January 20, 2019

From 1947 to 2018, the Miracles of Nov. 29

When supporters of Israel worldwide think about Nov. 29, they think about miracles. 

In 1897, Theodor Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in their own country.

This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations, which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild their national home.

Nov. 29, 1947, marked one of the greatest milestones along the road to realizing the miracle of the modern Jewish state. On that day, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their state is irrevocable. 

Subsequent events cemented this miracle, including how the nascent Jewish state proceeded to declare independence, and then to defy the odds by overcoming formidable Arab armies in the War of Independence. But the roots of the miracle were planted at the U.N. on Nov. 29.

I’ve dedicated my career and personal life to appreciating, advocating for, and preserving this miracle. Now, quite fittingly on Nov. 29, I’m adding an even more personal layer as to my part in the sacred responsibility that we all share in securing this miracle. 

On Nov. 29, I begin my new role as world chairman of Keren Hayesod-UIA (United Israel Appeal). Born and raised in a religious Zionist environment in Miami Beach, I’ve long savored the realization of a modern Jewish state and the Jewish people’s miracle of sovereignty in their ancestral homeland. But even as I advanced in my career working on behalf of the State of Israel, it would have been hard to imagine that today I would find myself at the helm of an organization that has the most direct connection possible to the state itself by serving as the fundraising arm of the global Zionist movement.

Never would I have thought that an American Jew from Miami Beach would assume this position, whose selection process involves direct coordination with the prime minister of Israel — the leader of a strong and thriving Jewish state, dedicated to protecting the Jewish people worldwide. Although my appointment was announced about a month ago, I am still processing its full ramifications. How did my personal and professional journey ever bring me to this point?

After fulfilling a lifelong dream and making aliyah alone at age 17 in 1990, I served as a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) armored corps, and later in the IDF reserves as a casualty officer. But my ensuing career was a back-and-forth journey between Israel and the U.S., including jobs in finance and law (in addition to attending business school and law school at the University of Miami), as director general in Israel for the World Jewish Congress, and as Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles to the Southwest United States — appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was truly humbling to have earned the prime minister’s confidence for my immediate past role in Los Angeles, as well as for my new position with Keren Hayesod, together with the support of the international Jewish leaders who comprise its board of trustees.

My time in Los Angeles was a high-level crash course in Israel-Diaspora ties and diplomacy.

My time in Los Angeles was a high-level crash course in Israel-Diaspora ties and diplomacy, and in Israel’s crucial relationships with various demographic groups and communities, from American Jews to Israeli-Americans to Latinos to Hollywood. Indeed, representing Israel in Los Angeles gave me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage and meet one-on-one with celebrities like Conan O’Brien, Billy Crystal, Mayim Bialik, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and many others. In doing so, I had the privilege to build and fortify those relationships in an Israel-centric context enhancing our country’s diplomatic standing. I’ll never forget those exciting, action-packed years.

But now I’m moving on to a new, next-level challenge. And to understand that challenge, one really needs to understand what Keren Hayesod is and what it does. Admittedly, amid today’s “alphabet soup” of Jewish and Israeli nonprofits, it’s easy for true awareness about any organization’s actual work and mission to get lost in the shuffle.

Founded in 1920, Keren Hayesod helped lay the foundation for the future Jewish state. With the help of donations from throughout the world, it brought tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Europe to the land of Israel, helped absorb them, and started more than 900 urban and rural settlements. It provided the newcomers with homes and jobs, and developed the economic, educational and cultural framework of pre-state Israel. After Israel’s independence, Keren Hayesod-UIA became one of the country’s national institutions.
Today, in partnership with the global Jewish community and friends of Israel in more than 45 countries, Keren Hayesod-UIA helps advance the national priorities of the state. The most important priorities are rescuing Jews from places where their lives are in peril, encouraging aliyah, and absorbing new immigrants. Further, scores of Keren Hayesod-UIA projects strengthen weak populations in Israel, provide opportunities for disadvantaged youths, and connect young Diaspora Jews to Israel and to Jewish life. Our newest projects are the renovation of Israel’s national heritage sites and the development of efficient alternative energy.

As I reflect on these two improbable events occurring on Nov. 29 — the U.N.’s approval of the partition plan, and the beginning of my time as Keren Hayesod’s world chairman — I keep coming back to the word “miracle.” The modern State of Israel has forged a highly unlikely path to existence and continued survival and, personally, I’ve experienced an unlikely journey to my current role. I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors and the great-grandson of those who were murdered in the Holocaust. Yet today, my own children are approaching the age of IDF service and will soon defend the Jewish state. A few days before Hanukkah, I can’t think of a greater miracle.


Sam Grundwerg is world chairman of Keren Hayesod-UIA (United Israel Appeal) and the former Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles.