David Shapell, philanthropist and Holocaust survivor, dies at age 94

Shapell together with his wife Fela donated large sums of money to institutions for Jewish education and Holocaust education throughout his life and was also a supporter of the Friends of the IDF.

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February 11, 2015 18:36
2 minute read.
Torah scroll

Torah scroll. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

David Shapell, a Jewish philanthropist and Holocaust survivor, died this week aged 94. He was buried at the Eretz Hachaim Cemetery outside of Beit Shemesh on Tuesday.

Shapell together with his wife, Fela, donated large sums to institutions for Jewish education and Holocaust education throughout his life and was also a supporter of the Friends of the IDF and other causes.

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Tributes to his life and support were made following his death on Sunday by Yad Vashem, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Bar-Ilan University.

Shapell was born in Poland in 1921 in the tiny shtetl of Wolbrom to a deeply religious family.

He and his family were caught up in the horrors of the Holocaust, and most of his family perished, apart from his brother and sister. David himself escaped Poland and fought against the Nazi forces, fighting in the Polish army under Russian control throughout the rest of the war.

He met and married his wife, also a Holocaust survivor, after the war, and they made their way to the US in 1950, later moving out to Los Angeles.

In 1955, he and his brother, Nathan, and brother-inlaw established the hugely successful Shapell Industries construction and real estate development company, which created the basis of his financial wealth.

Among the institutions he donated to were the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Another institution that Shapell helped found and fund is the Shapell’s Darche Noam yeshiva in Jerusalem, as well as its sister seminary for women, Midreshet Rachel, both of which cater to Jewish youth from outside of Israel.

Speaking at the funeral on Tuesday, Shapell’s granddaughter Jennifer Shapell Smith described him as “a warm, kind, giving, gentle, generous, humble but, most of all, honest man,” who devoted his life to family and Judaism.

According to Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, one of the co-founders and deans of Darche Noam, utmost among the goals of Shapell and his wife was the desire to promote Holocaust education, help build the State of Israel, and strive to guarantee Jewish continuity and education.

Karlinsky described Shapell as “a very low-key personality” who did not like to be praised or celebrated for his philanthropy and never sought the limelight, noting that he never agreed to be honored at any of the institutions and organizations he contributed to.

“David and his wife were very interested in ensuring Jewish continuity and making sure that people who grew up without a Jewish education should get a Jewish education and that Jewish families should be built,” said the rabbi of the reasons Shapell chose to fund Darche Noam and Midreshet Rachel.

He also noted that Darche Noam educates its students in a “balanced way, not to any extremes,” saying that it was important to Shapell that people play a role in Jewish society.

“David hated extremes; he was a balanced person.... He wanted people to remain part of the world. He wanted people to be knowledgeable and committed Jewishly, gain a Jewish education but stay connected to society, and then to make their contribution to the Jewish future the way he did,” Karlinsky said.

David Shapell is survived by his wife, Fela, and their three children, Rochelle, Benjamin and Irvin.


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