Like hundreds of thousands of other Jewish parents, Rob Clarfeld first learned of Birthright Israel when…
For long-time St. Louis donor Greg Siwak, Jewish philanthropic causes have always been of the utmost significance. Growing up, Greg’s parents and grandparents were his role models for giving back to the Jewish community. His mother, Nancy Siwak, even served as Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and is now on their Council of Life. “Supporting the Jewish community was always something they encouraged my siblings and me to do,” shared Greg.
So, as Greg became a young adult himself before Birthright Israel began, he participated in a young leadership mission to Israel. It is what he liked to call the “OG” Birthright Israel trip. And it was there he met his wife, Stacy. This mission is one of the main factors Greg is such an avid believer and supporter of Birthright Israel. He knows the role going on a trip to Israel, as a young adult, can play in one’s life.
In our interview below, we invite you to learn why Greg supports Birthright Israel Foundation.
Meet St. Louis Supporter Greg Siwak
Share with us how you became involved with Birthright Israel and Birthright Israel Foundation?
Greg Siwak: “Before Birthright Israel, many Jewish Federations would run singles trips or young professional missions. I participated in one of those trips to Israel through the St. Louis Jewish Federation, and that is where I met my wife. As a young adult, going on a trip to Israel and meeting my wife impacted me immensely. So, even though I never participated in a Birthright Israel trip, I understood the importance it can play in a young Jew’s life. That’s why I became involved and am involved to this day.”
Why do you believe supporting Birthright Israel Foundation is important to the Jewish future?
Greg Siwak: “When I first became involved with Birthright Israel, there was more demand for the trip than there were resources. It was easy to connect the dots between the philanthropic effort and the ability to clear the waiting list and ensure each young Jew would be able to visit Israel. I know things have come a long way since then, but at the time, it was painful to know there were kids that wanted to go but could not…Birthright Israel to me, from the beginning, was something worth focusing on.”
What do you believe is the most important lesson a young Jew learns on the trip?
Greg Siwak: “That’s a hard question to answer. There are a lot of ‘most important moments’ on Birthright Israel. One of my concerns more recently is the growing anti-Israel perspective in the US. Simply put, I think understanding the Israeli mindset and the Israeli people as a whole helps bring us all together. We need more social interaction between young Diaspora Jews and their Israeli peers, and we also need to assist others in having pride in Israel and what it stands for. The trip is a starting point and helps give our kids time to understand Israel and the geopolitics on their own.”
How do you think the Birthright Israel program impacts local Jewish communities?
Greg Siwak: “Tremendously! The old saying goes, ‘think locally, act locally.’ So, when I think about the continuity of the Jewish people, I think about St. Louis, day camps, sleep away camps, and Birthright Israel. These things are important pieces to ensure that they are committed when our children hit adulthood. I cannot stress that it’s vital we provide these experiences for every kid.”
What about its impact on other Jewish organizations?
Greg Siwak: “100% it impacts other organizations. The program has done an amazing job creating advocates for Israel and the Jewish people. When you look at the young leadership in the St. Louis Jewish community, a high percentage are Birthright Israel alumni, and I feel the numbers are super compelling. Personally, in St. Louis, the trip is a must-do thing.”
As the parent of future Birthright Israel participants, what do you hope your children will get out of the experience?
Greg Siwak: “Birthright Israel will be the first time they get to see Israel as adults, and my guess is that they will start to understand and appreciate the cultural aspects of the people. We have been fortunate to visit Israel as a family several times, but it is a lot different from visiting Israel or any country as a kid versus as an adult. As an adult, I know they will start to think about the people and culture more often.
What do you think the program will look like in 20, 30, or 40 years?
Greg Siwak: “We don’t know what the future brings, but we can predict what our threats will be most likely. As an example, we have faced assimilation and antisemitism most recently. Programs like Birthright Israel help us be better prepared to take on those challenges and serve to align us all on Israel and the importance of Israel’s role in the Jewish community and Diaspora at large.”
Get Involved with Birthright Israel Foundation in St. Louis
Lastly, help us ensure the future of Birthright Israel in St. Louis! If you share the same passion as Greg for the Jewish community and the State of Israel, then we need you. Contact Ariel Weiss, Regional Director, Central Region to learn about giving and leadership opportunities.
Regional Director, Midwest Region
Say It Forward — Tell Us About Your Birthright Israel Trip
Are you interested in sharing your Birthright Israel story with a larger Jewish community? Birthright Israel Foundation Alumni Ambassadors allows past participants and madrichim to pay it forward by sharing their stories through speaking engagements, blog posts, social media, events, and more. BRIF Alumni Ambassadors ensure the life-changing gift of Birthright Israel is here for their peers and future generations. Get started today by telling us what you thought of your trip!