As The Prices Of Commercial Real Estate In Israel Continue to Skyrocket One Developer Chooses To Give Back

David Refael, a real estate developer with a big heart

David Refael is one of the biggest and best-regarded real estate developers in Israel, with multiple projects under his belt both in commercial and residential real estate all across the country. Recently, he had become acutely aware of the effects of the severe and worsening land shortage that Israel is experiencing and the resulting skyrocketing rents for office space all over the small country. You may say that such an awareness is par for the course for real estate magnates and that furthermore it is, for them, a welcome development since it allows them to virtually name their price once construction is complete.

For most developers you would be right, but not for David. For him, the high prices presented not only a profit opportunity, but a problem. How could various non-government organizations (NGOs) that are so crucial in the fight against poverty and in supporting the less fortunate members of society function when so much of their funding, funding that comes from the donations of hard-working and already highly taxed Israelis, must be dedicated to just keeping a roof over their heads? Luckily, David is not an idle thinker. He is not the kind of guy who sees a problem, especially a problem he can help solve and moves on with his life.

A year ago or so David made a commitment that in every office building he owns there will be a space devoted, free of charge, to a charitable NGO. With around ten buildings in almost every part of the country and with the average donated office space equaling 500 square feet (50 meters squared), David has now donated over 5,000 SF (500 sq. meters) to NGOs as diverse as those that help reintegrate the long-term unemployed back into the workforce and others that help chronically ill children and terror victims.

One example of an NGO that is receiving rent-free accommodations from the Refael Real Estate group is the Israeli Employment Center which helps people with disabilities integrate into the workforce. The Center is in cooperation with government agencies such as the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Trade and Labor, the National Insurance Institute, and others. In partnership with these government entities they provide training, assist with the acquisition of proper employment habits, and help adapt the employers to the abilities and skills of the employee. The Center also develops a variety of support services for the preservation of employment and the development of innovative and leading initiatives in the field of occupational rehabilitation.

Another example is Hakol Mehalev of the Rabbi Meir Bloch Foundation, which will be located in Refael Group’s largest project – GOLDTEC HAIFA. This NGO has been working for over 10 years with children suffering from severe chronic diseases and terror victims and their families. The association works with welfare agencies and professional support services providing day-to-day activities in hospitals, a support system, “Make-A-Wish” for children, and vacation camps for the whole family.

A Home for Every Child in Israel is a social organization that offers treatment for children and youths in high-risk environments, as well as for their families. The organization develops expertise to prevent child abuse and affirms its mission that the key to life is in a better society. The Refael Real Estate Group has allocated for this NGO a no-cost office for five years to be placed in the company’s project in Rehovot – GOLDTEC REHOVOT.

With the average rent in Refael Group projects pegged at NIS 70 ($20) per square meter per month, the total value of David’s gift can be assessed at NIS 2.1 million (roughly $600 thousand) over five years. But that is not all. Not satisfied with simply donating office space free of charge for periods ranging from five to ten years, David proceeded to do even more, this time specifically for sick children. Stepping out of his comfort zone in real estate development, he bought a minivan and converted it to a fully equipped recording studio. The van, called simply and to the point the “Fun Van” with the Hebrew motto “Sing And Get Well”, visits chronically ill children in hospitals all over Israel and allows them to create professional studio recordings of themselves singing popular songs and having fun. The recordings are then given to the children and their families free of charge.

The “Fun Van” helps sick kids sing and feel better

Israel is experiencing phenomenal growth. In 2030 it is projected to be the home of over sixteen million people. The newest mixed-use tower that has just been approved for construction in Tel-Aviv is 120 stories high. This unprecedented growth presents incredible opportunities, but also very tough challenges, especially for those whose circumstances have not necessarily kept pace with the country’s high rate of development. The result is clear to see; Israel is already suffering from social unease brought about by over-development and land shortage.

These problems can be solved if Israel has more people like David Refael, people who provide clear, compassionate, quiet leadership that looks the problems square in the eye and proposes solutions that are both practical and inevitable. In my chat with David, we talked about the necessity to abandon the Israeli dream, especially prevalent among the Arab segment of the population, to live in villas and town homes rather than high-rise apartment buildings. This approach of building up must include not only areas to the west of the so-called “Green Line”, but also large Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria like Ariel and Ma’aleh Edumim. Zoning legislation in the Arab sector, which has been let go unenforced for decades, must be finally enforced for the good of Jewish and Arab Israelis alike.

Any challenge seems easier with a smile and a song

It is easy to get discouraged when thinking of the many challenges that are facing Israel, but talking with David one gets a sense of quiet optimism, a sense that what has to be will be, that the unbelievable success story that is the State of Israel will continue and that perhaps our Arab neighbors will one day realize the tremendous opportunities that await them if they only choose to join with us in the peaceful development of the small piece of real estate we call home.

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