(photo credit: Sharon Wrobel)
Isadore "my friends call me Issy" Burstyn, a Canadian real estate developer and Holocaust survivor, is investing in an $8 million building on Tel Aviv's seafront on which he plans to develop luxury condominiums and fulfill his Zionist dream.
"I had been looking for a project in the heart of the booming real estate market in Tel Aviv for some time but I was warned by many people, who said to me "don't stick your neck into Israel they are all crooks," the 78-year-old Burstyn from Calgary told The Jerusalem Post. "I have always felt very connected to Israel. I haven't come here to become a millionaire but I am doing it out of passion and Zionist reasons. My aim is to build the most beautiful building on Tel Aviv's seafront to set an example of how to develop and build and to attract foreign developers to build in Israel."
The investment is an extension of ties he already has made to the country. During the Second Lebanon War, Burstyn dedicated $105,000 for a Magen David Adom ambulance in memory of his late wife Florence.
"When the war broke out, I responded to a plea from Canadian Magen David Adom to send medical equipment and supplies to a northern station hit by rockets."
Now, in equal partnership with Israeli developer Erez Levi Construction Ltd., Burstyn plans to transform the five-storey, run-down building on Hayarkon Street into a luxury condominium at an investment of between $2m.-$3m. Each floor will comprise 200 square meters with a 350-square meter penthouse on top. The project is centrally located on the Mediterranean seashore opposite to the main hotels and within walking distance from the lively city center, coffee shops and galleries.
"Last year already, I planned to buy out the site at a price of $5.25m. but there was a problem with a protected tenant, so I waited," said Burstyn. "When the problem was solved a year later, the price of the site went up to $8m. and despite of the opposition from my family, who thought I was crazy, I went ahead. I am not concerned when I see that property prices for apartments along the seafront are higher than property prices in Manhattan selling at $16,000 per square meter.
Burstyn estimated that at current market prices he would be looking to sell the penthouse for around $7m.-$8m.
"Once we get all the permits, construction will begin and within 18 months we will finish," he said.
Born to the owners of a bakery in Otwock, 16 miles from Warsaw in 1929, Burstyn emerged as one of the survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and the only survivor of his family.
"After the war, my aim was not to come to Canada but to Palestine, but things went differently," Burstyn recounted. "In 1948, representatives of the Canadian Jewish Congress convinced me to live in a safe place and to immigrate to Canada, as I was the only Burstyn left."
From the ashes of the Warsaw Ghetto, Burstyn first settled in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, then moved to Lethbridge, Alberta, soon after and began working as a shoe salesman.
Driven by ambition and a survival instinct, Burstyn became the company's top salesman and in 1951 was promoted to manage its new store in Edmonton. Only a few years later in 1956, Burstyn, together with his late wife Florence, opened their own shoe shop chain - Quality Shoes - and in 1960 Vogue Shoes.
"We were the first importer of Italian and French shoes to Western Canada," he said.
Over the years, Burstyn started to move more and more into the real estate business and in the mid-1980s decided to sell his shoe businesses and switch completely to real estate, eventually becoming one of the largest developers in Calgary.
"I purchased and developed several residential developments and award-winning high rises, luxury condominiums in Calgary and warehouses and commercial property in Edmonton."
Last year, Burstyn spent five months in Israel and this year he intends to remain in the country indefinitely.
"Once I finish this first project in Israel, I will consider
additional projects," he said. "I am a strong believer and supporter of the state of Israel and I am also thinking of making aliya sometime."