| Magazine Feature |

And Honor for All

While Reb Moshe Reichmann was one of the world’s wealthiest men, there was nothing more important to him than ensuring the dignity of others

Photos Family archives

The passing of great people often leaves us in a quandary, the dilemma of whether to provide readers with instant coverage — a full-scale tribute still during shivah — or to wait a bit and be able to create an article with more substance, but without the drama of presenting it while the loss is still fresh.

I recall the Friday at the end of October 2013 when Reb Moshe Reichmann was niftar and the deliberations that followed: Back then, we printed the magazine on Sunday, and the general consensus was that this wasn’t the time for a rush job. The subject of the article was about precision and meticulousness, integrity in product and reputation, and we too would do it right.

Reb Moshe Yosef (Paul) Reichmann was one of the eminent philanthropists and supporters of Torah in our generation. He was born in Vienna, Austria in 1930, fled with his family after the Nazi takeover to Tangier, Morocco, (where his father founded several Torah institutions), and then went to learn in England under Rav Moshe Schneider, who gave him a prophetic blessing that would one day reverberate around the Jewish world: Back then the yeshivah was in dire financial straits, and in order to feed the starving students, one bakery agreed to give the yeshivah the previous day’s leftovers if someone would come pick it up. Moshe Reichmann devotedly walked to the outskirts of London each day to pick up the bread — and received the Rosh Yeshivah’s brachah that he would one day become extremely wealthy and would spend his money supporting talmidei chachamim.

In 1956, after Moshe married Leah Feldman, his father called him back to Tangier to help with teaching Torah and strengthening the level of observance there. Eventually the couple followed Moshe’s brothers to Canada where they fell into property development, eventually expanding to New York City. By the mid-1980s, they were the largest developers in the world, and one of the world’s richest families.

Despite his massive financial success, Reb Moshe lived modestly (he drove an old Cadillac), while at the same time setting a precedent for others with his huge donations to the Torah world. He established Torah mosdos in his home city of Toronto and beyond, was active in establishing chareidi towns in Eretz Yisrael, and was known to give a substantial financial award to hundreds of kollel couples in order to buy apartments. And as much as he gave, much of his support was done quietly without fanfare — or public knowledge. (His levayah in Jerusalem, where he was buried, was tellingly held in a building of batei medrash and kollelim in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Sanz neighborhood, an edifice he had built anonymously and simply called Ahavas Torah — the true pride of a man who built Battery Park City and Canary Wharf, yet never put his name on any of the myriad shuls or yeshivos he sponsored.)

Before the shloshim, I spent time in Toronto with each of the children, and even before they told their stories, it was evident that this — his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren — were the true legacy, the structure into which he had invested his heart and soul.

They shared many poignant memories, but the detail I remember most was this: In the weeks after his passing, the children reflected on which item was the iconic heirloom, the relic that most represented their father, which would mean the most to them.

Typically, it would be a siddur, or maybe a becher, a Tehillim or a menorah, perhaps.

Not here. The most tangible expression of their father, from their perspective, was the copy of the Chazon Ish’s Emunah Ubitachon that Reb Moshe Reichmann carried with him.

And carried in him as well, its lyrical song of faith and depth, its poetic homage to the Creator and the perfection of His plan playing in his heart and mind.

Some books take longer than others to write. Here we are, eight years after Reb Moshe Reichmann’s passing, a relatively long time in terms of writing a biography, and there’s a sense that this book could not be coming at a better time.

Many in the community have been blessed with great wealth in recent years, an unprecedented flow of shefa resting in their homes. The standard of living has spiked — homes, simchahs, personal spending habits — and articles are appearing (including in this magazine) begging for someone to take responsibility. Speakers address the one-percenters, charging them with righting the runaway train, and a new challenge has been exposed.

The spiritual giants — roshei yeshivah, rabbanim, and admorim — whose lives and deeds we looked to for inspiration were never confronted with this new nisayon: having to advise the super-wealthy businessman at the apex of professional accomplishment trying to find balance.

There is no handbook on how the gvir ought to behave, how he relates to talmidei chachamim and to those who have less, how he imparts authenticity and truth to his own children amidst the clatter of deceit, how he adds layers of humility even as his name is a daily feature of the business headlines.

This book about one who did so comes at perfect time, landing on a communal table covered with charcuterie boards and tequila.

But there was a surprise in it, even for me. I had originally thought it a story of one who had successfully navigated the nisayon of wealth alone, but the deeper I got in, the more I found myself pulled into stories that have nothing to do with money.

If Moshe Reichmann had never left the Morocco classroom in which he spent his first years of marriage teaching Torah, he would nonetheless have been marked with greatness: for his dignity, his compassion, his vision, and his burning sense of mission. The money only served to push him onto a stage where all those traits were suddenly revealed to the masses, but he never stopped working, never stopped toiling to find the messages within the pages of the well-used Chazon Ish.

His story is the story of that toil, how with emunah, with middos, with an unbreakable connection to the beis medrash, a Jew can soar so high, regardless of the path on which life takes him.

Eternal Edifice

excerpts from Building for Eternity, by Yisroel Besser (ArtScroll / Mesorah)


The greatest kavod, Reb Moshe Reichmann would tell his children, is to give kavod, to display honor to others.

The respect wasn’t a decision but part of Reb Moshe’s essence.

A weekly chavrusa recalls how often, people would come visit the Reichmann home during their Shabbos afternoon sessions. Reb Moshe had too much respect for his visitors to turn them away because he was in the middle of learning, but he also didn’t want to give up the precious learning hours.

Ever innovative, he came up with a novel solution. He purchased extra seforim and would welcome his visitors with a smile. “Thank you for coming, would you care to join us?” he would ask, acknowledging their arrival without giving up on a moment of Torah.

One Shabbos afternoon, he and his chavrusa headed over to shul for Minchah following their regular learning session. When they opened the door to the beis medrash, they noticed that the rav was in the middle of speaking, the minyan being held in a side room. The chavrusa slipped out to join the minyan, and a minute or two later, he realized that Reb Moshe hadn’t followed him. Later, Reb Moshe excused himself. “I can daven b’yechidus and work it out with the Ribbono shel Olam,” he explained. “However, once my entrance was noticed — and in that brief moment, it’s likely people noticed as I came in — to have turned around and left would have been disrespectful to the rav.”

Reb Moshe was a mechubad. There was an aura about him, something that caused people to turn respectful in his presence. But his status as an honorable person was derived from his being a “mechabed,” honoring others. A relative was scheduled to speak at the Shabbos day sheva brachos for Reb Moshe’s granddaughter, but, as sometimes happens, the schedule changed and the speech was pushed off to Melaveh Malkah. After lunch, the guest casually told Reb Moshe that he was looking forward to seeing him Motzaei Shabbos. Reb Moshe, unwell at the time, said that he wasn’t planning to come to that night’s event.

“Oh, then you will miss my derashah,” the relative said lightly.

Motzaei Shabbos was a bitterly cold night. Outside the restaurant in which the sheva brachos was taking place, a car pulled up. Reb Moshe, gripping his walker, made his way slowly across the icy sidewalk. Every step was a challenge, but he was there, showing respect to a much-younger relative by coming to hear his derashah.

Moshe Reichmann’s most important business associates were the rabbanim and roshei yeshivah who held up the world.

Every Visitor an Honor

The people who came up the path to the Reichmann home in search of a donation would leave having received financial help along with something else: an extra measure of dignity. They left not feeling smaller, but bigger.

A young activist flew in from New York to speak with Reb Moshe on behalf of the Iranian rescue fund. As Reb Moshe listened, the askan explained the process of how the Jews were taken out of the hostile regime, after which they remained in Vienna for several months before finally being welcomed in New York.

At one point, Reb Moshe, being familiar with the geography of the area, asked a question regarding the route taken by these escapees. The visiting askan wasn’t sure what to answer, and the conversation continued.

At the conclusion, Reb Moshe gave a check of $100,000, then walked his visitor to the door and looked him in the eye. “Let me be very clear. I asked a question before, but it was just that, a question from me, an uninformed layman. I don’t have any real expertise or insight into this topic while you, the askanim who have invested so much time and effort, are the ones on the ground, making decisions. You know what you’re doing.”

The generous donation was appreciated but the parting words, “You know what you’re doing,” would accompany the askan on his long, productive career in serving the needs of Klal Yisrael.

Reb Moshe would often sit on the same side of the desk as his guests, conveying respect by facing them, rather than listening from across the wide desk. He would put on a jacket in honor of his visitors, treating each meeting like it was important.

Every Visitor.

A 14-year-old boy was selling raffle tickets to benefit his yeshivah, and he impulsively rang the Reichmann doorbell without really considering what he was about to do. A moment later, Reb Moshe Reichmann himself stood in the open doorway.

He didn’t give him a check or even buy tickets. Instead, he invited the boy in to the study, like he would any other rosh yeshivah or rav, and had the boy sit down. Tea was served in the elegant tea-set and for 15 minutes, Reb Moshe asked the boy questions about the yeshivah. Who was the rosh yeshivah? Did he say shiur every day? What sort of shiur? What did he speak about in the shmuessen?

Once, Reb Moshe Reichmann had been a bochur and Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer had shown respect to him and his friends, insisting that the bochurim who had come to visit him join him in sitting in the front of the beis medrash. Reb Moshe never forgot that lesson, and now, he sat and listened to his 14-year-old visitor.

The boy grew bolder, excitedly telling the greatest philanthropist in the world about his yeshivah, and then received a generous check.

On a fund-raising visit to Toronto, a rosh yeshivah and his executive director drove their rented car through the streets with time to spare until their next appointment. “That is Moshe Reichmann’s home, why don’t we go in?” the executive director suggested.

Together, the two men walked up the front steps, not really expecting to be admitted. They had no idea if the famous donor was in town, and even if he was, they hadn’t made an appointment. They rang the doorbell. To their surprise, it was opened by Reb Moshe himself. The host was clearly expecting someone else at that moment: He stood there in shirt-sleeves, without shoes on, looking at his unexpected visitors.

Finally, he spoke. “I apologize, I was expecting a business associate, but I was not prepared for a rosh yeshivah,” he apologized. “Can I ask you to return in 15 minutes?”

When the rosh yeshivah came back 15 minutes later, Reb Moshe was ready, immaculate in his jacket, shoes on his feet. Now, he was ready to receive them.

During Reb Moshe’s last years, a chassidishe rebbe spending Shabbos in Toronto came to visit the Reichmann home. Despite the fact that he could only get around using a walker, Reb Moshe insisted on repaying the visit at the home where the rebbe was staying, since this is the custom of admorim, to repay visits. To ignore that custom would be to show disrespect.

Willing Chauffeur

A newly arrived teacher at one of the local schools had to borrow a crib for his baby, and he asked a friend if there was perhaps a local gemach which lent out such items. Seeing the opportunity to make what he considered a joke, the friend replied with the address of Moshe Reichmann, thinking it would be funny to send the visitor there for a crib.

Without realizing whose bell he was ringing, the visitor approached the home. Mr. Reichmann himself answered, and the man explained that he was coming to borrow a crib from the gemach. Reb Moshe nodded politely, reading the situation perfectly, and he returned a few minutes later with a crib.

“Let me assist you,” said the “gemach manager,” helping the visitor carry it outside.

Three young New York businessmen were involved in trying to help Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood during a financial crisis: They decided to fly down to Toronto and solicit Moshe Reichmann.

He welcomed them to his home and responded generously to their request. Then, when he learned that they had taken a taxi from the airport, he insisted on driving them to Minchah, acting as chauffeur — his way of conveying respect for them and their holy mission.

There was a particular rebbe who would visit from Yerushalayim, soliciting funds from the good Jews of Toronto. He would always ask his driver to take him to the Reichmann home last, and he explained his reasoning: He knew that Reb Moshe would offer to drive him back to where he was staying at the close of the meeting, so there was no reason to make the driver wait.

