David Azrieli, a Canadian real estate developer, with a net worth estimated at $3 billion, died Wednesday, July 9th, in Montreal Canada. Azrieli was known for transforming the skyline of Tel Aviv, Israel, as the first to build a shopping mall there, his Azrieli Center. He was also a philanthropist and Zionist, who donated nearly $100 million to multiple causes.
The Israeli real estate developer Azrieli Group was founded by Azrieli, who remained the controlling shareholder up till the day he died. Azrieli worked up to a week before his death, when he was forced to resign due to his failing health. However, he was able to pass on his position to his daughter Danna.
Azrieli is given credit for starting a new era of consumerism in Israel when he opened the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan in 1985. The Hebrew word for mall, kanyon, was coined by Azrieli, combing the Hebrew words for buying and parking.
Azrieli Group owns over a dozen shopping malls and an office building throughout Israel. His company also has energy, water and environment industry subsidiaries. 20 percent of Leumi Card, a credit card company, along with close to five percent of the shares in Bank Leumi Le Israel Ltd. are owned by Azrieli’s company.
In a 2010 interview with Canada’s Financial Post, Azrieli explained, “I wanted to do something for Israel because I am a Zionist and I love the country. I went to a conference in 1983 and was introduced to an available location, near a dump, and I decided to build the country’s first closed mall there. If everything had gone wrong, I could have lost $20 million there, which I could afford to lose at the time, but it turned out to be a great property.”
Born in Poland on May 10th, 1922, as David Joshua Azrylewicz, he later Hebraicized his last name to Azrieli. He forced to flee Poland in 1939, at the age of 17, escaping to the Soviet Union. The rest of his family was not as lucky, and were murdered during the Holocaust.
The Nazis then invaded the USSR two years later forcing Azrieli to flee once again. He snuck out of the country and reached Uzbekistan, where he joined Poland’s army that shipped him off to Iran. Under the guise of an Arab peasant, Hagnah agents helped Azrieli get to the Land of Israel. Azrieli fought with the Haganah, and later in Israel’s War of Independence with the Israel Defense Forces.
After the war, before his relocation to Montreal in 1954, Azrieli worked as a Hebrew teacher in South Africa. In 1956, his career in real estate began in the suburbs of Montreal where he built four homes. His business continued to expand and flourish from there. Four years ago, the Azrieli Group went public on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. In 1957 he married Stephanie Lefcourt and had four children, Rafael, Sharon and Naomi and Danna. Azrieli also leaves behind several grandchildren.
In 1989, he created the Azrieli Foundation, through which he conducted most of his many philanthropic activities. He made many generous donations to institutes of higher education, including Tel Aviv University’s Azrieli School of Architecture, the Technion’s Azrieli Library for Architecture and the Azrieli Faculty of Design at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.
Azrieli lived a remarkably full life. His funeral was held in Montreal on July 10th; he was then brought to Israel for burial. Azrieli leaves behind a great legacy and an incredible success story that is an inspiration to all.