Voracious appetite

Levy owns another property on the corner of Lutz Street and Jaffa Street, extending half-way toward King George Street

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July 31, 2019 18:56
3 minute read.
Voracious appetite

URI ZOHAR is the subject of ‘Zohar: The Return.’. (photo credit: YANIV LINTON)


■ It seems as if French-Israeli billionaire Laurent Levy, who is ranked by TheMarker as high on the list of the 500 richest people in Israel with an estimated wealth of €1.9 billion, has insatiable appetite for Israeli real estate, especially for property in Jerusalem.
Levy, a trained optometrist with more than 300 Optical Center stores in Europe, Canada and Israel is also a philanthropist who, through his Jerusalem-based Optical Center Foundation, donates thousands of eyeglasses to the poor.
In 2017, he donated a clinical lab in optometry to Hadassah College.
Even before settling in Jerusalem with his family in 2005, Levy was buying up property in the capital and reportedly owns 50 luxury apartments, which he rents out to wealthy tourists, plus many additional property assets in the capital. He also bought the Zion Square building that housed one of the largest branches of Bank Leumi, and revamped the premises into his flagship store.
In addition, he acquired significant property in Nahalat Shiva and established what is known as the Music Center. In the course of construction, he violated several city building ordinances andwas sued by the municipality. The Movement for Quality Government claims that Levy systematically disrespects planning and construction laws.
Among his commercial properties was Café Paris on the corner of Gaza Street and Ben Maimon Street. The popular coffee shop was previously known as Restobar, and before that as Café Moment, where a terrorist attack in 2002 claimed 11 lives and injured 54 people. Restobar operated on Shabbat and was not kosher. Levy, who over the years became religiously observant, told the proprietors that unless they closed on Shabbat and prepared a kosher menu, their contract would not be renewed. When they left, Restobar became Café de Paris, which operated for five years until Levy decided to close it down and develop the property into a high-rise residential and commercial complex.
Levy owns another property on the corner of Lutz Street and Jaffa Street, extending half-way toward King George Street. He intends to construct a 10-story building on the site that will include apartments, a large hotel and large quality stores to replace the current small stores selling clothing, footwear, digital phones and food. The building, regarded as historic, has been marked for preservation, but only time will tell to what extent Levy will comply with this regulation. While it is true that the man who pays the piper calls the tune, it is somewhat dangerous to allow one person to have so much control on the future face and character of Jerusalem.

■ THE ANNUAL Tisha Be’av program at Beit Avi Chai will start at 11 a.m. As always, it will include a series of conflict-based films followed by discussions. The word “conflict” does not always pertain to violence. Very often, it relates to life choices and which path to take.
For instance, one film is about Uri Zohar – who was one of Israel’s most popular actors, filmmakers and television personalities – and illustrates the conflict faced by all newly religious individuals, especially people in the entertainment business: Should they continue with their professions, or should they cut themselves off completely?
Friends and colleagues will continue to invite the newly observant to events that could tempt them away from their path. Zohar apparently saw this coming, because his evolution into religious observance was gradual. There was no personality change. He remained his boisterous self, but once he decided to enter the ultra-Orthodox world, he cut himself off from former connections, with the notable exception of Arik Einstein, whose ex-wife Alona had also become ultra-Orthodox and with whom their children were living. Two of Einstein’s daughters married two of Zohar’s sons, so Zohar and Einstein continued to see each other at family gatherings.
Zohar, a product of Hashomer Hatza’ir, grew up to be intolerant of religion. But when his good friend Mordechai “Pupik” Arnon became religious and got married, he went to congratulate him. Later, he went to congratulate him again when Arnon became the father of a baby girl. At the celebration, Zohar met a Talmudic scholar, with whom he entered into an argument, but some of the things the scholar said stuck in Zohar’s head, and that was the beginning of his journey toward a religious lifestyle. Years later, when two young film makers asked for his help in directing a film about a famous actor torn between the stage and the world of Torah, Zohar, now safe in his beliefs, complied. The discussion after the screening will be led by the film’s director Dani Rosenberg and journalist Ariel Horowitz.


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