December 19, 2018

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.