Though rare in our increasingly polarized world, occasionally there are watershed moments of unity. For Jews in Israel and the diaspora, the opening of the first U.S. embassy in Jerusalem has presented a key opportunity to come together and celebrate a major milestone in Jewish history.
For decades, the U.S.—mirroring the position of the international community—declined to designate Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or to house its embassy there. But last December, President Trump affirmed what we have always known. Jerusalem is undeniably the Israeli capital on historical, national and moral levels, and the city functions fully and officially as such regardless of whether or not it is granted the formal recognition of foreign bodies. Perhaps more importantly, Jerusalem is and has always been a centerpiece of Jewish peoplehood, religious tradition, identity and unity.
At a time when some seek to undermine the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise in its entirety, America’s recognition of reality was most welcome, and it continues to strengthen the international recognition of Israel’s capital. I was honored in my capacity as The Jewish Agency for Israel’s board chairman to join Natan Sharansky, the organization’s Chairman of the Executive, at the opening ceremony.
An estimated 1,000 dignitaries, including 250 from the U.S., attended the ceremony Monday. This is highly evocative of Jerusalem’s millennia-old central role in Jewish thought as a place where Jews come together, a meeting point for Jews and for the non-Jews who also hold the city dear to their hearts. The people of ancient Israel came to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage holidays—Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot—regardless of their tribe. It is the city that Jews long yearned to come back to, mentioning it in prayers three times a day. And the Passover Seder closes with the declaration, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
While Jerusalem is a symbolic unifying force, there is still work to be done, which is why the mission of The Jewish Agency is so crucial. Everything we do works to ensure that every Jewish person is part of the Jewish story. We connect Israel, Israelis and the Jewish people worldwide. We bring Jews to Israel and Israel to Jewish communities, support vulnerable Israelis, and facilitate Aliyah.
We invigorate Jewish education, Jewish culture and knowledge about Israel through day schools, camps, on college campuses, trips to Israel and encounters with Israelis that help hundreds of thousands of children, teens and young adults enrich their Jewish identities. Throughout our work, our aim is to strengthen connections to Israel and our shared heritage—every one of us, together. Jerusalem is fundamental to our collective story.
Natan and I attended the ceremony with pride. We are gratified that the U.S. has supported the State of Israel and its people for 70 years by providing billions of dollars in economic and military aid and defending Israel against bias at global forums. The embassy move is the latest manifestation of stalwart U.S. support for Israel.
On a parallel track, through their philanthropic support of organizations like The Jewish Agency, Jews around the world have been instrumental in fortifying the economic development of Israel, forging an unbreakable bond between Israel and world Jewry, and ensuring our unity as a People. We are enormously grateful to our funding partners and individual donors who are the lifeblood of our organization.
The embassy’s opening is a milestone in Jerusalem’s history that should serve to strengthen Jewish unity and identity worldwide.
Michael Siegal is the Chairman of the Board of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Chairman and CEO of Olympic Steel, Inc.