Over 1000 people came to pay their respects on Motzei Shabbos to Paul Reichmann, a man whose visions of greatness were evident not only in the field of real estate, but in the realm of yiddishkeit as well. Reichmann, known to many as Moshe, passed away Friday afternoon in Toronto, just weeks after his 83rd birthday.
Reichmann’s death garnered massive media attention, with full page articles on his life in the Canadian newspapers as well as write ups in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg.com, The Boston Globe and The Financial Post.
The levaya was held at the Bais Yaakov elementary school in Toronto, with several nearby streets closed off to accommodate the overflow crowd. In true Reichmann style, there was no media coverage of the event and in the words of one funeral goer, “it was understood that no one would bring a camera. That was standard for the Reichmanns.”
Among the maspidim were R’ Shlomo Miller, Rosh Kollel of the Toronto Kollel, which was founded by Reichmann, R’ Nachman Adler, Rov of Imrei Noam, R’ Yaakov Hirschman, rosh kollel of the Toronto Kollel, R’ Mendel Brodsky, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Gedola Zichron Shmayahu and Reichmann’s sons and sons in law R’ Yisroel Yoel Muller, R’ Shmuli Hauer, R’ Henoch Brachfeld, who flew in for the levaya while in the middle of Sheva Brachos for his own son, Berry Reichmann and Chesky Reichmann.
Both R’ Hirschman and R’ Brodsky excused themselves for speaking in English, noting that while Reichmann would have preferred their words be delivered in Yiddish, they wanted those assembled to understand the divrei hesped.
R’ Hirschman related that for Reichmann, it wasn’t how much money he gave, it was how he gave it, always trying to minimize any discomfort an individual might feel in taking tzedaka.
One particular motzei Shabbos R’ Hirschman recalled walking into the Reichmann house and encountering not one, but two people who left the house within moments of each other, each carrying a check for $250,000.
According to R’ Hirschman, Reichmann had at one point taken a chavrusa and started learning in kollel, an effort that quickly fizzled. Asked why he stopped coming to kollel Reichmann replied that while he was in yeshiva learning, there were people coming to his house seeking donations and it was unacceptable to him that he wasn’t home to give tzedaka when people clearly needed his help.
Berry Reichmann spoke about how despite his father’s tremendous financial success, he was a real father to his children, who was always there for them and recalled Shabbos meals that were laden with zemiros, divrei Torah and no talk of business at all.
Berry Reichmann also told of how after the collapse of Olympia & York, he had a meeting with his father where they went through a list of some 40 yeshivos that had to be cut from the Reichmanns’ financial rolls but when it came to yeshivos in Toronto, the elder Reichmann refused to eliminate a single one from the list of institutions that he supported. Asking his father why these yeshivos were being kept on, despite the staggering losses, Berry Reichmann was told, “if you lose your money and you have kids, do you cut them off?”
The only one of the Reichmann children who was still living at home when the Reichmann’s financial empire crumpled in 1992, Chesky Reichmann, related his memories of his father’s reactions that first Motzei Shabbos, when despite the financial losses, people still lined up in the hopes of receiving some kind of assistance. The elder Reichmann explained to his callers that due to serious financial setbacks, the check would be smaller than usual and when the evening was over, Chesky Reichmann noted that his father was smiling broadly. Reichmann told his son that he was grateful to have had the opportunity to accept callers into the house, even if it meant distributing lesser amounts than usual.
Reichmann is survived by his wife Lea and five children Chaya, Libby, Goldie, Berry and Chesky and numerous grandchildren. Burial will take place on Har Hamenuchos.
The fifth of the six Reichmann children, Reichmann gained a reputation as the most gifted and dominant member in a family full of talent and ambition. Together with his brothers, Reichmann was also responsible for investing billions of dollars of the family fortune, not in properties that would turn a financial profit, but in something with a much greater return: yeshivos and charitable institutions around the world. The phrase “their word is their bond” became synonymous with the Reichmann name in the business world, giving the brothers, including Paul Reichmann, the opportunity to make a kiddush Hashem on a global level.
“R’ Moshe Reichmann was that rarest of tzaddikim, setting a princely example for all of Klal Yisroel,” Rav Aron Kotler, CEO of Lakewood’s Bais Medrash Govoha, told VIN News. “On the occasions when I was fortunate to meet him, he would invariably be sitting in a study overflowing with Seforim, at a table piled with Gemaros and Shulchan Aruch, with his mind immersed in Torah. He set the highest standards in business and in defining Kavod Hatorah for our entire generation.”
As described in Anthony Bianco’s 1996 biography, “The Reichmanns”, it was the Reichmann family’s staunch adherence to their yiddishkeit as well as the modest way that they conducted themselves, despite their wealth, that made a strong impression on others.
“The Reichmanns were held in the greatest respect in the Jewish community from A to Z,” Rabbi Gunther Plaut, of Canada’s largest Reform congregation, Holy Blossom Temple. “People were impressed that they were strict about their observance and public about their observance yet so private in the way they led their lives.”
Paul Reichmann and his siblings were all raised in an environment that included both strict religious observance and wealth. Reichmann’s father, Samuel, was a successful businessman, and his mother Renee was renowned for both her intellect and her incredible passion for helping others, most notably for her wartime efforts to aid Jews during World War II.
Reichmann’s education began at the Malzgasse Talmud Torah in Vienna, and when the family moved to Tangier to escape the Nazi regime, Reichmann and his brothers were enrolled in the local Alliance Israelite yeshiva. Unhappy with the education provided there, Reichmann’s mother transferred her payos-wearing sons to the French run Lycee Regnault, a secular school attended by the children of many diplomats. The Reichmann boys were forced to remove their yarmulkas in school but were exempted from attending classes on Shabbos.
