Monday, March 02, 2009

Samuel Hayek: poor immigrant's son to millionaire

Profile in Haaretz by Uri Blau of Samuel Hayek, a prime mover and shaker in Israeli politics. Hayek came from a humble Iraqi-Jewish background to become a millionaire who divides his time between Britain and Israel. (With thanks: Iraqijews)

"Hayek, who has never married, was born in 1953 in Kfar Sava and grew up in Bnei Brak. His parents, Salim and Nasira, immigrated to Israel from Baghdad with their three sons two years before. Another sister was born in Israel. "My father was a merchant in Baghdad. A rep for the Hercules & Singer Company. He made a lot of money from that.

"In the 1930s, when Jewish Agency representatives came and asked him to help redeem the Land of Israel, he bought land here. Unlike a lot of friends of his, other Zionists, he bought land in an excellent way. He transferred money to the Anglo-Palestine Bank and told them, 'You act on my behalf. You check that the land really belongs to the person selling it, you check that it's in a good location. Then register it in my name and take a 20 percent commission.' For years, I asked him why he gave them such a high commission. He told me that other people, who gave a 3-4 percent commission, ended up buying 'land' in the middle of the sea.

"He had to leave Baghdad with only the clothes on his back, but he had land in Israel and a little more money in bank accounts abroad. He was lucky; the land he bought in Israel was in Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Herzliya Pituah. With the money he had he built a house in Bnei Brak. They moved into the house after living in a transit camp in Ramatayim. I always think about my mother, who in Baghdad would start the day with maids who washed her hands with rosewater, and then suddenly she's waking up in a tent in Ramatayim without running water or a shower."

"Hayek grew up in a traditional home and maintains that lifestyle. "I eat only kosher food, I pray every morning. I make Kiddush every Friday night and on Shabbat I go to the synagogue and don't go around doing other things that aren't suitable for Shabbat. On rare occasions, I will drive on Shabbat, but it wouldn't be just to go to the beach."

Was your family well-off when you were growing up?

"No. My father had property, but he didn't have money. We had our own house, which was a rare thing, but we lived in poverty. We had kind neighbors who would sometimes buy a sweet roll and give it to me."

Why was the family that poor, if you owned property?
"Because my father wasn't a seller, he was a buyer. You buy and you suffer. He didn't buy land in Israel in order to sell it. The first time he agreed to sell something was in 1972, and that sale didn't come easy either."

Why - because he wanted to keep on saving?
"No, he kept on the same way when he was wealthy. He always used to tell me that he was sad when he heard that I sold something. 'In Israel, you don't sell, you just buy,' he said. I think that if I have needs now, it's not so terrible if I sell a piece of land so I can fulfill my immediate need and eventually, when I can, I'll buy another piece of land. He didn't see it that way. He was a hardliner. It wasn't a business philosophy, it was more a cultural or emotional philosophy, that you don't sell land in Israel. It's okay to suffer. It was an ideological thing."

You also have British citizenship. Have you ever been to Iraq?

"No, it doesn't interest me that much. My Iraqi side is mostly limited to eating kubbeh in Ramat Gan. My Jewish and Israeli side is very strong."

Read article in full

No comments: