When Sanford and Terry Cohen moved to Prescott in 1985, there wasn’t a lot going on in Jewish life.
“The entire Jewish community met in the living room of a house,” Sanford Cohen said. There were about 12 couples. “There was no actual synagogue or temple set up.”
The Prescott Jewish community has grown since then. There are two synagogues and several Israeli-owned companies, including one — CP Technologies — that hosted its grand opening ceremony June 9.
“The Israeli Arizona connection is getting stronger and stronger,” Cohen said, prompting him to decide that now is the time to get his wife’s and his long-envisioned initiative off the ground: The Arizona Israel Chamber of Commerce.
“The common knowledge that people have about Israel is so misinformed that we really felt as though there needed to be some sort of eye-opening avenue, where people can learn about the real Israel and not the one that is portrayed on the news,” Cohen said.
The Cohens plan to focus the chamber on cultural and economic exchange, including in the area of wine making.
To that end, he has spoken with some winemakers and Yavapai College, which has a robust wine program, about the value of a potential learning opportunity with Israelis.
“Israel has done such a phenomenal job of developing a wine-making industry in a terrain and climate that is very similar to Arizona,” Cohen said. “I think Arizona winemakers have a lot to learn from the state of Israel.”
A 2017 study by the Alliance Bank Business Outreach Center and Northern Arizona University found the Arizona wine tourism industry creates an estimated $56.2 million in total economic output.
Paula Woolsey, vice president of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium and professor of wine at Yavapai College, said that footprint has most certainly grown since then, but current data is not available.
“Doing something with Israel would be awesome,” she said. “Talking about wine with people from different places around the world is a great way to bolster your own growth.”
The Cohens are looking at the areas of culinary arts, music and history, but they are open to shifting directions as things progress.
Ruth Ashkenazi joined the chamber as its business development officer the second week of June.
“This is a very serious grassroots effort to make sure that we’re building bridges,” Ashkenazi said. “Especially in this day and age, when there’s so much tension, we need all the bridge building we can get.”
She is looking into potentially creating tourism packages for Israelis visiting Prescott.
Cohen and Ruth said they have seen a lot of emphasis on recruiting support for Israel from Arizona. “We’re actually looking to create more support and stimulate some curiosity about Arizona from Israel,” said Cohen.
The Cohens have previous experience with local chambers of commerce. Terry Cohen was vice president of the Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce from 1987-1994 and Sanford Cohen was president of the chamber from 2001-2002. He was later chairman of the Prescott Chamber of Commerce from 2017-2018. They’ve had the intention and vision for an Arizona Israel Chamber for several years, starting paperwork for the formation of a limited liability company in 2015. They received nonprofit status from the IRS in 2018.
“We had hoped someday that we would do it after our radio career is over, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards,” said Sanford Cohen, who founded and runs Arizona’s Hometown Radio Group with his wife.
Ashkenazi moved from California to Prescott late last year and happened to meet the Cohens shortly after. They hit it off, and talked about the vision for the chamber as a group.
“With the arrival of CP Technologies to Prescott, we all kind of got our heads together and said, ‘This just might be the springboard to get the Arizona Israel Chamber of Commerce off the ground.’ And so that’s what Ruth generously agreed to be appointed as the business development officer.”
Hillel Newman, Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Southwest of the United States, attended the opening of CP Technologies, where he met the Cohens and Ashkenazi.
Newman said he welcomes the creation of the Arizona Israel Chamber.
It will be the third organization dedicated to “economic relations,” he said, referencing the Arizona Israel Technology Alliance, dedicated to increasing and supporting trade, and the Arizona-Israel Trade and Investment Office in Israel.
Leib Bolel, president and CEO of the Arizona Israel Technology Alliance, said the new chamber has potential.
“With its focus on culture, arts and beyond, there is a large opportunity beyond just technology that the state of Arizona and Israel both share and can benefit from one another,” Bolel said.
Chabad of Prescott Rabbi Elie Filler said he’s seen tremendous growth in the Jewish community in the six years since he’s been in Prescott, and it’s been a source of pride for the town to host the Israeli-owned companies.
“It’s like a super honor to have Israeli companies — I just hear about it from so many people, Jew and Gentile alike,” he said. “It gives a lot of pride to the Jewish people who are here when they see an Israeli company coming and it’s so well-received and supported by everyone in the city.”
It would be nice to have more Israelis come to Prescott to visit, he said. He thinks they will be pleasantly surprised to find Judaism in the small city south of the Bradshaw Mountains. JN