I lost too many friends to AIDS and as a result I began volunteering in HIV and AIDS related projects. Volunteering was a gruesome experience, but also healing and fulfilling. I found a cause I was interested in supporting. This experience led me to another cause I was passionate about namely by birth, the Syrian American community. Philanthropy has so many benefits; by giving back, we learn to deal with illness, death, stigma, finding ourselves and our identity, making friends, the list goes on.


Philanthropy should appeal to everyone. An underserved person giving a dollar is equal to a wealthy person giving a thousand dollars.  A community helping itself is the way to go. This is why I established a fund for Arab American Research at the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP). I want to inspire my community to give back—in any way that they can—and to witness the power of giving together and uplifting one cause. – Dr. Philip M. Kayal

Born in Brooklyn, New York to parents of Aleppian roots, Dr. Kayal was surrounded by a large Syrian- community from an early age. Still, as a young boy he felt like an outsider, caught between his Arab heritage and his immediate environment that prompted assimilation.

Despite this disconnect, young Philip found home in his Melkite Greek Catholic heritage and became involved in the Arab community through the “Syrian church.” He joined the choir and groups like the Syrian Young Men’s Association and ALSAC.  Dr. Kayal reflects warmly on his childhood memories in the Syrian community, “everyone looked like me, spoke the same way, and enjoyed the same culture! It was a welcoming experience.”

Because of his community activism, Dr. Kayal was inspired to study sociology in college, specializing in ethnicity and religion. His studies led him to publishing several books, including The Syrian-Lebanese in America, editing The Coming of the Arabic speaking People to America, and writing dozens of articles about the Arab American experience. Dr. Kayal completed his studies and had a long successful career at Seton Hall University where he served as a professor for 40 years and 4 times chairman of the Sociology and Anthropology department.

In his adult life, Dr. Kayal found himself drawn to the humanitarian crisis in Palestine and passionately wanting to make a difference both at home and abroad. He knew that the greater community did not understand Arab Americans or the issues facing his community. He wanted to change that reality and accurate information was the way to go!

Seeing the misrepresentation and the lack of factual information on the Arab American community, Dr. Kayal set up the Dr. Philip M. Kayal Fund for Arab American Research at the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP). His aim was to support young Arab American scholars and social science research on the Arab American community. Since 2015, Dr. Kayal’s fund has supported 18 scholars across the country with research topics ranging from stereotyping of Arab American adolescents to Arab American feminism through dance.

With his expansive knowledge on Arab Americans, Dr. Kayal helped curate an exhibition on Arab New York at the Museum of the City of New York, which was highly praised as “the best show of its kind in the history of the museum.” A man of different interests and talents, Dr. Kayal collected and refined authentic family recipes over the years, culminating in the publication of A Taste of Syria with his cousin Virginia Gerbino.

One comment on “The Hardship of Loss and the Power of Identity: Dr. Philip Kayal’s Journey to Philanthropy”

  1. 1
    Joe Del Guercio on December 17, 2023

    Dr Kayal, you were my favorite professor at SHU about 45 years ago. Thank you for keeping my attention and interest at a time I didn’t have those attributes. I wound up having a good life. I thought I’d let you know that when I recently came across your profile.

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