Photo: The Erlich family: Ben, Ella, Niel, Nachum and Alexzandra. Missing from the photo is their youngest son, Idan.
Nachum Erlich came to the United States from Israel in 2005. He was a partner in Eran Diamonds in Israel when his partner’s son, who was living in the U.S. at the time, wanted to get married and move back to Israel. When they couldn’t find a suitable replacement for the son in the states, Nachum offered to make the move.
Then in 2008, when the economic crisis occurred, he got out of the diamond business and into real estate. Today he is a partner in a real estate investment company that deals in apartment complexes.
It is the flexibility of this partnership that allowed Nachum to combine both his business sense and his love for Israel and pursue the position of regional manager of the Israeli-American Council Arizona. “This is my ‘give back’ time,” he says.
Nachum was on the first board of IAC Arizona four years ago. The other board members were Susan Bondy, Sigal Urman and Donna Barkel. Shahar Edry launched the IAC Arizona and held the position of Arizona regional director at the time; now he is its national community director.
“I remember it was the 70th birthday of Israel, and we held Yom Ha’atzmaut at Butterfly Wonderland,” says Nachum. “We had 1,500 people come. It was a big party.”
After that first year, Nachum worked with Sigal Urman to create a presentation in conjunction with Scottsdale Community College’s Genocide Awareness Week on the Holocaust.
“To educate people about the Holocaust, you have to approach not just the Jews because they already are educated about it, but universities where it’s a very hard place to be a Jew today,” says Nachum. Genocide Awareness Week is hoping to move the program to Arizona State University in 2021.
The IAC also began a program called Memorial in Your Living Room, where they hold an intimate Holocaust memorial service in a person’s home with a guest speaker, candle lighting ceremony and conversation.
“Some people don’t want to go to big events, and this is more meaningful because you meet someone who was there, or whose parents were there,” says Nachum. Both of his parents are survivors.
The IAC Arizona offers many programs for children as young as four up to adults, and they hold various events throughout the year, including their popular Shishi Israel celebrating Shabbat. They also have forged bonds with organizations such as the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, Martin Pear JCC, Bureau of Jewish Education, Israeli Scouts and Pardes Jewish Day School.
“We want the community to be a community, it doesn’t matter how Jewish you are,” says Nachum. “We don’t care if you’re not affiliated, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox – we put Jewish first.” He also mentions that you don’t have to be Israeli either. The delegation from Arizona that went to the IAC National Summit in 2019 was only half Israeli-American, the rest had no direct connection to Israel.
The 2019 summit also brought to an end the use of the term “yordim.” Yordim means “those who go down” and was a common nickname for Israelis who moved from Israel to live abroad. Whereas the term “aliyah” means “going up.” So, if someone moved to Israel and made aliyah, they were ascending.
“It’s behind us. Dr. Miriam Adelson wrote a beautiful article called ‘Yordim No More,’ ” says Nachum. “Which means today we are no less important than the Israelis that live in Israel, in our contributions, and what we can do for the land of Israel.”
Nachum says that sometimes people forget about the connection between the land of Israel and Judaism. “If you lose the connection between Judaism and your history, your religion, you are losing your touch to Judaism. You cannot replace it with anything else.”
Nachum was a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces during the First Lebanon War, where he lost his commander, Meir Knishbach. “I was in a situation that was one bullet to the right, one bullet to the left, and he was chosen to give his life for me to understand that I cannot stop,” says Nachum. “I have to continue the mission, and if not in Israel, to continue it here.”
The death of his friend, and later, his father, instead of getting him down, has brought him strength. He carries their memories with him through everything he does, and he feels that they are pushing him to achieve. He named his first son Ben Meir after his friend, and since Meir means “one who shines,” he believes that he is there, “lighting my way.”
Nachum says his job at the IAC Arizona is to help the Israelis in the organization to be a “living bridge” between the state of Israel, the Israelis in Israel and Americans.
“For me, there is no Judaism without Israel, this is the promised land, this is the land that God gave us, you cannot separate the two,” says Nachum. “It’s a package deal.”
This interview occurred prior to the pandemic. Currently, Nachum has chosen to take a leave of absence from his position as regional manager. He has requested that his pay during this time go back to the IAC. The IAC has online programming at this time for all ages. For more information, visit israeliamercan.org/home.