Birthright co-founder Michael Steinhardt to make history lighting Israel Independence Day torch


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jewish-American investor and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt has been selected as one of two Diaspora Jews to light an official torch at the state Israel Independence Day ceremony.

Steinhardt, the co-founder and major funder of Taglit-Birthright Israel, will join Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who delivered a prayer at the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January, as the first non-Israelis to light a torch in the ceremony on Mount Herzl scheduled for May 1.

This year’s Yom Haatzmaut theme is the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

Another torch lighter with American roots is Rabbanit Chana Henkin, who moved to Israel from the United States in the 1970s with her husband, Yehuda. She founded and serves as the dean of the Nishmat institute, a Jewish learning institution that was one of the first to teach women Talmud and Jewish law. The Henkins’ son Eitam and his wife were killed in an attack on a West Bank road by Palestinian gunmen in October 2015.

Other torch lighters include Amnon Shashua, a computer science professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and co-founder of the Mobileye and OrCam startups; Yehoram Gaon, 78, a Jerusalem-born singer, actor, director and producer, as well as a TV and radio host; Uri Mammalian, one of Israel’s most famous former soccer players and a Jerusalem native; Arab-Israeli Dr. Ahmed Eid, the head of the Department of General Surgery at Hadassah University Hospital, Mount Scopus; Eli Mizrahi, who has led the revitalization of Jerusalem’s  Mahane Yehuda market, and Yaakov Hetz, who fought in the battle for Ammunition Hill during the Six-Day War in 1967.

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