Meet Gene Segal, the Animal Whisperer and Jewish MacGyver

We call Gene the Jewish MacGyver, or the JewGyver, because he can fix anything
August 31, 2023
Gene Segal

A few years ago, our tortoise, Hershel, escaped from our yard. A friend gave us Hershel when his son, whom Hershel belonged to, went off to college. We put Hershel in the yard with our other tortoise, Mr. Tenenbaum, who was older and much bigger.

One day, while going outside to feed my two favorite reptiles, I couldn’t find Hershel. I searched everywhere for him. My husband Daniel and I had lost Mr. Tenenbaum a few times in the past, figuring out that tortoises are expert escape artists. We thought our enclosure would hold Hershel in, but we found out via Google that they are great at burrowing. We weren’t used to that, as Mr. Tenenbaum is a South American red-footed tortoise that doesn’t burrow. 

Daniel and I checked for Hershel under every object in our yard. We walked around the neighborhood for hours, looking under cars and in people’s gardens. We put up signs with his picture and posted them up for five days straight. 

I was so worried about our little guy. How was he going to survive in the world? Would we ever get him back? I prayed constantly for Hashem to bring him home. 

On the sixth day, I put up flyers again, sticking one on a pole a block down from our home. 

Then, an hour later, I got a call.

“I think I found your tortoise,” the man on the other end said. 

“I’ll be right there!” I yelled.  

When I ran to the address this man provided me, I realized it was where Gene Segal lived. Daniel and I had met Gene a few years back, when a mutual friend brought him to our house for Pesach seder. We ended up having him back the following Pesach, but we hadn’t been in touch since I knocked on Gene’s door, and he opened it with Hershel in his hands. I was so happy that I teared up.

Kylie with her tortoise

“Thank you!” I said. “Where was he?” 

“You’re not going to believe this,” Gene said.

Gene then described how one morning, he got into his car and was about to reverse and leave. But something told him to check under his tire. He’d never done that before, but he had a feeling that something was there. 

Lo and behold, when he checked, Hershel was right there. If Gene had backed up, he would have killed Hershel. 

Upon hearing this, I said, “Obviously, Hashem wants us to reconnect and become friends.”

Since that day three years ago, Daniel and I have become closer with Gene, an interesting man with many talents and a great friend. 

We call Gene the Jewish MacGyver, or the JewGyver, because he can fix anything. When my husband’s mobile recording studio The Podcast Bus got a broken tire on a highway, Gene calmly drove it to a safe spot and fixed it with ease. You see, Gene has his own school bus, which was formerly owned by a church in Georgia. He fixed all the mechanical issues the bus had and added custom lighting and audio, transforming it into a party bus he rents out. He’s also building a house in Crestline from scratch – doing all the electrical, gas, plumbing, flooring and drywall on his own – and he can fix mechanical issues on pretty much any vehicle.

“I can do pretty much everything on any car possible,” Gene told me. 

Gene, a Russian Jew, was born in Moscow and moved to the United States with his mom in 1979. HIAS got them a visa to go from the Soviet Union to Israel, and then they came to Los Angeles. It was imperative for them to get out because his mom faced discrimination in her workplace for being Jewish.

“My mom shielded me from antisemitism,” Gene said. “I was very young when we left.” 

Gene presumes, however, that his grandfather was killed for being Jewish. Stalin’s government called him an “enemy of the state” for traveling west to study bookkeeping in Romania, though Gene believes he was persecuted because of antisemitism. 

“After Stalin’s regime ended, my grandmother got a letter clearing my grandfather’s name and an explanation that he died while in captivity,” he said. “They got some token compensation.”

Like many immigrants, Gene worked hard and got his electrical engineering degree at UC Irvine. In 1995, he became a self-taught mechanic because of the independence it afforded him. 

“I don’t have to be in that uncomfortable space thinking about whether or not a service person is taking advantage of me,” he said.

These days, along with working on his Crestline home and vehicles, Gene also runs a cat rescue in West LA called Furry Friends Foundation. 

These days, along with working on his Crestline home and vehicles, Gene also runs a cat rescue in West LA called Furry Friends Foundation. He rescues cats from death row at kill shelters, vaccinates them and gives them the medicine and socialization they need. At any time, he has dozens of cats in his care. 

“I’ve pulled cats from death row the morning they were supposed to die and adopted them,” he said. “They were mislabeled as aggressive when they weren’t, really. They all ended up being super friendly and affectionate cats.” 

In his spare time, Gene gets outdoors with his loyal dog Chewy. He hikes, camps, bicycles and attends music festivals, and is looking for someone who would like to go on adventures with him.

“I would welcome a similar-minded woman in my life to travel the journey together,” he said. 

Though our friend Gene isn’t a religious Jew, he enjoys coming over for Shabbat dinner to say hi to his old friend Hershel, and he strives to live according to Jewish values. 

“I try to live by basic principles of doing the right thing, being good to others, being responsible and contributing good to the world,” he said. “I enjoy life to its fullest, because I believe the Creator has put us here to learn and enrich ourselves in a positive way.” 

I’m honored to know Gene, and so glad that our tortoise escaped that day and ended up reconnecting us with our friend.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.