed his strong support in principle for the program and undertook to personally assist with the committee’s fundraising initiative by contacting prospective donors. The ability of the program to operate in the initial few years of its existence was due in large measure to Morley’s assistance.”
From 2013 to the spring of 2019, the program was named in honour of Mitchell H. Gropper, QC following a successful fundraising initiative spearheaded by Sam Hanson to support its continuation and to recognize Mr. Gropper.
The Hebrew University-UBC Law Professor Exchange brings one professor from the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to provide a three-credit course in the Fall to UBC law students. In the spring, a professor from UBC, Allard Faculty of Law travels to Israel to lecture in Jerusalem. The timing is perfect because the academic year in Israel starts after the High Holidays and runs in May and June when students in BC are on summer break.
The program has formed a living bridge for collegial relationships between professors and has exposed hundreds of students in both law schools to new ideas. “People need to learn what an amazing place Israel is,” noted Debby Koffman, Ted’s wife. With antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric on campuses on the rise, both Debby and Ted agreed that a positive academic exchange is an excellent way to alter perceptions and educate students . “Cross cultural exchanges are such an important thing to do,” said Debby.
The exchange in 2020 was a virtual one. Professor Erez Aloni, a member of the faculty of Law at UBC, taught a virtual course in the Spring of 2020 to students at Hebrew University. A reception to celebrate the naming of this program was scheduled for April 2020 and has been delayed until it is safe again to meet together. Ted added that combining education, the study of law and Israel make for the perfect fit for the Koffman family’s sponsorship of this worthwhile exchange.
As a result of the Koffman family’s very generous financial support of the program, it will continue to operate for at least the next six years officially as the Morley Koffman Memorial UBC Allard School of Law and Hebrew University Law Faculty Professor Exchange Program. Myrna Koffman recalls her husband’s willingness to help. She knew how much the Jewish community and Israel meant to her husband. “Morley was a mentsch above mentsches,” Myrna said.
“Given the high level of respect and regard for Morley’s reputation in the legal, university, Jewish and general communities as a wise counsel and recognized leader it is perfectly appropriate for the program to be named in his honour as a reflection of the importance placed by him and his family on scholarship, professionalism and Tikkun Olam,” Bruce Cohen commented.