Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought received a $100,000 grant from the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem to sponsor a series of programs on Zionism and the Begin Legacy in honor of the former prime minister’s 100th birthday, which was commemorated in August.
Hart Hasten, president of U.S. Friends of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation was instrumental in securing the grant for YU. Phil Rosen, vice chairman of the Yeshiva College Board, and Hasten’s son Bernard, a member of the Yeshiva College Board, also played significant roles.
“Menachem Begin became my hero and my mentor, a role model, and an icon. His honesty and integrity were unbelievable. He was a great statesman, always yearning for peace,” said Hasten. He and his wife, Simona, were close friends of Begin for 25 years.
“He took everything he did very seriously, but looked at himself with great humility. He was the complete intellectual, but by the same token he was very unassuming. There have been some outstanding Israeli leaders, but no one comes close to his talent for leadership.”
A Holocaust survivor who arrived penniless to the United States, Hasten rose to the top levels of finance and industry, and today he is a successful businessman, Jewish leader, and philanthropist residing in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2002, Hasten authored a memoir, I Shall Not Die, an account of his escape and rescue from Nazi-occupied Poland, his formative years in Europe’s displaced-persons camps, and his personal relationship with Begin.
“To celebrate the centennial, we wanted to do something special,” said Hasten, who dedicates much of his time and resources to supporting Jewish causes and spreading Begin’s message of Zionism around the world.
After meeting Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center, Hasten felt that he would be the best person to lead the project. Rabbi Soloveichik himself feels an emotional connection to Begin, with a shared heritage of both their families originating from the community of Brest-Litovsk, or Brisk.
“I realized that to truly honor him, we needed to somehow demonstrate to people what Begin’s vision was and how that vision was manifested in different parts of his life,” said Rabbi Soloveichik.
“That involves educating students and the wider Jewish community. What I want to do is expose his philosophical, intellectual, and religious vision and what that can teach us as religious Zionists and Jews in today’s world. That’s what I believe would truly honor Menachem Begin.”
The Straus Center has a host of activities planned for the upcoming year, with guest speakers including Yehuda Avner, author of The Prime Ministers, and Dr. Daniel Gordis, author of a new biography on Menachem Begin to be published in the spring of 2014. Rabbi Soloveichik is leading a RIETS seminar this semester and will teach an undergraduate course on Begin and Zionism in the spring. A day-long academic conference and a published volume of essays is in the works as well. v