The respect extended to everyone. One day, Mr. Reichmann welcomed a French-Canadian banker to the office for a meeting, and he conducted the meeting in French, a language he had learned as a young boy in Tangier. One of his own employees, who spoke no French, was unable to follow the proceedings, and Reb Moshe later apologized. “He was my guest,” Mr. Reichmann explained, “and one has to show respect for a guest by making them feel as comfortable as possible.”

The cleaning help in his home and his personal driver felt that same respect. There was no noticeable difference, reflects a close business associate, in the way Reb Moshe addressed the Queen of England or prime minster of Canada and the way he spoke to his household staff. Everyone felt a little bigger after encountering him.

Slow Down

Even those who didn’t know him personally experienced the culture of respect that filtered down to anyone dealing with the company, at any level.

One evening, meetings ran late, after regular work hours. The exhaustive conference over, Reb Moshe walked to the elevators, still in conversation with his lawyer, when suddenly he stopped and turned back. He went to the front desk and bowed slightly, offering the secretary an extra “thank you” for staying in the office later than usual.

Then he headed back for the elevator.

A close associate of Mr. Reichmann was once waiting in line outside a popular New York restaurant, when one determined patron slipped the manager a $20 bill, hoping to buy himself preferential treatment.

The manager was offended by the gesture and offered the waiting customers an impromptu lecture. “You’ve got to respect the line and the others that are waiting here longer than you. Do you know who came to eat here two nights ago? Paul Reichmann himself! And we noticed him and invited him to come to the front of the line, but he wouldn’t even consider it. Imagine that!”

In the middle of the line, Reb Moshe’s friend and associate smiled, recognizing the truth in the story.

The true aristocrat elevates those around him as well, affecting his surroundings.

A minority partner remembers their relationship. “He was, in effect, my boss but he treated me like a full partner. Being smarter and more successful than virtually all his colleagues, he had all the reason to talk down to others, but he never did. He had this ability to listen, not to interrupt, until you finished what you wanted to say, which is remarkable, considering that he was astute enough to know where you were headed. He likely knew exactly what you were going to say, but he waited patiently and heard you out.”

“I tried it,” concludes the partner, “and it’s a lot harder than it seems. He made it look easy.”

Julius Berman recalls just one instance in which Paul Reichmann asserted himself as the boss.

The two men would meet before Minchah at Olympia and York’s Manhattan office and ride the elevator up several floors for the minyan. One day, Reb Moshe casually asked Mr. Berman if he knew why the baal tefillah davened Minchah according to the minhag which recites “hoicheh Kedushah,” rather than saying the entire chazaras hashatz out loud. One of the other employees said that it was because the chazzan heard that the Reichmanns, who didn’t like to see time go to waste, wanted the minyan to go as quickly as possible so that everyone could get back to work.

Reb Moshe was visibly upset. “Please make it clear,” he said firmly, “that the Reichmanns do not want the minyan to go as quickly as possible!”

It was a high-pressure business, but there was never an indication of anger or excessive stress. His demeanor and manner of speaking would not change.

A close employee was having a disagreement with Mr. Reichmann over a business matter, and the discussion grew heated. Reb Moshe held up his hand. “I think we should end the conversation now,” he said calmly, “so that no one says something that they will later regret.”

“I’ve seen people whom Margaret Thatcher showed respect for, but it wasn’t a sign of deference for them, but for their money, or perhaps of what they could do for her and her country,” reflects a close friend and business associate of Reb Moshe. “I’ve seen people whom Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky stood up for, and that was something very different, a reflection of true respect for who they were, their essence. But I have only known one man for whom Rav Yaakov would express admiration for and Margaret Thatcher would bow toward. Reb Moishe engendered awe by his very essence. I don’t think Klal Yisrael in North America ever had a more beautiful baal habayis….”

Ultimately, Reb Moshe’s inherent tafkid, his mission to give, was also a form of kavod. Because through the generosity, the substantial amounts he gave, he allowed rabbanim, roshei yeshivah, roshei Kollel, and meshulachim trying to feed their own families to feel respected — the money he was investing in them a sign of his esteem for them.

“They walked out not just with a large check,” recalls a close friend and business colleague, “but with a large sense of self-worth as well. That, more than anything, is Reb Moshe Reichmann’s legacy.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 886)

Oops! We could not locate your form.