Menachem Begin Heritage Center Grant Supports YU Programming Honoring Former Prime Minister’s Legacy

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, right, with Menachem Begin

Hart Hasten, right, with Menachem Begin

Hart Hasten, president of US 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,” said Hasten, who along with his wife, Simona, were close friends of Begin for 25 years. “His honesty and integrity were unbelievable. He was a great statesman, always yearning for peace. 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 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.

“Soloveichik is brilliant and has such a talent for speaking,” he said. “We are very excited and so are the people at the Begin Center, to partner with Yeshiva University, the Straus Center and Rabbi Soloveichik to share Begin’s legacy with a new generation of Americans.”

Hasten has multiple family connections to Yeshiva University, spanning several generations. His son Josh—at whose bris Begin served as sandek—graduated from YU and another son, Bernard, is a board member. Three of Bernard’s children, Erica (and her husband, alumnus Zev Dlott), Joseph and Samantha are currently students at YU and Bernard’s wife, Laurie (Laulicht), is a member of the advisory council for YU’s Institute for University-School Partnership. Bernard’s father-in-law, Murray Laulicht, is a member of the Stern College for Women board and received an honorary degree from YU in 2010.

“Thanks to YU and programs of this type, we may be assured that Begin’s accomplishments will continue to be recognized over the next 100 years,” said Hasten.

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.

As part of the grant, Rabbi Soloveichik will speak about Begin and the history of Zionism in different communities around the country. On November 17, he delivered the keynote address at the annual Chanukah dinner at the Hasten Hebrew Academy in Indianapolis, and also gave the Hart and Simona Hasten Lecture in Jewish Studies, “From Generation to Generation: Menachem Begin’s Covenantal Zionism” at the Hillel of Indiana University Bloomington on November 18.

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 that will lead to a published volume of essays is in the works as well.

“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 is his philosophical vision, his intellectual vision and his 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.”

To contribute to this project or to learn about other giving opportunities, please contact Alan Secter, associate dean for Institutional Advancement at secter@yu.edu or 212.960.5481.