Paul Reichmann: Millions of Lights

October 27, 2013

5 min read


One of the greatest philanthropists of the century passes away.

Mr. Paul Reichmann passed away this past Friday at the age of 83 in Toronto. Mr. Reichmann was a Canadian businessman who built Olympia and York Developments into a multi-billion dollar empire and donated millions of dollars each year to build Jewish schools, synagogues and yeshivas 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. With his signature full beard, business suit and yarmulke, Reichmann had a sterling reputation for integrity, a humility that led him and his brothers to shun all publicity, and an unwavering commitment to Orthodox Judaism.

Paul Reichmann was born in Vienna in 1930 to Samuel and Rene Reichmann. The family escaped the Nazi occupation of Austria because they fortuitously left the country on the day of the Anschluss 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. After the war, Paul went to learn in yeshiva in Gateshead, England and Ponovezh and Mir 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 Shabbos 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.

The building achievements of Paul Reichmann are not only the towering skyscrapers and financial complexes that he constructed. Every student that benefited from the hundreds of schools that Mr. Reichmann gave to is another world that he built. Each person that prayed in the hundreds of synagogues that were supported by his continuous giving is another world that Mr. Reichmann built. And each child and grandchild of every one of these people who remain Jewish today is another world that Mr. Reichmann built. If you gaze at a skyscraper at night, there are millions of lights emanating from each window. Multiply that a thousand times, and we can perhaps begin to comprehend the kind of light that Mr. Reichmann brought into this world.

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.

As one of the greatest philanthropists of the century passes from this world, we can see the millions of lights emanating from millions of worlds. Thank you, Mr. Reichmann, for all that you have built.

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