Israel Trip Blossoms Into Philanthropy

For a self-described spoiled American — nails unerringly
polished, paprika curls without a misdirected loop, ensembles color coordinated — Blossom Siegel’s first visit to Israel
was a transformative experience. It also was a boon to Orange County’s Jewish
community by awakening a tireless activist and philanthropist.

“The first trip to Israel changed my life,” said Siegel, who
is the honoree at a scholarship fundraising dinner Jan. 25 for Irvine’s Tarbut
V’Torah Community Day School at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Irvine.

When Siegel saw the Israelis financial and emotional needs
on her 1985 visit, she came to the conclusion that vigorous American Jewish
communities ensured Israel’s lifeline.

Siegel was also seeking a new direction in life. Sobered by
her Israel experience, she returned to Newport Beach to immerse herself in the
local Jewish Federation, an umbrella fundraising vehicle that generated $1.9
million last year for the county’s Jewish agencies and schools.

“For me, Federation was synonymous with community. It makes
the most impact,” said Siegel, who served the organization for three years as
president, ending in 1995. She remains one of its most generous financial
supporters. Last year, she endowed a fund exceeding $500,000 to benefit the Federation’s
campaign in perpetuity, according to the annual report.

“She doesn’t say no to anyone,” said Irving Gelman, Tarbut’s
founder. “She helps knowingly and unknowingly,” he said, adding that Siegel
prefers anonymous philanthropy, because she is discomfited by the personal
scrutiny that accompanies public gifts.

“I’m trying to convince her to let us name something at the
school for her,” Gelman said of one of the school’s primary benefactors. Even
so, Siegel continues public financial support motivated by a desire to set an
example for others, he said.

Siegel is proud that during her presidency, local Jewish
agencies were for the first time geographically united with the remodeling of
the current Costa Mesa campus opened in 1996. The former auto museum was a gift
of the Feuerstein and Fainberg families. “That established the nucleus of a
real Jewish community,” she said.

With her passion and commitment to strengthen the county’s
Jewish bonds, Siegel also proved no slouch at face-to-face solicitations, a
principal job of presidents who lead nonprofit groups. Even before her first
trip to Israel, Judaism already strongly influenced Siegel’s life.

Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., synagogue was a mainstay
activity for her family. She graduated from a New York art institute and worked
in advertising as a commercial artist.

After marrying and moving to Germany’s Black Forest in 1967,
she arranged Hebrew lessons in her home for six children, including her own, by
hiring a traveling rabbi.

In helping the oldest child become a bar mitzvah, Siegel
said she set off a sensation among local Jewry. From outlying villages, more
than 100 people trekked to Frieburg to witness the event, the first since
before the war. “It was an awesome experience,” Siegel recalled.

On relocating to Newport Beach in 1971, Siegel turned to
leadership in her local Conservative synagogue, Tustin’s Congregation B’nai

Despite the violence in Israel, the region has not lost its
allure for Siegel, who has, since 1985, returned 21 times, most recently last
month as part of the local Federation’s 16-person mission. Even so, she would
not consider relocating. Three adult children and grandchildren compel her to
stay in the United States.

But so does her feeling of fulfillment over her own impact.
“The work I’m doing here is very important,” she said.

Let’s Make a Mitzvah!

In the nonprofit circles, former "Let’s Make a Deal" host Monty Hall has built a reputation for being a "tireless" fundraiser, having helped raised nearly $1 billion over the years for a lengthy roster of charities, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Yet "tireless" might be too weak an adjective for the 80-year-old Hall — try "unstoppable."

Just a few weeks ago, Hall hosted back-to-back banquets for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and for Aish HaTorah before breaking a hip on June 5. By July 9, with cane in hand, Hall was walking again at the Jewish Home for the Aging’s (JHA) 90th anniversary gala in Hollywood, where he and wife, Marilyn, were on hand to share in accepting a life achievement award. A week later, Hall hosted an annual three-day Cedars-Sinai Medical Center-sponsored diabetes fundraiser that bears his name.

According to Hall, it’s all in a day’s work, for he draws much of his energy from his interaction with Los Angeles’ Jewish community.

"There’s a certain warmth about being Jewish," Hall said. "There’s a joy about seeing the face of a Jewish grandmother at the Jewish Home, the Jewish heartburn in the food, Jewish jokes, everything has a ta’am, a taste."

Hall’s decades of tzedakah were inspired by his grandfather, who emigrated from the Ukraine in 1901, bringing over relatives to help build the Jewish community in Manitoba, Canada. Hall also watched as his mother, Rose Halperin, became involved in Young Judea, rose to the vice presidency of Hadassah and traveled coast to coast as the national chair of Youth Aliyah in Canada.

JHA has been a special cause for Hall, who helped raise money to finance an Alzheimer’s building at JHA’s campus in the early 1990s. The money was redirected to a general fund after the Northridge earthquake and ultimately helped build the new JHA campus.

"My joy has been to go every Chanukah and Mother’s Day to the Jewish Home," Hall said, "and we light the candles, sing the songs, say the prayers, visit the residents and end up in the dining room and they entertain me. I’ve taken friends, and they have been so impressed. If they were not devotees, they certainly were after attending. For me, year after year, time after time, to visit again and again, it warms my heart."

Hall found his match in Marilyn, who herself has been very involved in the community. She has written and produced documentaries for Tel Aviv University and the United Jewish Welfare Fund. She currently sits on the board of governors of the American Friends of Tel Aviv University. Together, Marilyn and Monty Hall sponsor the Statesman Club, the highest level of JHA donors, which has raised more than $3 million for the JHA.

It has given Hall much nachas to see his three children — Joanna, Richard and Sharon — and five grandchildren follow in his sizable philanthropic footsteps. In the Hall family, giving is a given.

Hall recalls a quote from "Fiddler on the Roof": "We all know who we are and what God expects of us."

"Well," Hall said, amending the adage, "we all know who we are and what we expect from each other."

Times have changed, and Hall said he would like to see more Jewish entertainment figures give back to their community. Hall laments the fact that the days are gone when big studio moguls would sway young Jews in showbiz to contribute to Jewish causes.

"It left a vacuum," Hall said. "I know there have been one or two occasions when we tried to gather all the young people in the industry to be addressed by important people, who laid it on the line. But nothing came of it. Therein lies the failure."

Still, Hall hopes to see new generations carry the torch of philanthropy. He knows that Los Angeles’ Jews have the potential.

"I went to a United Way meeting once," Hall said. "As I sat there, I looked around the room and there were a lot of Jews. And I started to smile because everyone there was the head of something in this community. Not just Jewish organizations, but secular ones, too."

"When I was a kid," Hall continued, "I went to the movies, and you knew who the good guys were. They rode white horses and wore white hats. Sitting around the table were guys in white hats. And thank God we have so many white hats in this community."