July 21, 2024
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Yom Yerushalayim Event Honors Legacy of Begin

Teaneck—Israel’s sixth prime minister, Menachem Begin, a man who lent a profound­ly religious dimension to Zionism, was the sub­ject of a community-wide Yom Yerushalayim event at Congregation Keter Torah, co-spon­sored by Yeshiva University and the Rabbini­cal Council of Bergen County. In addition to a screening of I Am a Simple Jew, a documenta­ry about the life of Begin, Rabbi Meir Y. Solovei­chik, head of YU’s Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, gave a talk entitled “What Menachem Begin Taught Me about Zionism.”

“To him, Zionism was, fundamentally, in a very real way, a continuation of the covenan­tal story of the Jewish people. And of course, the concept of ‘B’rith,’ the idea of the Jewish covenant, demands that there be a God,” said Soloveichik in an interview.

Soloveichik explained that he refers to Be­gin’s philosophy in terms of someone “who understood that it is the concept of the cove­nant, between those who are here and those who are not here, that binds the generations together. And that is how Begin thought of modern Israel—this spiritual bond between all Jews. Jews of the past, the present, and the fu­ture,” he said.

The event was part of the Year of Begin event series, made possible by a $100,000 grant given by the Hasten family, with addi­tional support by the Rosen family, which cre­ated a partnership between Jerusalem’s Men­achem Begin Heritage Center and Yeshiva University. The partnership supports a year of programming around the legacy of Begin, be­ginning on what would have been his 100th birthday in August of 2013.

Administered at YU by the Straus Cent­er and Rabbi Soloveichik, the Year of Be­gin grant funded two special academic course offerings, several large public events around the region, a national speaking tour, and a conference in Manhattan upcoming on June 1. An e-book of the conference pro­ceedings will also be funded by the grant.

“The goal of the Year of Begin is to help American audiences and the wider YU com­munity be exposed to his teachings and his messages, as well as his story and what he believed,” said Dr. Stuart W. Halpern, the Straus Center’s assistant director.

The two academic courses were both taught at YU by Rabbi Soloveichik: They were a first-year honors seminar called “Po­litical Zionism and Covenantal Judaism,” and the second was an elective on Mena­chem Begin’s legacy for rabbinical students. The presentation in Teaneck was essentially a one-off presentation of highlights from the topics covered in the seminars, Halpern said.

Rabbi Soloveichik indicated that the opportunity to help share the legacy of Be­gin with American audiences was person­ally important to him. He started with the fact that both Begin and Soloveichik’s own great-uncle, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (known as the Rav), were born in Brisk.

“It is this fact that makes my emotional connection to Begin so profound. In the Begin Museum at the Heritage Center in Jerusalem, as part of the first exhibit showing his child­hood and the town in which he grew up, there is a quote from Begin that says: ‘No, I will not go back to Brisk, but Brisk will always go with me.’ And that, to me, captures everything that made Begin unique as a Zionist leader. For him, Zionism was not merely a new moment in Jew­ish history. Rather, it was a moment that was linked profoundly to the Jewish history that had gone before,” said Soloveichik.

As many may know, the Rav was the first member of the Brisk rabbinic dynas­ty who joined the Mizrachi, or Religious Zi­onist movement. “Before that, there was, on the one hand, some tension. But on the other hand, Begin was consistently proud of the fact that he emerged from the home of the Soloveitchik family.”

Soloveichik explained that Begin deliv­ered a speech in 1972, on the 30th anniversa­ry memorial for the Jews of Brisk murdered by the Nazi—including many members of Begin’s family and the Soloveitchik family.

“He talks about what it was like grow­ing up in Brisk. How everyone in Brisk was so proud of the fact that they came from the town of my great-great-grandfather and my great-grandfather,” he said. “This was about five years after the capture of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, and Begin connected the love that Jews of Brisk felt for their house of prayer with the centuries-old yearning of the Jewish people for the ancient Tem­ple. He linked those murdered Jews of Brisk with the modern State of Israel, pointing out that by redeeming the Temple, Israel is keeping their sacred memories alive,” he said.

Soloveichik said that when he read the speech privately for the first time, he be­came quite emotional. “Tears came forth as I realized how Begin weaved everything together: the Zionist dream, our family’s proud heritage, the yearning of the Jewish people.”

More information about the upcoming conference “Menachem Begin’s Zionism,” taking place June 1 in Manhattan at 4 p.m., following the Celebrate Israel Parade, is available here: http://www.yu.edu/straus/ news-events/.

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