The Mensch List: The matchmaker

For a moment, it seemed like Jacob Segal was the interviewer.

Walking into Delice Bakery on a recent Monday morning, the 67-year-old businessman was already there, sitting by the window facing Pico Boulevard, huddled over the Los Angeles Times.

He stood up energetically, gave a broad smile worthy of a good Jewish zayde, and asked in a hybrid Israeli and Eastern European accent, “What do you want for breakfast?” 

And over the course of the next 45 minutes, Segal’s questions illustrated why he’s so good at what he does.

“Where do you live?” he asked curiously. “Are you seeing anyone?”

That’s just who Jacob Segal is — a networker, shmoozer, people person and volunteer shadchen, or matchmaker. No, not for prospective couples, but for Israeli entrepreneurs looking for capital and expertise in Southern California.

Since 1994, Segal has been a real-life LinkedIn, connecting Israeli entrepreneurs with investors in Southern California. As the head of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce (SCICC), Segal works tirelessly with a handful of dedicated volunteers to help Israeli entrepreneurs find what and who they are looking for in the local economy.

Never taking a dime of compensation for the valuable relationships he helps create, Segal arranges monthly meet-and-greets, usually midweek breakfast events at different venues in the city. 

In April, he brought Haifa-based Chagit Rubinstein to an early-morning bagel breakfast in Century City to talk about her microfinance initiative. It was a unique opportunity to make her pitch, shmooze, and network with potential investors. 

Some of the shidduchim — matches — turn into long, happy business relationships. Some last for a few years and then sputter out. And some, well, let’s just say they weren’t meant to be.

From coupling an Israeli electrical grid monitoring company with local energy firms to helping the non-profit Israel for Africa set up a 501(c)(3) in America, Segal is, in a way, repaying the country that helped get him out of the former Soviet Union and into the free world.

Born in August 1946, Segal grew up in Iasi — a city known as the cultural center of Romania — under communist rule. Secretly tuning in to radio broadcasts of Kol Israel and the Voice of America, Segal was eager to leave Romania. 

In 1965, he got his wish, moving to Israel, where the government paid the costs of resettlement for Segal, then 19; his mother; and his brother and sister.

Segal believes that growing Israel’s economy, relationship by relationship, helps the world see Israel in a different light. “Economics is the best way to do good diplomacy,” Segal likes to say, explaining how products and technology made in Israel help frame the Jewish state in a light that doesn’t involve green lines, negotiations and settlements.

Shai Aizin, who was Israel’s consul for economic affairs to the West Coast and based in Los Angeles between 2005 and 2009, said that Segal and SCICC have helped him in his role as a private businessman since he moved to Israel.

“They’ve helped tremendously,” Aizin said in a phone interview from Israel in April. “They are always willing to see what they can do and how they can help.”

As Segal put it as he polished off the last of his cheese-and-spinach boureka, “If there’s a need, we’ll find a way.” 

Then he sat down and waited for his next interviewee — a girl he wanted to speak with before recommending her to a local businessman and friend looking to fill an opening.

Linked Out

Today I received the 50th e-mail from someone I vaguely know, someone who isn’t spam, but is spam of a different sort. “You are invited to join LinkedIn.”, for those not in the know, is the social interface community Web site or whatever you call it for job hunters. Or so it was explained to me by one of the people I’d blasted for inviting me to one of these blasted things. “You have to be on Linked In, it’s the best way to promote yourself!” he said.

Do you remember when anyone with their own personal Web page was either a narcissist, a lunatic or a geek you would never give your e-mail to? OK, this was back in 1997 or so, when everyone was just starting to get e-mail, but still. Having your own Web page was a big scarlet L. Lo-ser.

Today, if you’re in the writing industry — or any industry where you want to be known, which seems to be every industry — you’re supposed to promote yourself by at least having a Web page, if not a blog. (In what I can’t decide was either a compliment or an insult, a former editor told me, “Amy, you were born to blog.”) But for some reason, I don’t feel like it.

I never built a page on MySpace. In fact, for a while I thought that anyone older than 30 who had a page there was a pedophile, or at least had Peter Pan syndrome. But there was the promotional aspect, and so I was considering relenting, except by then, all the kids — and adults — were moving over to Facebook. Originally designed for college networks, Facebook recently opened itself up to everyone. And everyone, it seems, is on it.

A guy friend here in Los Angeles told me about what my sister in New York is up to. My good friend in Israel wants to fix me up with a friend of hers here — via Facebook.

“You’re not on it?!” my friend writes me in disbelief via regular old e-mail. “It’s so much fun to see what everyone is up to!”

OK, I will admit this: I once did a MySpace search for an ex-boyfriend. It was my only one. He’s got a new band. And a wife, and a kid. That, my friend, is what he’s up to.

So, no, I’m not sure that I need to keep track of everyone from my past.

Frankly, I have a hard enough time keeping up with everyone in my present life. Or should I say lives, plural. My friends from Israel. My friends from New York. My friends who used to live in one of those places but now live somewhere else around the world. My friends from college. From high school. From the neighborhood. And, I think I’m forgetting some people — oh, yes, my friends from here. Not to mention my dates — the ones I’ve seen, am seeing and have yet to see.

They say that modern telecommunication makes our lives easier. And in a way, it has. Between the internet, cell phones and the combination of the two, which gives U.S. numbers to people living overseas, I can keep up with quite a number of people — and through them, nearly anyone I might have ever known, just to hear what they’re up to.

And I don’t mind — I really don’t. But do I really want more friends? Especially the online kind?

Uh oh. Have I just crossed that invisible line from cool young person to aging alter-kacker? “I remember when we didn’t even have the internet to do research,” I heard myself telling a group of journalism students, to which I was met by a blank stare, and I might as well have been saying, “When I was your age, we walked to school. Four miles. Barefoot.”

And while this might date me, I do remember life pre-Internet. About a decade ago I had founded an Internet company in Israel and was trying to explain the concept to Israeli industry leaders. (Suffice to say that it wasn’t an easy task trying to explain something new to a people who know everything.) I told people they would never have to leave the house! From shopping to research to booking travel to making friends to being part of a community, they would be able to conduct their entire lives online. It sounded far-fetched, and I wasn’t even sure believed it.

Not to state the obvious, but that day has arrived. And I, for better or for worse, have arrived with it. I’ve got my Treo Internet/cell phone — and am so adept at text messaging that my thumb has arthritis — my AOL IM, my Skype account, my work e-mail, my personal e-mail, my grad school e-mail and my hotmail account, which receives all promotional, travel and dating e-mails.

Yes, I date on the Internet, sometimes, when I don’t feel like hurling my face through the computer. Because, let me tell you, it takes up a lot of time. Between that, my e-mails, YouTube, eBay, CraigsList, Amazon, TMZ and sudoku (guiltiest of pleasures), entire decades of my life have gone by.

I don’t think I’m a Luddite. I’m just … tired.

So thanks for your invitation to join LinkedIn or MySpace of Facebook or whatever is the community Web Site for online communities these days. But if you want to hang out, why don’t you just give me a call. Better yet, let’s meet up. In person. Face to face.