A Remarkable Life: OU to Honor Mark Hasten, Noted Indianapolis Jewish Community Leader, April 6

12 Mar 2008


Mark Hasten, a long-time leader in the Indianapolis Jewish, business and philanthropic communities, has truly led an outstanding life. Some highlights of his remarkable journey:

He is a trained engineer; an entrepreneur in various businesses, such as banking, real estate and health care; a fighter against the Nazis; a close friend of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (May he rest in peace); a member of Begin’s Irgun Tzvai Leumi organization and then the Israel Defense Forces in Israel’s War for Independence; the author of a thrilling autobiography; a leading figure in the Indianapolis Orthodox community; a prime supporter of Jewish education as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Board of Overseers of Touro College; and a loving husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

The Orthodox Union, the umbrella organization for hundreds of Orthodox synagogues around the United States and Canada, including Congregation B’nai Torah in Indianapolis, has taken notice. The OU will be presenting its highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award, to Dr. Hasten and his wife, Anna Ruth, at the OU’s 110th Anniversary National Dinner, Sunday April 6, at the Grand Hyatt New York in Manhattan.

The same day the Hastens will be honored, Indianapolis will be featured by the OU as an “Emerging Community” at a Showcase at the Grand Hyatt to encourage people from the New York-area to relocate there or to one of the other featured locales. It will be a big day for Indianapolis – OU ties.

Mark Hasten’s relationship with the Orthodox Union goes back to 1962, even before he came to Indianapolis, when as an engineer with General Mills in Minneapolis he worked with the OU on kosher certification of Snack Bugles. These ties deepened over the years, primarily through Dr. Hasten’s connection with NCSY, the OU’s national youth program, which included Dr. Hasten’s children, Monica, Judy, Michael and Eddie as members, and deeply affected their lives as Jews.

Dr. and Mrs. Hasten recall that over the years NCSY Midwest leadership stayed in their home when in Indianapolis for events. “Today there are people who tell them, ‘I met my wife at your house. ’” They recall that the indoor swimming pool “was quite a treat” to the guests, and there would sometimes be as many as a dozen visitors at a time in “Hotel Hasten.”

Strengthening the Indianapolis Jewish Community:

Beyond NCSY, Dr. and Mrs. Hasten’s impact on the Indianapolis Orthodox community has been widespread. They are among the Founders, and he is a former President, of the Hasten Hebrew Academy of Indianapolis, and they are recipients of its HAI Life Award and 25th Anniversary Medal of Honor. Long devoted to Congregation B’nai Torah, Dr. Hasten is a former President, and is still deeply involved in the community, even from his current home in Miami Beach.

“Mark Hasten is a true visionary. Whether making a decision about the most appropriate action for his personal survival or devising a strategy for ensuring the preservation and strengthening of our precious Torah heritage, Mark could always see the future,” declared Rabbi Ronald Gray, who served Congregation B’nai Torah as spiritual leader for more than 15 years, and is now Executive Vice President of the Boys Town Jerusalem Foundation of America.

“This gift of seeing the future has always been evident in Mark’s steadfast commitment to the Torah of Israel, the Land of Israel and the People of Israel,” Rabbi Gray continued. “In his own community and synagogue, this was best expressed in his understanding that the future of Jewish life rests in the hands of youth. For youngsters yearning for meaning and direction, Mark and Anna Ruth saw NCSY as the perfect spiritual haven to not only save the current generation, but to insure Jewish continuity for future generations.”

As he helped insure Jewish continuity for future generations, Dr. Hasten could not but reflect on the destruction of Jewish life he witnessed growing up.

Fighting Against the Nazis and for Israel:

Born in a Polish shtetl (small rural community) in 1927, the young Mark fought with the Polish Brigade against the Nazis on the Eastern Front during World War II and participated in the liberation of the Majdanek Concentration Camp in Poland. In a displaced persons camp, he joined the Irgun Tzvai Leumi; was aboard the famous ship, the Altalena, which was sunk by order of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion; joined the Israel Defense Forces in 1948, and participated for two years in the War of Independence of the State of Israel. In 1976, former Prime Minister Begin was present as Dr. Hasten received an award at the OU Biennial Convention in Washington, DC.

Dr. Hasten married Anna Ruth Robinson in 1952; they then came to the United States in 1953, where he was encouraged by his young wife to study at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. In 1959 he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from SMU. Prior to coming to Indianapolis, Dr. Hasten spent nine years working for General Mills in Minneapolis, first in research, then as Chief Design Engineer for Corporate Engineering. In 1967 Dr. Hasten was invited by his younger brother, Hart, to join his business in Indianapolis.

Dr. Hasten and his brother are currently members of the Board of Directors of Harris Bank and Trust Company of Chicago, which previously was the First National Bank Trust Company, once owned by the Hasten brothers.

Dr. Hasten’s autobiography Mark My Words! A Personal History, published in 2004, has been described by a reviewer as “an astounding odyssey” which “led him through countless episodes that tested his courage and character.”

Senator Bayh’s Book Review:

Indiana Senator Evan Bayh’s review is found on the Amazon.com website. Senator Bayh wrote: “Mark Hasten’s story is one of the most remarkable I have ever read. From the idyllic childhood in pre-WWII Poland, through the trials of war, to helping found the modern state of Israel, through his hard work and success in America, his is the story of hope’s triumph over despair. He has lived and seen enough history to encompass several lives.”

“Throughout it all, he has never lost his sunny optimism, his love of family, faith in G-d and love of country – both Israel and the US. I admire Mark Hasten and all that he has accomplished. When many men would have given up, he kept going. I hope all who read his book will benefit from it as have I. We will all be well advised to ‘Mark My Words!’”

Although Mr. Hasten now makes his home in Florida, his impact remains strong on the Indianapolis Orthodox community, and particularly at B’nai Torah. “Mark and Anna Ruth’s impact and care have never departed from our city,” explained the current spiritual leader at the synagogue, Rabbi Nosson Schuman. “Not only is he concerned about Jewish education, kashrut (kosher), and the strength of Judaism in our city, he gives of his time, wisdom and influence to make them succeed. He is always readily available for an Indianapolis need. Anna Ruth is literally and figuratively a matriarch in our community, overseeing her family and her Jewish interests with great acumen and perception.”

“The Hastens may have reached the stage of retirement, but only from the private sector,” Rabbi Schuman said. “With regard to Judaism at large, or within the small entity of Indianapolis, they are still influential and indispensable.”