23 Oct, 2020
JERUSALEM WEATHER

Eli Rozenberg, a 27-year-old Orthodox Jewish New Yorker who made aliyah to Jerusalem five years ago,  bought a controlling 42.85% stake in the Israeli airline El-Al with a $150 million offer. In a rather prophetic twist, his company is named Kanfei Nesharim, meaning that passengers will be flown to the Holy Land quite literally on the wings of eagles.

As per the arrangement of a $400 million Finance Ministry rescue package, the Israeli government purchased the unsold shares as part of a rescue package, amounting to approximately $30 million that could represent between 12-15% of the airline. The rescue package also included government-backed loans for a total of $250 million with guarantees for 75 % of the loan in case of defaults. El-Al, which was privatized in 2005, has more than $2 billion of net debt, a condition that was exacerbated by the pandemic which forced the airline to place 5,800 of its 6,303 employees on unpaid leave. The airline also owes  $350 million to passengers whose flights were canceled.

El-Al stopped most operations in March and grounded its entire fleet in June, but on Thursday, announced that it is setting up to bring back cargo flights starting on September 21 and passenger flights on October 1.

Kanfei Nesharim released a statement about the new acquisition:

“We are proud of the results of the public offering of El Al, the national airline, which at the end of the offering saw us holding a 42.85% ownership in the company.”

“First and foremost Kanfei Nesharim takes upon itself a great responsibility to restore the trust of passengers, and to ensure the jobs of thousands of El Al employees, and lead Israel’s airline into a secure future. Throughout recent months Kanfei Nesharim has proven its seriousness, commitment and financial ability to help rehabilitate El Al.

“It is our intention to provide for El Al’s benefit an experienced professional staff with proven ability in all the relevant fields to manage a national airline company. The team will lead El Al in becoming a developing and flourishing company operating with the most advanced standards in the global aviation sector.

“El Al controlled by Kanfei Nesharim Airlines will put a special emphasis on punctuality for all flights, investing in major resources to improve service and improve the flying experience for all its customers, and working to upgrade the food served to passengers in all classes.

“Kanfei Nesharim Airlines will be committed to the national challenges of the State of Israel and will undertake every mission proudly with the blue and white flag and the Star of David on the tail of its planes.”

According to a report last month in Hebrew business daily Calcalist, the Rozenbergs were instructed by their rabbi, Rabbi Pinchas Abuhatzeira of Beersheva, to buy El-Al. Jason Greenblatt, who was the chief legal officer to Donald Trump and his advisor on Israel, advised Rozenberg on the purchase and will act as his personal representative on the El Al Board of Directives

Initially, two other potential investors expressed interest: David Sapir, a Russian-Israeli businessman involved in tourism and telecommunications in Russia, and Meir Gurvitz, a British-Israeli businessman who has real estate activities in the UK and US. But on Wednesday, On Wednesday, only Rozenberg submitted a bid. Much of the backing for the young entrepreneur’s venture into the airline industry came  from his billionaire father, Kenneth Rozenberg, the founder and CEO of Centers Heath Care, a chain of nursing homes in the United States. Israeli citizenship is one of the pre-conditions for purchasing the airline and the father is not a citizen.

“First and foremost Kanfei Nesharim takes upon itself a great responsibility to restore the trust of passengers, and to ensure the jobs of thousands of El Al employees, and lead Israel’s airline into a secure future. Throughout recent months Kanfei Nesharim has proven its seriousness, commitment and financial ability to help rehabilitate El Al,” the company said in a statement following the purchase.

Rozenberg’s company name is derived from the Bible’s description of the Exodus from Egypt:

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. Exodus 19:4

According to Jewish tradition, the final redemption will mirror the Exodus from Egypt and, therefore, the ingathering of the exiles could be described as being accomplished ‘on the wings of eagles.’ This was alluded to by the Prophet Isaiah.

But they who trust in Hashem shall renew their strength As eagles grow new plumes: They shall run and not grow weary, They shall march and not grow faint. Isaiah 40:31