Oct. 26, 2020
By STEVE ARNOLD
When Sandi Seigel walked into her first Na’amat meeting 20 years ago, she was looking for a way to make friends in a new city.
The Toronto native had just moved to Hamilton with her new husband and she was looking for a Jewish women’s organization in which to get involved. Now, the Hamilton pediatrician and McMaster University medical school professor has been elected National President of the organization.
Na’amat – the name is an acronym of the Hebrew words meaning Movement of Working Women and Volunteers – is one of the largest agencies providing social services in Israel.
Like many service groups, Seigel said, Na’amat is facing a tough challenge in convincing women to spend some of their scarce free time on its projects. But the need is so great, she’s determined to see the group survive and thrive.
“It has been challenging for a long time to get people involved,” Seigel said in an interview with the CJR. “That has been a challenge for all of us, and even more so during the COVID crisis. The needs we’re trying to meet, from a social standpoint, are just huge.”
Founded almost 100 years ago, according to the history recorded on the group’s national website, Na’amat was known as Pioneer Women in its early days and was dedicated to the idea that women could work with men in equality and help other women improve their families and society.
In the early years, Na’amat women – including a young, idealistic American who took the name Golda Meir – worked in the fields, factories and communal kitchens of Israel, even before it was a state. Today it is the largest women’s movement in Israel, filling a gaping social need government simply can’t meet.
It is the largest provider of daycare centres in the country, with over 200 facilities; operates women’s shelters; provides scholarships for women in gender studies and the sciences; and campaigns against domestic violence.
“We’re filling a gap with services that just wouldn’t exist if Na’amat wasn’t there,” Seigel said. “The scholarships we provide go to women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to continue their education.”
In addition to its work in Israel Na’amat chapters across Canada are active in such efforts as providing school supplies for the children of women in shelters.
Na’amat is also active in the field of domestic violence – a problem Seigel said has become especially troubling during COVID-related lockdowns.
Before moving onto Na’amat’s national stage, Seigel was co-president of the Hamilton chapter. Nationally she served two terms as chair of the National Education Committee, and has been national vice-president and chair of the Na’amat Canada National Development Committee.
She has also participated in a solidarity mission to Israel, has headed the Israel leadership seminar, and has represented Na’amat Canada in Israel at the Na’amat International and World Zionist Organization meetings.
Professionally, Seigel is a general pediatrician practicing at St. Joseph’s Healthcare and McMaster Children’s Hospital. She has cared for HIV-positive patients and children and infants of HIV-positive mothers.
She has also been involved in assessing children for possible abuse and caring for premature infants.
She served as deputy chief of pediatrics at St. Joseph’s Healthcare for 13 years and was the 2020 recipient of the Sister Joan O’Sullivan award.
Her husband, Joel Yellin, is a Hamilton native. They have three sons, Samuel, Jonathan and Robert.