Two Americans Light Official Torch for Diaspora Jewry in First for Israel Independence Day Ceremony

Rabbi Marvin Hier, who took part in Trump's inauguration, and Michael Steinhardt, one of the founders of Taglit-Birthright, will take part in torch lighting ceremony marking shift from Memorial Day to Independence Day

File photo: Israeli soldiers taking part in Israel's Independence Day ceremony, May, 2017.
File photo: Israeli soldiers taking part in Israel's Independence Day ceremony, May, 2017. Emil Salman

Two American citizens took part in Israel's Independence Day official torch lighting ceremony Monday night on behalf of the Jewish diaspora. The lighting of a torch on behalf of the Jewish diaspora is a new addition to the annual ceremony which marks the end of Israel's Memorial Day and the beginning of Independence Day.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, who took part in U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration, and Michael Steinhardt, one of the founders of Taglit-Birthright were selected to light one of the ceremony's twelve torches earlier this month by Israel's Culture and Sports Minister, Miri Regev.

Rabbi Marvin Hier.
Kobi Zaig

Steinhardt, speaking in English at the ceremony, lit the flame "In honor of the partnership among Jews all over the world in the fulfillment of our historic mission," as well as dedicating it to Jewish educators around the world whom he called "emissaries in the most important and noble of all pursuits."

Hier dedicated the lighting of the torch to the "honor of the generations that in spite of all their suffering, never stopped dreaming of Jerusalem," and all those "who lead the global struggle for human dignity." 

Michael Steinhardt at his home in Mount Kisco, March 15, 2013.
Natan Dvir

Michael Steinhardt, along with co-founder Charles Bronfman, is responsible for bringing over 500,000 Jews from 64 countries around the world to Israel on Taglit-Birthright funded heritage trips. The billionaire investor and hedge fund manager also runs the philanthropic Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.

"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," Steinhardt said. "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."

Rabbi Hier, the founder of L.A.'s Simon Wiesenthal Center, was one of six clergy to participate in U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration ceremony on January 20. His partition in the ceremony was not without controversy. Hier told Haaretz at the time that he had accepted the invitation to attend the inauguration in part because refusing it would cause “ill will” toward Jews among the American public.

The rabbi opened his prayer by blessing Trump, and later recited the Hebrew psalm, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill."

The theme for this year's Independence Day ceremony is "Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish People," and is due to being at 8 P.M. at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl national cemetary.