Haredi businessmen invest billions in Israeli real estate

Far from stereotype, they are savvy and are making much money.

leviev lev, sharp 298 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
leviev lev, sharp 298 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A growing group of haredi businessmen, mostly from the US and Britain but also some locals, have become a force to be reckoned with in the Israeli commercial real estate market, investing NIS 4 billion in the last two years alone. The investment data is part of a survey conducted by financial reporters for Hamodia, a haredi daily controlled by the Ger hassidic sect. The survey looked at transactions that took place between June 2006 and June 2008. "Twenty or 30 years ago, the haredi business community was concentrated primarily in diamonds," said the editor of an independent haredi business magazine who preferred to remain anonymous. "But there was a big slump in the diamond industry, and slowly haredim began moving into real estate. In the past eight years or so, haredi involvement in real estate has intensified." Far from the stereotype of the haredi male who sits all day in the study hall learning Torah, these businessmen are savvy and seem to be making much money. Multimillionaires such as Shaya Boymelgreen, Sonny Kahan of Miami and Chananiya-Lipa (Leo) Noe of Golders Green, London, have made major investments in Israel - including the purchase of the old Elite Foods factory adjacent to the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange and various malls and commercial centers in Petah Tikva, Rehovot and Ashdod. Major residential projects financed by haredi businessmen have gone up in the Jerusalem area, such as the one financed by Satmar hassidim that will be built on the site of the old Edison Movie Theater or the nearly completed huge residential project adjacent to The Jerusalem Post's editorial offices in the Romema neighborhood. Hamodia's survey also mentions a relative newcomer to the Israeli real estate scene: Yunis Nazarian, a businessman from Beverly Hills who recently bought a plot of land near the Ma'ariv Bridge in Tel Aviv for $70 million and plans to invest $200m. But according to the editor of the haredi business magazine, haredim are extremely secretive about the deals: "There is a very strong belief that God's blessing is on things that are hidden away from the public eye." The entire survey on haredi business transactions will be published at what Hamodia is touting as the haredi version of the annual Caesarea Conference, which draws leading businessmen and economists from the Israeli economy. Some 3,000 mid-level haredi executives are slated to attend the conference, which will be presided over by haredi billionaire Lev Leviev. The conference is scheduled to take place in mid-July at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.