Nir Kafri

Former Cornell Summer College student Isaac Herzog has been elected as head of the Jewish Agency and will assume the role on Aug. 1.

July 10, 2018

Former Cornell Summer College Student Elected Chairman of Jewish Agency for Israel

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Isaac Herzog, a former Cornell summer college student, was elected chairman of the historic Jewish Agency for Israel, the largest Jewish nonprofit organization in the world, on June 24.

The Jewish Agency’s primary task is to foster aliyah, Jewish immigration to Israel. Herzog will step down as a member of Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and assume his new role on Aug. 1.

The communications and marketing director of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, Ann L. Morse confirmed that Herzog attended the 1977-version of what is now called Cornell University Summer College.

The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, comprised of 10 members and headed by World Zionist Organization Chairman Avraham Duvdevan, unanimously approved Herzog’s appointment to chairman. His appointment marked the first time in 23 years that the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, did not get his choice for the position approved — causing some to worry about a rift between the current right-wing government and the newly-elected, left-wing Jewish Agency chairman.

To address this, Herzog said in his acceptance speech, “A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, no matter his denomination or the type of kippah he chooses to wear or not to wear on his head, I promise to work hard to promote Jewish unity and to partner with the Prime Minister and the government to achieve this crucial goal.”

Herzog moved to New York in 1975 when his father, Chaim Herzog — later to become the 6th president of Israel — was appointed Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, according to his Knesset biography. During his three years in New York, Herzog graduated from the Ramaz School, a Jewish high school in Manhattan, attended Jewish youth camps, and studied on Cornell’s Ithaca campus.

Herzog indicated that he will carry his Cornell experience with him into his new office. “I hope to visit [campus again] one day,” he said.

While at Cornell, he studied international relations and English literature and “loved every bit of it,” he told The Sun.

“I prayed at the local Hillel and [made] many friends. I remember Cornell fondly; great university,” he said.

Herzog also explained that he is distantly related to the late Cornell professor, Milton R. Konvitz. Born in Safed, Israel, Konvitz was a professor in the Law School and a founding faculty member of ILR. He also co-founded the Near Eastern Studies Department and Jewish Studies Program.

Prof. Ross Brann, Milton R. Konvitz Professor of Judeo-Islamic studies, said that Herzog’s relationship to Konvitz was likely “on Herzog’s mother’s side because his grandfather was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland and Konvitz’s family was Eastern European.”

Following his time at Cornell and a stint in the Intelligence Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, Herzog continued his studies at Tel Aviv University where he received a law degree. He then went on to hold numerous Israeli political positions, including four ministerial roles, the most recent being chairman of the Labor Party and leader of the opposition in the Knesset.