Remembering a Jewish philanthropic giant – opinion
Mr. Beren’s impact on the Jewish community, and especially on Jewish education, has been of global magnitude. He spent his life supporting countless major Jewish institutions
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander – September 8, 2023
“Avad chasid min ha’aretz” – A uniquely righteous person has left the world (Micha 7:2)
Last month the Jewish world lost a giant, Robert M. Beren, whose generosity and vision left an indelible mark on the global Jewish community. Yet his legacy lives on and will continue to shape our world far into the future.
Mr. Robert M. Beren was a firm believer in excellence. It was the quality that drove both his professional success as a major player in the American energy sector, as well as the expectations he had of us as the leaders of the major Jewish institutions he supported. It is what held together his varied philanthropic investment portfolio, including institutions as diverse as Harvard University, Beth Medrash Govoha (Lakewood Yeshiva), the Wichita Public School System, United Way, the Mid-Kansas Jewish Appeal and Boys Town Jerusalem. The Beren name has come to be associated with the highest standards of innovative education, strategic engagement, and impactful programming which will continue to push the global Jewish community onwards and upwards for generations to come.
Mr. Beren’s impact on the Jewish community, and especially on Jewish education, has been of global magnitude. He spent his life supporting countless major Jewish institutions: he served as Chairman of the Board of Yeshiva University, was a Board Trustee of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, was a member of the Board of Governors of Hillel International, President of his beloved Ahavath Achim Hebrew Congregation in Wichita, Kansas, and a Board Trustee of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Mr. Beren was a major investor in numerous other organizations including Ohr Torah Stone, the Robert M. Beren Academy, Palm Beach Orthodox Synagogue, Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, and the Jerusalem College of Technology. But more than simply providing financial support, Mr. Beren was fully invested in promoting a vision of Jewish learning and engagement, always thinking strategically about how best to ensure a flourishing Jewish future.
I was personally blessed, in my role as President of Ohr Torah Stone, to have merited to work closely with Mr. Beren, to learn from and be inspired by him. The Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva, as well as the various rabbinical and educational institutions located on the Israel Henry Beren Campus, are a fulfillment of his commitment to producing the next generation of global Jewish leadership.
Understanding the importance of broadening their intellectual horizons to prepare themselves to take part in the IDF and in today’s ever-changing Jewish world, Mr. Beren proposed that relevant courses taught by Israeli university professors should be included into the hesder yeshiva’s and rabbinical seminary’s rigorous Torah study curriculum, a concept which has since been replicated at other yeshivot.
Clearly, Mr. Beren believed that education is the prerequisite to change. These young men now study not only for their rabbinical exams through the Israeli Chief Rabbinate (achieving excellent exam results), but also prepare for the communal, spiritual, and professional challenges they will face in the contemporary rabbinate. To this end, our rabbinical seminary maintains as a requirement for receiving ordination that its graduates have earned a Bachelors Degree, as Mr. Beren felt that leaders without the proper education cannot effectively engage the modern Jewish people.
Hundreds of Ethel and Adolph Beren Educators serve as shlichim, teacher-emissaries, in Jewish communities from Hong Kong to Warsaw to Buenos Aires to Teaneck and all around the world. Tens of thousands of families the world over are influenced and cared for by these emissaries, all due to Mr. Beren’s vision of an interconnected, engaged and inspired Jewish world.
What stands out most in Robert Beren’s lifelong commitment to Jewish philanthropy is his deep, personal engagement in the causes he supported. Bringing the skills and business acumen he developed through his professional experience, he would give generously of his time and wisdom to strategize and implement new ideas. When we built a library on the campus he insisted that the advisor to Israel’s National Library approved the plans. A stickler for details, he reviewed every blueprint and architectural plan and, as his daughter Julie Platt, who visited the campus a few months ago, can attest, the structures were better designed thanks to his focus.
Despite his passing, Robert Beren’s legacy lives on – not only through the schools, professorships, and non-profits that will continue to carry out his vision, but also through his four children, Nancy (Larry Jefferson) Beren, Amy (Robert) Bressman, Julie (Marc) Platt and Adam (Ellen) Beren- each of whom has taken up the mantle of Jewish organizational leadership and are making their mark on JFNA, UJA-Federation, the Combat Antisemitism Movement, the Robert M. Beren Academy, and other local and national Jewish organizations. Through them, Mr. Beren’s values and ideals continue to shape the Jewish institutions from which we all benefit. They, along with Mr. Beren’s 14 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren, were his ultimate joy and pride, and they carry with them his commitment to bettering the world around them.
Mr. Beren’s legacy also lives in the hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world who are the beneficiaries of his life’s work. In his memory, we must commit to continue carrying on the work of strengthening Jewish life, with excellence and with equal focus on the large picture and the minute details, to ensure vibrant Jewish continuity and unity here in Israel and all around the world. As I embark on new projects or evaluating those already in existence, I will always ask myself, What would Mr. Beren say and what questions would Mr. Beren ask?
The writer, a rabbi, is president and rosh hayeshiva of the Ohr Torah Stone international network of 32 educational, outreach, leadership and social action programs. This column was written to mark the shloshim (30 days since burial) of Robert M. Beren, which falls on September 8, 2023 (22 Elul)