People of Israel

Sam Grundwerg, World Chairmain of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal.

Name: Sam Grundwerg ID: World Chairmain of Keren Hayesod- United Israel Appeal (photo credit: Courtesy)
Name: Sam Grundwerg ID: World Chairmain of Keren Hayesod- United Israel Appeal
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“I’m a serial oleh [immigrant],” Sam Grundwerg, the new World Chairman of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, tells me.
I’m sitting in his office in the Jerusalem headquarters of Israel’s national institutions. From the shelves, you can clearly see where he’s from. On display are an American football helmet and a baseball, both signed, and on the wall are pictures of Grundwerg with several prominent figures, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, actress Gal
Gadot and even the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson – and no wonder, since Grundwerg is an observant Jew.
Grundwerg was born in Miami Beach, Florida, to a modern-Orthodox family. In his words, “We led a religious lifestyle, yet we were involved also in the non-religious and non-Jewish world. My family was very Zionistic, so it was obvious I would come at age 17 to learn for a gap year in yeshiva in Israel.”
He studied at a yeshiva in Efrat and fell in love with the country. At the end of the year, he decided to stay a second year, and after that, he decided to make aliyah. Through a hesder program at Ohr Etzion, he served in the IDF. Following that, he earned his first degree at Bar-Ilan University in logistics and finance.
During his studies, he met and married his wife, Julia. “I knew my wife in Miami,” he says. “She was my classmate, but I never imagined then that the two of us would get married. Fate put us together in Israel, and today she’s my wife.”
Julia’s family originates from Syria, but her father was born in Argentina and she was born in Puerto Rico. When she was young, her family moved to Miami.
Sam graduated university and was accepted to work in the finance department of the Strauss dairy factory in Petah Tikva. He worked there for three years, but when his mother-in-law became ill, the family, then expanded with son Elisha, decided to move back to America to be with her until she died.
Sam completed an MBA in finance and a second degree in law at Miami University. During his studies, his wife gave birth to another two daughters, Felicia and Sarita. After graduating, he went to work for an international law firm named Greenberg Traurig, LLP, which also has offices in Israel.
Every year abroad, the Grundwergs faced the question of when they would return to Israel. Miami offered a comfortable life and good treatment for their daughter’s Cystic Fibrosis.
In 2009, the timing felt right, and they made aliyah as a family. At first, he worked as a lawyer, but upon a friend’s request, he joined the World Jewish Congress under Ronald Lauder. The job was challenging: its goal was to build cooperation and unite Jews in the Diaspora, to fight antisemitism, foster religious pluralism and support Israel.
In 2016, he received a surprise request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who requested that he accept the role as Israel’s Consul General to Los Angeles. In the first year, his family joined him. However, due to the ages of his daughters and their desire to complete their schooling in Israel, his family returned to Israel, and Grundwerg continued with his job, flying between the US and Israel.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was also the foreign minister, asked me to put special focus on Hollywood and so I did. I contacted several influencers. For example, Conan O’Brien’s visit to Israel was my initiative,” he says with pride.
He was also responsible for the visit of Dean Cain (who played Superman). He brought the casts of several popular TV shows to Israel, and even organized a special mission for top Hollywood executives and producers.
In his words, there is a warm relationship between the Jews of Los Angeles and Israel, and not only because it’s home to the largest number of Israelis outside of Israel. As a religious Jew, he doesn’t travel in a car on Shabbat or holidays, so on Rosh Hashanah, he would walk over 20 kilometers to speak at synagogues of all denominations.
He hosted two big events while working at the consulate. One was an Iftar party to break the fast of Ramadan with Muslim leaders, including NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The other was Israel’s 70th birthday party in Los Angeles, attended by a range of celebrities, such as Billy Crystal and other actors, as well as baseball and basketball stars.
When the opportunity presented itself, Grundwerg was pleased to accept the job he’s in now – World Chairman of Keren Hayesod-UIA. “For me to work in such a place – it is a calling,” he says. “It’s a place that has so much connection to the history of our state. Since its inception in 1920, Keren Hayesod has been an organization whose main focus, among others, is to assist new olim in their aliyah and absorption in Israel and to strengthen the weaker sectors in Israeli society and to be a bridge between Israel and the Jewish people in the Diaspora. To work for Israel and for its people – I feel so lucky!”