By Lindsay VanAsdalan
Sean Siegel always knew the importance of Jewish involvement — 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-aunt’s participation.
But it wasn’t until a life-changing LGBT Birthright trip to Israel that he started down his own path of advocating for Israel. He founded Students Supporting Israel at Pace University, where he 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 moved to the Waterfront Southwest neighborhood of Washington to be JNF’s new JNFuture campaign executive.
Tell me more about your Birthright experience.
I went on Birthright in 2014 with JQ International, and I got to see Israel through a queer lens. I always had a connection to Israel. My great-aunt Etta was best friends with [the late Prime Minister] 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 at Pace, 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 sanctions movement. I started working with a lot of other organizations. 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 are you involved in the Jewish community outside of work? Do you belong to a synagogue?
Outside of work, I was heavily involved in other organizations in Los Angeles. I moved to D.C. for this job four months ago, so I’ve been slowly diving into the Jewish life out here by joining other young professional Jewish groups like the Edlavitch JCC. I have yet to join a synagogue. I’m thinking about joining Sixth & I.
How did you get involved with JNF? What drew you to the organization?
I always knew about JNF. My great-aunt Etta was a fundraiser and officer for JNF. 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?
I really just want to 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 in Israel and a family here in the U.S.