World Jewish News
Independence Day ceremony. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
US philanthropist to light 'Diaspora torch' on Israeli Independence Day
Cofounder of Taglit-Birthright Israel Michael Steinhardt will become one of the first non-Israeli citizens to light a torch during Israel’s annual Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl this May, the Culture Ministry announced Wednesday with the release of the full list of torch lighters.
Steinhardt was selected for the honor alongside founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Marvin Hier – whose participation was reported Sunday – as part of an initiative by the Culture and Sport Ministry in collaboration with the Diaspora Affairs Ministry to dedicate one of the torches to the Jewish people.
The Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols selected candidates “who personify the concern and work being done for the future of the Jewish people, and reinforce the link between world Jewry and Israel.”
As well as launching free 10-day trips to Israel for young Jews from around the world together with Taglit co-founder Charles Bronfman, Steinhardt, 76, is a prominent philanthropist who supports Jewish and Israeli causes and is chairman of the board at The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. In 2014, Bloomberg dubbed him “Wall Street’s greatest trader.”
“I am honored that the government of Israel has asked me to represent Jewish unity around the world by lighting the torch of the Jewish people,” said Steinhardt. “Helping to create a shared sense of cultural values and connection with Israel has long been my primary focus. My hope is that this humbling recognition will encourage others to continue supporting and investing in our collective Jewish future.”
Each year, Israeli movers and shakers are selected to light a beacon, in line with the annual theme. This year, the theme will be the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.
The Israeli torch lighters this year are: former soccer player Uri Malmilian; head of the general surgery department at Hadassah-University Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus Prof.
Ahmed Eid; author and civil servant Eli Amir; chairman of Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market’s board of directors Eli Mizrachi; Amnon Shashua, a computer science professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and co-founder of the Mobileye and OrCam start-ups; Dina Samta, a volunteer at Jerusalem’s Jewish Institute for the Blind; and founder and dean of the Jerusalem- based Jeanie Schottenstein Center For Advanced Torah Study For Women, Rabbanit Chana Henkin.
Henkin is the mother of Eitam Henkin, who was killed together with his wife Na’ama Henkin, in a terrorist attack near the Itamar settlement in 2015.
Also lighting torches are: Jerusalem-born singer and actor Yehoram Gaon; Yaakov (Yaki) Hetz, who received the IDF Medal of Courage for his role in the Battle of Ammunition Hill in the Six Day War; and Miri Ehrental, founder and executive director of the Zichron Menachem association for children with cancer.
The IDF torches will be lit by Lt. Din Argil, commander of the Hoda unit in the “Viper” battalion of the Paratroop Brigade and Maj. Yaros Shigot, head of the information department at the education and youth officer’s headquarters.
“On Israel’s 69th Independence Day, Israel salutes Jerusalem as our eternal capital,” said Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev. “Each of the torchbearers will tell the story of Jerusalem from their personal and special perspective, and for the first time so will representatives of the Jewish people in the Diaspora.”
She said each of the participants in the ceremony loves Jerusalem and has contributed to its building, prosperity and beauty.
Eid, 67, who performed Israel’s first successful liver transplant in 1991, is one of the country’s most senior surgeons. A graduate of the Hebrew University Medical Faculty, he not only teaches but also performs surgery. He will represent in the Mount Herzl ceremony all the dedicated physicians who are active in Jerusalem and work tirelessly to save lives and improve the quality of life of its citizens, the official announcement from the Culture and Sport Ministry said.
After doing his residency at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem in 1980, he went to the US to study liver transplantation.
He returned two years later to prepare to introduce the surgery in Israel.
Until 1991, patients who underwent liver transplants in a number of hospitals had died.
Eid, who lives in the capital’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood, was raised in Daburiya in the Galilee. He is married, with five children and a grandchild.
He helped set up the Israel Transplant Center which is now under the aegis of the Health Ministry. He has run the surgical department on Mount Scopus since 2008. He has performed some 200 liver transplants and 400 kidney transplants. But he decided to become part of management so he could teach what he learned to medical students, interns and residents.
Eid said he has been very moved by the many phone calls with good wishes that he has received since the announcement was made.
“You deserve it,” he is told again and again.
By Tamara Zieve, JUDY SIEGEL