The Knesset, Israel’s main body of parliament, is a relatively young institution as far as government agencies go.
Convened for the first time on February 14, 1949, those first members of the Knesset were shaping a new country and defining what it would mean to be a state governed by the Jewish people, for the Jewish people.
As Israel’s first president Chaim Weizmann said on that historic day, the aim of Israel would be “to gather in the exiles from all parts of the world.”
The body took its name from Knesset Hagedolah, translated as Great Assembly, which was the representative Jewish body in Jerusalem in the 5th century BCE. That ancient council was comprised of 120 members, a figure the modern Knesset took on as well.
In January 1949, the first Israeli elections were held, following a victory in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Weeks later those original 120 elected officials stood in the offices of the Jewish Agency—the temporary headquarters before the government’s permanent home in Jerusalem’s Givat Ram neighborhood was finalized—and promised to uphold the values of the Jewish people for so long as they were in service.
To commemorate the day, a series of special events were planned throughout the city. Schoolchildren carried Israeli flags and bouquets of flowers, citizens marched in the streets, and a ceremony was held to honor the IDF soldiers who fell while fighting for Israel’s independence.
Today, the Knesset is located atop a hill in Givat Ram. It is an iconic building financed by donor James A. de Rothschild as a gift to Israel, and was completed in 1966. Several additions were made over the years, including a massive expansion begun in 2001 and finished in 2007, which nearly doubled the building’s floor space.