By: Jonathan Levin  | 

Robert Beren, Philanthropist and Former Chairman of YU’s Board of Trustees, Dies at 97

Robert Beren, chairman emeritus of YU’s board of trustees and a philanthropist who donated millions to Jewish causes, including to Yeshiva University, passed away Aug. 8. He was 97.

Beren was elected to YU’s board of trustees in 1989, and served on the board, including as vice chairman in 1999 and chairman from 2000-2002, until shortly before his death last week. He passed away, surrounded by his family, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and was buried Aug. 10 at the Wichita Hebrew Cemetery in Wichita, Kansas. 

Yeshiva University’s Israel Henry Beren Campus in Midtown, the Robert M. Beren Department of History at Stern College for Women (SCW) and Yeshiva College (YC) and the Israel Henry Beren Floor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law are all named in honor of his support of the university.

“It was important for Robert for Yeshiva University not only to be good, but to be world class,” Yeshiva University President Ari Berman told The Commentator. “He had a vision for an educated Jewish citizenry who were cultured, articulate and well read; who would thrive in the workplace and become captains of industry; who would command respect from all who knew them and who would proudly bear their religion and identity as patriots and Zionists. 

“He was so proud of our students,” continued Berman, “who are not only deeply rooted in their tradition but also excel so extraordinarily in the commercial markets and in the marketplace of ideas. He especially enjoyed when our basketball team, the Macs, were number one in the country and thousands of fans tuned in across the world to experience us begin each game with the singing of both the star-spangled banner and Hatikvah.”

Born in Marietta, Ohio in 1925, Beren enlisted in the U.S. military during the Second World War while in freshman year at Harvard, serving in the European Theater in the U.S. Third Army. After completing military service, Beren graduated Harvard in 1947 and received a Master’s in Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 1950.

Beren later joined his family’s oil and gas business in Marietta, founded by his uncle, Israel Henry Beren — whom Beren Campus and the Israel Henry Beren Floor at Cardozo is named for — before helping found Berexco, a large Wichita-based oil company, in the 1960s.

Robert Beren received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the university in 1987, two years before being elected to YU’s board of trustees. Yeshiva University’s midtown campus was named in his uncle’s honor in 2003, as well as the 9th floor of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law’s Brookdale Center,  which was named in 2005.

Robert Beren also supported many other Jewish and secular organizations, including Harvard, The Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston, Beth Medrash Govoha, Ohr Torah Stone, Camp Ramah, Ner Yisroel Rabbinical College, Tikvah, the University of Kansas, The Jerusalem Institute of Technology and the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Yeshiva in Migdal Oz.

He was also active in many other national and local Jewish organizations, including as president of Ahavath Achim Hebrew Congregation in Wichita, trustee of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, chairman of the Wichita United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and was on the Board of Governors of Hillel International.

“Robert believed in projecting Jewish excellence and strength,” said Berman. “After his years in the US army during the war, he came to the realization that in response to the powerlessness of European Jewry, we have a responsibility to do our best to never put ourselves in that position again by building an empowered Jewish community in the United States and supporting a strong state of Israel.”

Beren was also a supporter of Republican causes, and as president of the Wichita school board in the early 1970’s, he worked to desegregate the local school system.

Berman and Ira Mitzner, chairman of YU’s board of trustees, placed an obituary in Robert Beren’s legacy in the New York Times Aug. 10.

“With clarity of vision and purpose, Robert was an impactful leader for YU who invested wisely in the next generation through education and excellence,” Berman told The Commentator.

Robert Beren is survived by his sister, his four children,  and multiple grandchildren.


Photo Caption: Robert M. Beren at the 2018 dedication of the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva in Israel, courtesy of Ohr Torah Stone

Photo Credit: Ohr Torah Stone