Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. (Psalms 116:15)
Canadian Businessman and Orthodox Jew Paul Reichmann died on Friday at the age of 83. The Vienna-born philanthropist built Olympia and York Developments into a multi-billion dollar empire as well as donated millions of dollars to Jewish education throughout the world. Some of the major financial complexes that Mr. Reichmann built were Canary Wharf in London, the World Financial Center and First Canadian Place, the tallest skyscraper in Toronto.
Born in 1930 to Samuel and Rene Reichmann, Paul and his family escaped the Nazi occupation of Austria by a stroke of luck. On the day of the Anschluss, or Nazi annexation of Austria,the Reichmann family had gone to visit Paul’s grandfather in Hungary who had suffered a stroke. The Reichmanns made their way from Hungary to Paris and later fled to the neutral city of Tangier.
Following the war, Paul attended Gateshead Yeshiva in England and later Ponovezh and Mir Yeshivas in Israel. In 1953, Paul became the Educational Director of Otzar HaTorah in Morocco. There he transformed the school’s religious curriculum, improved its teaching staff and traveled across Morocco, building dozens of schools for thousands of children, including the first girl’s seminary in Tangier. In 1955, Paul married Leah Feldman, to whom he had been engaged from the age of 15. Together, they left Otzar HaTorah and settled in Toronto with the rest of the Reichmann family.
There Paul and his brothers formed Olympia and York Developments which became the largest developer in the world, making the Reichmanns into one of the ten richest families. Still the brothers were often spotted flying in coach class and making sure that every single one of their building sites were closed before the Sabbath began.
A few years after the Canary Wharf project brought the firm into bankruptcy in 1992, Mr. Reichmann humbly remarked, “The fact that I had never been wrong created character flaws that caused me to make mistakes.” The Reichmanns went on to partially rebuild their fortune as they continued to give millions of dollars to Jewish schools and organizations. They paid overtime for Sunday labor in order to keep their business closed on the Sabbath and closed for Christian holidays as well out of respect for their non-Jewish workers.
At the zenith of his career, Mr. Reichmann spoke often of the years that he spent studying Talmud and building religious schools in Morocco. “I think that what I did in those years was a greater achievement than what I have done since,” Paul Reichmann said in the 1996 biography of his family, The Reichmanns, by Anthony Bianco.
When Paul Reichmann, whose Hebrew name was Moshe Yosef, was in yeshiva many years ago, he took on the job of picking up all the bread that a generous bakery was donating to the students, despite the difficulty of the journey each day. Another boy, also named Moshe, took on the job of waking up his fellow students so that they could begin learning on time.
One day, the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Schneider, said: “Moshe Reichmann, who goes for the bread unfailingly for our sake, will someday be so wealthy that the entire world will know of his wealth, and Moshe Shternbuch, who gets up so early to make sure others will learn, will be such a scholar that the entire world will know of his wisdom.”
Both these predictions came true. Paul (Moshe) Reichmann became a famous real estate developer. Rav Moshe Shternbuch became one of the greatest scholars known today. But it is said that Paul Reichmann would later remark, “I wish I had been the one to wake up the boys in the morning!”
Mr. Reichmann was so deeply committed to the Torah and the Jewish people that he valued it far more than all the money he had made. In the end, he did wake up so many thousands of people who would never have had the opportunity to learn, to pray and to build Jewish families without his generous help.