Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

All in the Family: Dr. Howard Sachar and the Jacob Hiatt Institute

Published: September 11, 2009
Section: Features

9 Ethiopia Street, Jerusalem: The Hiatt Institute in Jerusalem marked Brandeis’ first foray into the world of study abroad. <br /><i>Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections, Brandeis University</i>

9 Ethiopia Street, Jerusalem: The Hiatt Institute in Jerusalem marked Brandeis’ first foray into the world of study abroad.
Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections, Brandeis University

At first glance one may not realize that Dr. Howard Sachar’s connection to the field of modern Jewish history extends beyond the 16 books he has published on modern Europe and the history of Israel.

Professor Emeritus of History and International Affairs at The George Washington University, Sachar is a highly regarded scholar on Middle Eastern and European history. He has received the National Jewish Book Award twice, testified before the United States House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee and lectured at training seminars for United States diplomats.

Upon second glance, though, one sees that Sachar’s family and professional connections help contribute to his living legacy and that of Brandeis University.

Sachar is the son of the late Dr. Abram (Abe) Sachar, the founding president of Brandeis. While many of the events that led to the founding of Brandeis occurred during Sachar’s childhood, he has many recollections of his father’s years as a history professor and Hillel director at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“[My father] had a knack for making history a page turner,” he said.

Insisting he’s no match for his father’s skills, Sachar echoes the sentiments of other contemporaries in recalling his father as a “fearless lecturer” and “spellbinder.” He recalls both students and non-Jewish faculty attending his father’s High Holiday sermons at the University of Illinois.

In addition to his family connection to Brandeis through his father, in 1961 Sachar served as the founding director of Brandeis’ Jacob Hiatt Institute in Jerusalem, one of the first study abroad programs in the country.

While many current Brandeis students are most familiar with the Hiatt family for its endowment of the university’s career center, the family also funded the Jacob Hiatt Institute in Jerusalem, which allowed students from Brandeis and other universities to study in Israel between 1961 and 1983.

Reflecting on the founding of the Institute, Sachar recalled the period following his post-doctoral studies in Israel: “I was so infatuated with the land and the people and [I had a personal] resolve to get Jewish people closer to it.”

At the time, though, Brandeis did not have a junior year study abroad program. After gaining renewed popularity in the 1950s, study abroad programs had, according to Sachar, become “recognized features of the academic landscape” by 1961. As he was already living in Israel, Sachar proposed to his father that Brandeis create a center for students to study in Israel.

Sachar desired to combine lecture-based courses with field trips to explore the “kaleidoscope of cultures” unique to the state of Israel. Through the program, students would have the opportunity to study with faculty from both Brandeis and local Israeli universities, and Brandeis would have a direct connection to Israel.

Sachar’s father, and then-president of Brandeis, was receptive to the idea, and with the generosity of Jacob and Frances Hiatt, the Jacob Hiatt Institute was created in 1961. The Hiatts even purchased a facility for the Institute at 9 Ethiopia St. in Jerusalem, only a 10-minute drive from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In its 22 years of existence, the Hiatt Institute in Jerusalem provided over 600 students from around 150 colleges and universities with the unique opportunity to study in Israel and apply their coursework beyond the walls of the classroom. In 1980 and 1981, the Institute even ran an archeological program in collaboration with the American Schools for Oriental Research.

As described in the 1988 publication “From the Beginning: A Picture History of the First Four Decades of Brandeis University,” The Hiatt Institute established a model that was emulated by Hebrew University in the mid 1960s and by other universities and organizations in both the United States and Israel.

In 1983 many Hiatt Institute participants were saddened when Brandeis announced the Institute would close at the end of the year. In the Oct. 4, 1983 issue of the Justice, then Director of International Programs Faire Goldstein explained the decision: “Today’s students are more familiar with Israeli society,” Goldstein said. “[Thus they] don’t need to be Americanized anymore. They can become part of the system.”

The article described how “the expansion and improvement of Israeli universities” meant that maintaining the program was no longer necessary for Brandeis students to study in Israel.

As the Director of the Hiatt Institute between 1961 and 1964, Sachar assisted in shaping a program that connected students with numerous organizations with an interest in Israel. Because of his work with the United States Foreign Service, Sachar helped the Institute receive funding from the United States Department of State in 1965.

After Sachar, several Brandeis faculty members served as directors of the Institute. In 1975, during its 15th anniversary year, the Institute was directed by Ernest Stock, a lecturer in the politics department. In 1981, Baruch Levy, a Brandeis Ph.D. graduate and Heller School professor became director of the program. He had previously served as director of the Center for Social Policy and Planning in the Middle East at the Heller School, and had studied at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Tel Aviv.

As the Hiatt Institute evolved, it made an effort to engage local Israelis to direct its programs. The Jacob Hiatt Institute was not only one of the first programs of its kind, but was also recognized as “one of the best foreign study institutes available” in the Oct. 4, 1983 edition of the Justice.

In addition to Sachar’s influence on the Institute, many would argue that none of the Institute’s achievements would have been possible without the support of Jacob and Frances Hiatt, a couple with whom Sachar still treasures his relationship, calling them “full of good will,” and “beautiful characters in my life.”

Illustrating Jacob Hiatt’s warm nature, Sachar recalled hearing how when Jacob Hiatt learned his old Hebrew teacher had fallen ill, he not only arranged for his former teacher’s hospital treatment, but also took the neighboring room to keep him company. Upon his wife Frances’ passing, Jacob Hiatt endowed a small park in Jerusalem in her memory. In addition to sponsoring a number of programs at Brandeis, Jacob Hiatt served as chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1971 to 1977.

While Sachar is no longer a full-time faculty member at The George Washington University, where he taught for 40 years in the Department of History and the Elliott School of International Affairs, his scholarship continues to flourish. He continues to publish numerous books and articles on Modern Jewish history and Israel, He lectures widely at numerous universities and travels to Israel, where his daughter and grandchildren live.

Author’s Note: The author wishes to acknowledge Dr. Howard Sachar and the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections for their assistance in the preparation of this article.