I frequently ask myself, “What is your higher purpose?” It’s a question that I think so…
Israel holds a special place in the hearts of Irwin and Faye Siegel, supporters of Jewish causes. So, when their grandchildren returned from Birthright Israel trips over the years with eyes alight and stories of the vibrant Israeli culture and its unwavering spirit, it was like watching a familiar flame bloom brighter. The Siegel’s recognized the transformative power of the Birthright Israel trip and felt drawn to ensure every young Jewish adult could discover their own connection to Israel.
This commitment deepened after the October 7th terrorist attack. Witnessing Israel’s resilience firsthand became paramount for Irwin. Thankfully, Birthright Israel Foundation rose to the occasion, offering a swift solidarity mission. We’re truly humbled that Irwin agreed to share his experience with us, hoping to inspire others to ignite their own spark of support for Israel, whether through visiting the country or engaging in meaningful ways.
Q: What initially drew you to participate in Birthright Israel Foundation’s solidarity mission to Israel during this challenging time?
Irwin Siegel: “When I learned about the mission, I had already been thinking about finding a way to get to Israel. So, once this opportunity arose, it was just a matter of telling my wife I was going. I wasn’t sure of her reaction, but she encouraged me, and so I went. I needed to witness the situation firsthand, feel the pain and resilience of the people, and come back with a message that would ignite action and support.”
Q: Tell us more about why you felt the need to visit Israel.
Irwin Siegel: “I know that Israel is very important to American Jews, and I felt compelled to witness the situation firsthand during this time. My goal was to gain a deeper understanding of this terrible tragedy being faced by the Israeli people. That, in turn, would allow me to share my experience and encourage others to support the needs of the country.”
Q: Share with us what it was like to visit Southern Israel and the kibbutzim hit hardest by the October 7th terrorist attack.
Irwin Siegel: “One of my first concerns, as we got off the plane, was safety, but I had no fear. As we drove south, I did think to myself, ‘Why am I doing this? There is a war going on 10 miles away.’ The more time we were in Israel, however, the more I felt at home. It was vital to bear witness and hear from those affected most.”
Q: You mentioned volunteering at Pitchon Lev. How did that experience resonate with you?
Irwin Siegel: “On the mission, we went to Pitchon Lev, and 10-12 Birthright Israel volunteers were working there. It was truly inspiring. From those who spoke with us, they said they just had to come and support Israel. The young adults had been to Israel once before with Birthright, and that experience stuck with them and influenced them to come now when Israel needs them most. Their stories reinforced the program’s impact and how it ignites a passion for our people and Israel.”
Q: What message are you sharing with your friends and family back in Atlanta now that you are home?
Irwin Siegel: “How so many people want to hear about my experience is incredible. I even hosted a Zoom call for my family, spread all over the US, to share more about my trip. I truly have two messages. First, Israel won’t back down until Hamas’ military is demolished. Antisemitism is rearing its ugly head, and “Never Again” is now. Second, the mental health impact of this conflict will be a long-term battle. We need to stand by Israel, not just during the missiles, but in the years of healing that follow.”
Q: How has this experience affected your local and national involvement with Birthright Israel?
Irwin Siegel: “It is clear that right now is the most impactful time for a Birthright Israel trip for young Jewish adults. They will see, feel, and experience things others, six months ago, did not. They will return with a sense of purpose unlike any other. I can say that as a grandparent, I would encourage my grandchildren to go and that if you are a grandparent or parent, you need to support this mission. We need to keep funding Birthright Israel and give this once-in-a-lifetime experience to our children.”