I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Israel. I met with as many Israeli friends as I could. One of those friends was Michael Eglash, who I’ve known since 1990.
I met Eglash when I was a junior at Riverside University High School. It was a time in my life when I was becoming interested in my Jewish heritage and Israel. Eglash was a student at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and a pro-Israel activist. Once we were introduced, we became fast friends. But what’s more, Eglash become my Zionist mentor, if you will. His influence instilled in me a burning passion for Israel that almost 30 years later still burns strong.
Making aliyah isn’t easy. Many American Jews who move to Israel end up returning, myself included. Eglash, however, made aliyah in 1993 and has remained. He established a family and started a successful company. With his spacious home in Mevessert Zion, three Hebrew-accented English-speaking children and his wife — an oleh from the U.K. — Eglash is a Zionist success story.
I wanted to get at the heart of why Eglash’s aliyah was successful. So, after a scrumptious Shabbat dinner, we went downstairs into his “man cave” and started chatting about old times and new.
Z.M.: What type of Jewish upbringing did you have?
M.E.: I had an orthodox grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side, and we had regular Shabbat lunches with my other grandparents. We weren’t that religious, and I went to Hebrew school at Temple Menorah. Rabbis Isaac and Gil-Ezer Lerer had a big influence on me. My father is still involved with Temple Menorah at the age of 86.
Z.M.: Who instilled in you your Zionism, your passion for Israel?
M.E.: My brother first got interested in Israel after going there when he was 18, and that lit the spark for me. From there I met some of the great leaders of the [Milwaukee-area] Jewish Zionist community back in the 1980s and 90s, such as Milt Katz, Burt Polansky, Moshe Katz, Leon Leopold, Walter Peltz, Peter Waldheim and others.
Z.M.: When did you know you’d make Aliyah? Did you have some sort of epiphany?
M.E.: It was in my kishkas that Aliyah would happen. It was a good eight to nine years in the making. On the flight back from Israel after my first trip in 1986 I knew it would happen. I lived and breathed Israel during my days at UWM. All our conversations with friends and my parents were about Israel.
Z.M.: That’s not completely true. You and I used to talk about the band “Rush” and repeat to each other dialog from our favorite cult movie, “Blood in, Blood Out.”
M.E.: True, true. Vatos locos, forever!
Z.M.: In all seriousness, you created your own pro-Israel organization at UWM called Tagar, even though many Jewish students were involved with Hillel. How come?
M.E.: In the late 1980s there was a lot of anti-Semitism on campus. I felt that Hillel didn’t offer Jewish students a platform to support Israel. Tagar was created as an unapologetically pro-Israel student organization. I was told by some [Jewish] community leaders not to stand up to the intense anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity at UWM, as Tagar would “make it worse” and that we should just stay involved in social issues. That wasn’t me. I saw Jewish students were afraid and didn’t have the tools to respond. We were proud and stood up to this hatred and eventually turned the tide. We accomplished a lot by partnering with other organizations on campus, holding large rallies, sending lots of students to Israel on various programs and defeating anti-Israel resolutions in student government. We had 75 members during our active years. We also held the UWM campus administration responsible when they allowed a banner to be put up [in the UWM union] by an anti-Israel student organization equating a swastika with the Star of David. The banner was eventually ripped down and it was covered by all the Milwaukee news stations, newspapers—including the Jewish Chronicle.
Z.M.: I remember wondering if you were a full-time student or full-time activist. In all seriousness, what did you learn by being a student activist that helped you later in life?
M.E.: I acquired many skills, such as marketing, communications, public speaking, relationship-building and leadership skills.
Z.M.: How did those skills come into play when you entered the Israeli job market?
M.E.: Well, my first job was working for the Jewish Agency and organizing conferences for students on topics such as anti-Semitism, Middle East politics and Israeli technology for students studying from abroad at top Israeli universities. After that I spent time working for Young Judea and eventually moved to the emerging hi-tech sector and worked with an Internet content delivery startup doing sales and business development. In 2001 I applied all those experiences to cofound my company — Upstart Ideas.
Z.M.: What does the company do?
M.E.: We offer marketing analysis, strategic recommendations, full-service implementation and ongoing project management of initiatives and campaigns for businesses and organizations, large and small. A recent initiative focused on raising awareness about Israel’s elections — check it out online: israelvotes2019.com. Since 1997 we’ve also run a personalized products company specializing in birthday newspapers. It’s called AnyDate.com.
Z.M.: I recall you moved back to Milwaukee. When was that, and why did you move back?
M.E.: In 1998 to take advantage of an opportunity to be part of a startup with old college friends, and to be close to my family. I always knew it was a temporary move and I’d be back in Israel because my wife and I wanted to start a family in Israel.
Z.M.: What’s the toughest thing about living in Israel?
M.E.: The cost of living is high, but mostly the toughest thing is missing family in Milwaukee — specifically my parents, Norb and Judy.
Z.M.: What’s the best thing about living in Israel?
M.E.: The people, the land, the diverse cultural landscape, the food, the weather and the fact that you’re living in a Jewish country.