Michael Steinhardt, Birthright Founder and 'Wall Street's Greatest Trader,' to Light Torch on Israel's Independence Day

Steinhardt will be joined by Rabbi Marvin Hier and prominent Israelis in annual ceremony that marks the end of Memorial Day and the start of Independence Day

Michael Steinhardt visits animals in the private zoo at his home in Mount Kisco, March 15, 2013
Natan Dvir

Michael Steinhardt, one of the founders of Taglit-Birthright and a man once dubbed "Wall Street's greatest trader," has been selected to light an official torch on Israel's Independence Day, Israel announced on Wednesday.

He will join Rabbi Marvin Hier, who took part in U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration, in lighting the torch for the Jewish diaspora. Additional honorees include the founder of Mobileye, Israel singer Yoram Goan, Chana Henkin – a leader in Jewish education for women whose son was killed in a terror attack – and Uri Malmilian, a legendary soccer player.

Dean and Founder of Simon Wisenthal Center Rabbi Marvin Hier, 2013.
Eric Charbonneau / AP

“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.”

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, the chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols, announced the 14 names on Wednesday.

The ceremony, which is held every year at the Mount Herzl national cemetery, ushers in the end of Memorial Day and the start of Independence Day.

Steinhardt lives in New York and is active in both business and the world of Jewish philanthropy, allegedly even introducing mega-donor Sheldon Adelson to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Together with Charles Bronfman he founded the Taglit-Birthright project, which is the official reason he was given the honor. He and his family also runs the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.

A report in Bloomberg from 2014 described him as "Wall Street's greatest trader," with Forbes valuing at $1.05 billion, as of February 2017.

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

According to different reports, Steinhardt also sent former President Bill Clinton a letter calling to pardon Marc Rich, who he called "my friend...who has been punished enough." Clinton famously pardoned Rich hours before leaving office.

Top honorees

Alongside Steinhardt and Heir, 12 Israelis were also named, two of which are soldiers. Opening the list is Uri Mammalian, one of Israel's most famous former soccer plays. A native of Jerusalem, his name has become synonymous with the sports and sports education in the city.

Also on the list is Prof. Ahmed Eid, the head of the Department of General Surgery at Hadassah University Hospital, Mount Scopus. Born in an Israeli Arab village in the Galilee, he studied in Jerusalem and has lived and worked there since.

Eli Amir is a writer and public intellectual active in Jerusalem whose work focuses on the Jewish immigration experience in Israel. Amir has written a number of books, including Scapegoat and The Dove Flyer.

Eli Mizrahi is a Jerusalem local who has led the revitalization of the Mahane Yehuda market and helped preserve the market's unique identity.

Amnon Shashua, the founder of driverless-technology company Mobileye, which was recently sold to Intel for a record $15.3 billion, also made the prestigious list.

Dina Simta, a 19-year-old member of the Bnei Menashe Jews of northern India, and a student at Jerusalem's School for the Blind, will also light a torch.

Chana Henkin, who founded a number of religious schools for women after immigrating to Israel from the U.S., also appears on the list. Her son was killed in a terror attack alongside his wife.

Yehoram Gaon, one of Israel's most recognizable singers and actors, will also participate. Gaon is a scion of a prestigious Jerusalem family which has been living in the city for generations.

Yaki (Yaakov) Hetz, who fought in the battle for Ammunition Hill, one of Israel's most famous Six Day War battles, will light a torch in honor of IDF veterans and bereaved families.