Unable to leave Tangier to study in yeshiva because he did not have a valid passport, Reichmann dropped out of the Lycee Regnault just short of his graduation at age 16, choosing instead to delve into the realms of Gemara with a cousin who had emigrated to Tangier from Hungary. Reichmann was finally able to leave Tangier in 1947, just before his 17th birthday, when his parents were able to obtain a student visa for him to England and a transit visa to Belgium, enabling Reichmann to attend Rabbi Josef Grunwald’s yeshiva in Antwerp. Without the proper residency papers, Reichmann was only able to stay in Belgium for several months after which he returned to England to study in yeshiva and during that time, he began tutoring young Moroccan students on periodic trips back to Tangier.
Reichmann earned his semicha in Gateshead in 1949, never once using the title of “Rabbi” and choosing to keep his actual semicha in a drawer. He transferred to Ponovezh in 1950 and during that time he was asked to help recruit students from Morocco to the yeshiva, an assignment he eagerly accepted.
Reichmann contemplated entering the kollel program in Gateshead in 1952 but was told that doing so would necessitate a commitment of several years, effectively putting a stop to his efforts educating Moroccan youth, something he was unwilling to do. Instead, Reichmann went back to Israel, this time to study at the Mir under its rosh yeshiva, R’ Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz. Ten months later, Reichmann received a telegram from R’ Avraham Kalmanowitz of the Vaad Hatzalah, urging him to return to Morocco and in 1953 Reichmann relocated to Casablanca in order to work as the unpaid educational director of Otzar Hatorah, an American sponsored group that ran over four dozen Moroccan schools.
Reichmann married his wife, Lea Feldman, in the Swiss municipality of Montreux in 1955 and the two traveled together in Morocco on behalf of Otzar Hatorah for one year, also dabbling in the shirt trade. Much to the relief of his parents, who expected their son to go into the family business as a way of supporting his family, Reichmann left Casablanca in 1956, but told others that his time in Casablanca was time well spent and was quoted in the 1990’s as saying, “Even 40 years later if you ask what was my greatest achievement, I would say it wasn’t anything to do with business: it was the work I did in Casablanca.”
Urged by his brother Ralph to come to Toronto to join him in the building materials business, Reichmann and his wife traveled to New York via London, where Reichmann made contacts in the steel business, hoping to become the North American representative for companies that exported building materials.
Not finding New York to their liking, the Reichmanns moved to Montreal, eventually settling in Toronto. Reichmann first began doing business in building materials as Olympia Steel and later, together with his brother Ralph, bought out his brother Louis’ company Olympia Floor and Wall Tile.
The Reichmanns purchased their five bedroom home in the Glenwood section of North York in 1966, soon joined in the area by brothers Albert and Ralph, as well as their parents. One year later the family was instrumental in building a new Bais Yaakov in the area, merging two existing local schools, eventually adding a high school and a teachers college for young women.
Reichmann also founded the Mesivta Yesodei Hatorah in the 1980’s for his own son Henry, when he felt his son wasn’t being sufficiently challenged at his current yeshiva.
As the Reichmann family business Olympia & York enjoyed tremendous prosperity, their generosity, particularly towards religious institutions, was legendary. It is estimated that in the 1970’s they distributed $3 to $5 million annually to needy individuals by the hundreds, particularly Moroccan immigrants, as well as Orthodox institutions.
While the Reichmanns supported many schools in Canada and the United States, much of their tzedaka found its way to schools in Israel and France and as a matter of principle, they contributed to every Orthodox school that asked for a donation. They were also known to dispense business advice, countersign for mortgages and business loans and mediated occasional disputes. Their charity was so widespread that it is said that after the collapse of their Olympia & York empire in 1992 there was a significant increase in the number of people from the North York area who were added to the welfare rolls.
One of the few Ashkenazic families to champion the cause of Sephardic education, Reichmann felt strongly that supporting Sephardic schools was an extension of his earlier work in Morocco. Many of the rabbonim now running these schools were his former colleagues at Otzar Hatorah or his proteges at Gateshead and Reichmann gave generously of both his time and his money. Reichmann was also responsible for setting up dozens of schools for Sephardic girls in Israel and encouraged others to donate generously to the cause of furthering religious education for the Sephardic community.
By 1977 Olympia & York was heavily involved in real estate and having made significant contributions to the Canadian market, Reichmann set his sights on New York City, which was in difficult financial straits. His purchase of eight skyscrapers from the Uris Building Corporation was later called by some “the deal of the century” and Meyer S. Frucher, a top appointee of then Governor Mario Cuomo had words of high praise for Reichmann’s latest acquisition.
“There have been two great deals in the history of New York. The first was when the Dutch bought this land of Manhattan. The second was when the Canadians bought the island again.”
While Olympia & York endured both extreme highs and lows, Reichmann earned a reputation for honesty and integrity that is rarely seen in the business world. His unique ability to balance both extreme wealth with an equally extreme dedication to his religious observance earned him the respect of many greats, both in the world of business and the world of Torah.
While Reichmann will be long remembered for his incredible business acumen and his staggering generosity. he left behind a legacy in the business world that has boundless benefits for Jews worldwide, according to one acquaintance.
“Reichmann raised the spirits of every frum Jew in business. I was able to walk around conducting business openly as a Jew, with my head held high as I knew that Paul Reichmann was featured in newspapers all over the world as an honest businessman. Until Reichmann, many in the world had no idea that frum Jews can be observant, be shomer Shabbos and still conduct real estate transactions of epic proportions. There is no doubt that Reichmann made a major positive impact in the world for the many Jews who conduct business today.”