Carol Saal takes national role for Ben-Gurion association

For as long as Carol Saal has volunteered in the Jewish community, her involvement has been at the local level.

“Locally is where you really can make a difference in both your life and your community’s life,” she said. “It’s tangible and measurable. At the national level, it’s much more challenging and diffuse in terms of what effect you really can have.”

Having said that, Saal recently had a change of heart. While she remains chair of Palo Alto’s Campus for Jewish Life, she recently became the national chair of American Associates of Ben-Gurion University.

Zvi Alon, also from the Peninsula, served as national chair two terms ago.

Saal, who lives in Palo Alto, thinks it’s an exciting time to be involved with the university, since 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of David Ben-Gurion’s immigration to Israel.

It was the founding prime minister’s dream to develop the Negev desert region of Israel. And while many tourists make the pilgrimage to visit his grave and see his slippers by the bedside at his kibbutz of Sde Boker, the development Ben-Gurion envisioned never really happened.

Much of Israel’s population is concentrated around the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem area, Saal said, but it cannot continue on that scale.

“The Israeli government is beginning to shine a light on developing the Negev, and [BGU’s president] Avishai Braverman always believed that BGU could be the focal point from which a lot of industry and ideas and entrepreneurs could emanate, similar to what Stanford did for developing Silicon Valley.”

Educating new parties and potential donors about the university is one of Saal’s goals, and she also hopes to play her part in seeing the endowment grow.

Pointing out that Ivy League schools largely have their endowments to thank for their superiority, she said, “Any university that wants to continue to be a center of excellence in education needs to have a substantial endowment.”

In the past, Saal’s allegiances lay more with the Weizmann Institute of Science than Ben-Gurion Unversity.

The first time she visited Ben-Gurion was a few years after it opened, and it was “only a shadow of its current self,” she said.

Then, about 10 years ago, she was asked to host an event for the university at her house.

She was expecting 30 to 40 people, and more than 70 turned out. “That got my attention,” she said. “I thought, ‘What am I missing?'” Soon after, she became a member of the local board.

While Saal is excited about her new position, she carefully considered taking it, wondering how it would affect her work on behalf of the Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto.

“I still feel a huge obligation to the success of the campus campaign, and it’s a monumental task,” she said.

Saal has gone to New York twice in the past three months for BGU meetings, and while she says she’s a good time manager, she estimates that between her positions with both the campus and BGU, it adds up to a good 30 hours a week.

“I have always taken my volunteer commitments very seriously because I feel that’s the only way nonprofits can operate,” she said. “If they depend on someone on a volunteer basis, the volunteers really have to come through.”

Daphna Noily, the regional director of American Associates of Ben-Gurion University, said Saal’s “leadership ability, integrity, and enthusiasm and commitment” will be strong assets to the association. She called the new national president “a dynamite woman with tremendous energy. She cares deeply about Israel and about BGU.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."