Manuel “Manny” Charach was a self-made man, a devoted husband and father, successful entrepreneur and a generous yet humble philanthropist. Manny, who lived in West Bloomfield with his wife of 71 years, Natalie, died on July 14, 2017, at the age of 92.
Growing up in Pittsburgh during the Depression, Manny learned to appreciate the value of working hard and realized the importance of using the fruits of his labor to help others in his community and throughout the world. Today, many buildings and programs bear his name, a testament to his entrepreneurial skill and generous heart.
After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Manny was eager to serve his country, but his father insisted he finish high school first. As soon as he graduated, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent overseas, where he participated in the invasion of Normandy and continued on to Paris and Germany. After saving several of his fellow soldiers during combat and being wounded in Germany, he received a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and the French Legion of Honor for his bravery.
After the war, he came to Detroit to attend a party for one of his Army buddies, where he met Natalie. Instantly smitten, he proposed the very next day and began planning his move to Detroit. The two were married a few months later, beginning a partnership that included children, travel and a mutual desire to help others in need.
Manny worked at various jobs and eventually became a sales representative for a Japanese business called Matsushita Electric Industrial Company. While meeting with the firm’s top executives in Japan, Manny suggested they change their name to “Sonic” to counteract the anti-Japanese sentiment that existed after World War II. After further discussion, the company was renamed Panasonic, and Manny was one of its most esteemed salesmen.
In 1965, he decided to start his own company, Manny Charach Associates Inc., headquartered in West Bloomfield. The company continued to grow, selling electronics to an ever-widening number of retail outlets and national chains. Despite his enormous success, when asked what he did for a living, Manny’s favorite response was, “I’m a peddler.”
As his business grew, so did his philanthropic activities as he and Natalie realized their shared passion for helping others. They supported many causes, including providing the funding for several vehicles used by Jewish Family Service to transport older adults and people with disabilities to medical appointments, day programs and other activities.
Fond memories of his weeklong experience at a Pittsburgh camp for children of immigrants in 1935 prompted Manny to provide support for the Clara and Irvin Charach Tamarack Museum. Named in honor of his parents, Clara and Irvin, the museum now accommodates year-round visitors in a rustic space inside the main building of Tamarack’s Smoklerville Pioneer Village near the entrance to Camp Maas.
“Manny’s mantra was dignity, honesty and giving,” said Rabbi Irving Schnipper, who officiated at the funeral service.
Schnipper recalls the day he told Manny that many single mothers were having trouble paying their synagogue dues and children’s b’nai mitzvot expenses because their income had decreased after getting divorced. Without being asked, Manny wrote a check for $50,000 to start a fund at Congregation Beth Ahm to help single parents maintain their family’s connection with the synagogue.
“There was no hesitation; that’s the way it was with everything,” said Schnipper. “If somebody needed it, Manny and his ‘driving force,’ Natalie, came through.”
In memory of their daughter, Janice, a talented artist who passed away at the age of 38, Manny and Natalie established the Janice Charach Gallery, which occupies 7,200 square feet in the lobby of the West Bloomfield JCC. The gallery, which has been featured in the New York Times, hosts exhibitions of work by Jewish and non-Jewish established and emerging artists in a variety of media including glass, ceramics, multi-media, painting, fiber arts and photography.
Because Israel held a special place in their hearts, the Charachs generously supported a variety of Israeli causes, including the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). They donated a record number of 40 ambulances to Magen David Adom (MDA). For many years, Manny served as local chair of the AFMDA (American Friends of Magen David Adom) Michigan Chapter, helping to raise more than $38 million for the organization since 1967. They helped build the Natalie and Manny Charach Ashdod MDA Emergency Medical Station, sponsored specialized equipment at the MDA National Blood Services Center and provided scholarships to train the next generation of paramedics.
Despite the many programs that bear their name, such as the Natalie and Manny Charach Religious School at Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield and the Natalie and Manny Charach Cancer Treatment Center at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital, the Charachs never sought recognition. Their only goal was to help those who needed it, which they did, generously and often anonymously.
“He was a humble man of great vision,” Schnipper said. “They [the Charachs] were modest … a very friendly couple, real human beings.”
Manny loved children, his own and the many nieces and nephews with whom he shared close relationships. He enjoyed meeting his friends at the weekly lunch-and-learn classes led by Rabbi Schnipper, and he was quick to tell or appreciate a good joke.
“He had a full life; he did everything he wanted to do, and he did it his way,” said his wife, Natalie.
Manny is survived by his beloved wife of 71 years, Natalie; son, Jeffrey Charach; sisters-in-law, Esther Hankin and Doris Shulman; loving caregivers, Gina, Erica and Sade; many loving nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews and a world of friends.
He was the proud father of the late Janice Charach; the devoted son of the late Irvin and the late Clara Charach; the loving son in-law of the late Joseph and the late Rose Miller; the dear brother-in-law of the late Henry Hankin and the late Herschel Shulman.
Interment was at Machpelah Cemetery. Contributions may be made to the Jewish Community Center, Janice Charach Gallery, 6600 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield, MI 48322, www.jccdet.org; Jewish Family Service, Transportation Services, 6555 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield, MI 48322, www.jfsdetroit.org; Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network, 6555 W. Maple, West Bloomfield, MI 48322, www.jewishhospice.org; Kadima, 15999 W. 12 Mile, Southfield, MI 48076, www.kadimacenter.org; or Tamarack Camps, 6735 Telegraph Road, #380, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48301, www.tamarackcamps.com/tributes. Arrangements by Ira Kaufman Chapel.
Ronelle Grier Contributing Writer