Michael Siegal always knew he would be involved as a volunteer in the Jewish world, but he never knew to what extent until after college.
“It was sometime in my early 20s when I got invited to an Israel Bonds dinner,’ said Siegal, 64, who earned a Bachelor of Science in education from Miami of Ohio in Oxford in 1974. “My parents were involved in the Jewish National Fund here in Cleveland. I have this great affinity. My father took me to Israel in 1975, which was my first trip.
“I had this great kind of feeling toward a Jewish nation and helping them build strength, both economically as well as morally and physically it was really important to me, to have a Jewish nation. It just resonated with me when I went to an Israel Bonds dinner to talk about building a nation and building it with strength. Strength as opposed to Jewish weakness certainly resonated with me early in my life.”
However, he never thought he would be chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, let alone the Jewish Federations of North America.
“I’m a person who likes to get things done by showing up at events and then being asked to do things,” Siegal said. “That kept propelling me to a higher level of involvement, where people either recognized my talents or I just forced my way in. I’m not sure which came first.
“I never had this vision that I could lead two Jewish organizations in my lifetime and meet kings and princes and prime ministers. It wasn’t like I didn’t think I could, but it wasn’t like this is what I wanted to be doing. But I did have a scope of a wider world as opposed to I just wanted to be involved in Cleveland.”
Siegal credits his late parents, Molly and Sol Siegal, with instilling a love for Judaism and Israel in him. He also praised the Wexner Heritage Program, of which he and his wife, Anita, were part of. The program is designed for Jewish learning and leadership development for volunteer leaders in North America.
In 2014, the Siegals established a $1.25 million endowment through the Federation to fund the Michael and Anita Siegal One Happy Camper Program.
– Bob Jacob