Sean Siegel always knew the importance of standing up for his people — from growing up in a culturally Jewish household in the Los Angeles suburb of Agoura Hills to being introduced to the Jewish National Fund at a young age through his great-grandmother’s involvement.
But it wasn’t until a life-changing LGBTQ Birthright trip to Israel that he started down his own path of advocating for the Jewish state. That led him to founding Students Supporting Israel at Pace University, where he also majored in liberal studies with concentrations in marketing, political science and women and gender studies, with a minor in law and queer studies.
Now 28, he recently started a new position as the JNFuture campaign executive in the mid-Atlantic region.
When was the Birthright trip that changed your life? Tell me more about your experience and how it drove you to dedicate yourself to supporting Israel.
I went on Birthright in 2014 with JQ International, and it was actually an LGBT Birthright, so I got to see Israel through a queer lens. I always had a connection to Israel. My great-aunt Etta was best friends with Golda Meir. And I just knew I wanted to see Israel for my own eyes. The people, the land, every single aspect of it — I just knew at that moment I wanted to dedicate my life to helping Israel and to helping the Jewish people. When I got back, I took a Jewish studies course, and it was taught through an anti-Israel lens, believe it or not. And at that moment, I started Students Supporting Israel on my college university campus and have been in Israel activism ever since.
What kind of work did you do there, and how did it shape your decision to go into philanthropy?
At the university, I was fighting anti-Israel sentiment on campus, working with different student organizations on campus to get more Israel programming inside classrooms, history classes, Jewish studies classes; fighting BDS, which is the boycott, divest, sanction movement. I started working with a lot of other organizations during that. As students, we are a grassroots movement so we all work together to help fundraise, and I fell in love with it. So it kind of led me into this direction.
How did you get involved with JNF and with Israel work? What drew you to the organization?
I always knew about JNF. My great-aunt Etta was actually a fundraiser and officer for JNF, and she was one of the people that made the first land purchases in Israel through JNF, I believe, in the 1930s before Israel was even a state. And after doing a lot of research and a lot of soul searching, I knew that what I wanted to do was to be a part of something bigger in helping the people of Israel and really giving back. I knew that JNF was gonna be the home for me. It’s my family now.
What does your job look like? What is your role as JNFuture campaign executive?
I build these communities of young professional philanthropists who want to give back and support the land of Israel. I help raise money for our campaign by building these communities and managing a board that we have in the mid-Atlantic.
What do you hope to accomplish?
It’s just so important the work that we do at JNF in Israel, and I really just want to accomplish more — make more people aware of the work that we do and getting more people involved and really growing the mid-Atlantic region. My goal also is to give people a community — a sense of community through philanthropy. And then lastly, I want to give people a voice here in Israel and a family here in the U.S.