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Be My Guest

Barbara Bensoussan

When David Lichtenstein realized food stamps weren’t an option, he tried his luck with properties. Today his billion-dollar enterprise has moved into a different kind of real estate —he’s dotted the map with free bikur cholim apartments for the exhausted, worried loved-ones of hospital patients.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

He’s already passed the half-century mark, but there’s something boyish about David Lichtenstein’s clean-shaven face and horn-rimmed tortoiseshell glasses. There’s nothing childish, however, about the real estate investment company he’s built, or the way in which he’s provided critical services to the Jewish community. Lichtenstein embodies that cherished American ideal, the self-made man. He literally started with nothing: He left kollel for work when he realized he would have to rely on food stamps to feed his family, and ventured into real estate. His Lightstone Group is now one of the largest privately held real estate development groups in the country, a multibillion dollar enterprise that has enabled him to give back to the community. Lichtenstein serves on the boards of Touro College and New York Medical College, and has invested in cures for degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, ALS, and multiple sclerosis. He also helps kollel families who choose to enter the workforce build job skills and find employment. His latest project, providing housing for the families of hospital patients, reflects his inclusive view of Am Yisrael and sincere desire to be of service. He comes by his communal spirit honestly; his grandfather was the rabbi of Providence, Rhode Island, and he grew up hearing his parents’ stories about how his grandparents’ home served as the local way station for Jewish travelers and meshulachim. The tradition of hachnassas orchim continued into his parents’ home in Flatbush, where his father was also a shul rav. “Our house was like a train station,” Lichtenstein remembers, seated in a modest office in his company headquarters, which occupies the entire floor of a Park Avenue office building. “I often gave up my bed to guests.” Lichtenstein learned in Brooklyn yeshivos before studying at the Mir in Jerusalem. He later returned to learn in Lakewood and married his wife Shiffy, the granddaughter of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz ztz”l. His father-in-law, Rav Shmuel Mendlowitz, has lived with them since being widowed. David and Shiffy are thrilled to be surrounded by generations, with him in their Monsey home, and their married children across the street. (Other children are in yeshivah, college and high school; the oldest son works with his father.) “We have four generations under our roof on a daily basis,” he reports with pleasure. Despite a busy schedule, Lichtenstein has never lost his zest for learning. He’s particularly interested in contemporary halachah and has published Hebrew seforim on hilchos Shabbos and halachos related to the Internet. (Can you sell your chometz over the Internet? Can you give hechsherim via Skype?) An English sefer on contemporary halachah is planned for release soon through the Orthodox Union.

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