50 Influential Jews: Pillars of Zion - No. 26

The heads of Israel's national institutions Keren Kayemet LeIsrael, World Zionist Organization, and Keren Hayesod wield profound influence, backed by tens of billions of shekels.

 Keren Hayesod world chairman Sam Grundwerg, World Zionist Organization chairman Yaakov Hagoel, and KKL chairperson Ifat Ovadia Luski. (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky, Courtesy)
Keren Hayesod world chairman Sam Grundwerg, World Zionist Organization chairman Yaakov Hagoel, and KKL chairperson Ifat Ovadia Luski.
(photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky, Courtesy)

The Likud Party isn’t only the strongest political entity in the Knesset, but it is also one of the most central forces in Israel’s four national institutions: Keren Kayemet LeIsrael (KKL-JNF); the Jewish Agency; the World Zionist Organization (WZO); and Keren Hayesod. The senior positions of all four of these institutions, as well as other influence of tens of billions of shekels, is determined by the results of the World Zionist Congress that takes place every five years. 

No. 25: Danny Danon >>

No. 27: David M. Friedman >>

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Two chairpersons of these organizations represent the Likud: Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of WZO; and Ifat Ovadia Luski, chairwoman of KKL-JNF. Both are part of MK Danny Danon’s group in World Likud, and their influence in recent years has become enormous.

Hagoel has brought WZO and the Zionist movement in general to a more central stage of the Jewish world and Israeli society. He’s been instrumental in creating traditions to Israelis such as the National Zionism quiz, which is broadcast annually on national television. In addition, he brought forward an initiative that was adopted by the government this year that will focus on commemoration of Jews in the Diaspora who were killed in antisemitic terrorist attacks. Some of the initiatives include the establishment of a memorial site for Diaspora Jews and an accessible database with information on the victims.

In December 2022, a significant milestone was marked when 42-year-old Ovadia-Luski was selected as the chairwoman of KKL-JNF by its board of directors, making her the first woman to hold this prestigious position. 

Her commitment to the Hebrew language and its culture is evident from her leadership in WZO’s Department of Hebrew Language and Culture. Her upbringing was deeply rooted in the values of the Betar Movement, and throughout her professional journey she has displayed unwavering commitment to the Jewish community and Israel. 

She was instrumental in promoting a number of financial agreements that have enabled KKL-JNF to act in a more responsible way, such as with the Israeli government, with the employees of the organization, and a renewed discussion with JNF-USA about cooperating together again after a two-decade hiatus. 

Both Hagoel and Ovadia-Luski have been able to do something that most Israeli leaders have not managed to do in the past year: conduct in-depth conversations and discussions with Jews from all sides of the political and religious map, from Israel and around the globe. In both KKL-JNF and WZO, there are directors or executives from Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews, including haredi Jews from Israel and the Diaspora. 

Sam Grundwerg

Keren Hayesod-UIA World Chairman

Growing up in Miami Beach, Florida, and making aliyah at 17 and serving as a lone soldier in the armored corps, Sam Grundwerg never dreamed he would serve as an Israeli diplomat and be in leadership roles in some of the Jewish people’s most influential national organizations. Before diplomacy and the Jewish organizational world, He had a promising business career. He held positions in law and finance in the US and Israel, including in the prestigious Greenberg Traurig law firm.

For the past five years, Grundwerg, world chairman of Keren Hayesod-UIA (United Israel Appeal), has worked with Steven Lowy, chairman of the World Board of Trustees, in leading the iconic Zionist fundraising arm and national institution. Together, they have led monumental changes re-energizing Keren Hayesod, enormously impacting Jewish Diaspora communities outside of the US. The recent financial results of the organization include nearly a $200 million fundraising campaign supporting Israeli society and a massive $22 million (NIS 75.3 m) fundraising efforts of Keren Hayesod for the emergency aliyah from Ukraine and Russia campaign.

In his strategic efforts to modernize and keep the organization relevant to new donors and supporters, Grundwerg has been able to establish and strengthen relationships with Christian leaders across the world, including communities like Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, and even South Korea, an effort with enormous strategic importance for Israel and the organization.

In this sensitive year, Grundwerg and Lowy have the complicated task of navigating through complex political issues with pressure from both sides of the aisle to take a stand. They have conveyed to the leadership in Israel the effects of the situation in the country today on the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, and on the 103-year-old organization seeking to lead another successful year raising funds for Israel.