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The Will to Win

Binyamin Rose

Billionaire Elie Horn has set the bar high. Fighting the battle against assimilation is not enough, he says. He has plans to win the war

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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HIS WAY “When you do your mission you will find the tools to do the job. G-d doesn’t want to make our lives easy by definition. He decided this is His way.” (Photos: Shlomi Cohen)

E ight years ago, Bill and Melinda Gates challenged the world’s billionaires to donate 50% or more of their wealth to charity. Since then, 174 billionaires have signed onto “The Giving Pledge,” including Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg. Only one member of this select group plans to donate half of his wealth to reverse the tide of assimilation that has devastated the Jewish world in the last two centuries. His name is Elie Horn and he’s set the bar high. Fighting the battle is not enough, he says. He has plans to win the war.

Elie Horn invites me to join him at the dining room table in his spacious but unpretentious Jerusalem apartment, where he proceeds to offer me a selection of cakes. I’m gripped with indecision, as it’s too close to lunchtime and they all contain far too many calories for my diet, so Mr. Horn makes the choice for me, carving a generous slice from a chocolate babka.

It hasn’t taken me long to gather that Elie Horn is both a gracious host and someone you try not to say no to, so I say the brachah and dig in as we start talking between bites. There is little time to lose: Elie Horn rarely grants interviews and he’s rushing to catch a plane to his home base of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

A self-made real estate magnate, Elie Horn’s self-appointed mission is to fight assimilation and save Jewish lives. He contributes an estimated $100 million each year of his billion-dollar fortune, most of which goes to Olami, a global community comprised of more than 300 organizations in 28 countries that provides funding, leadership, and guidance primarily to campus outreach organizations. With more than 2,000 people working in 11 different languages under the Olami framework worldwide, Mr. Horn provides the opportunity for more than 40,000 students each year on 600 college campuses to engage with a Torah mentor. Olami estimates that more than 250,000 college-age students have attended its programs over the past ten years and each year, well over 2,000 of them become fully Shabbos observant.

Elie Horn is a man who makes things happen. When he speaks, his voice is filled with conviction and his commitment to Yiddishkeit comes across in big ideas and powerful themes. Eternity. G-d’s decrees. The power of Torah to change lives.

“I speak only about spirituality,” Mr. Horn tells me. “You have a Jewish soul? You want to live for eternity?”

Explaining why he chose to devote his fortune to fight assimilation, he says it was simple. “I’m a Jew and I have an obligation to preserve my people. It needs to be done.”

Calling All Generals

Elie Horn’s story is one of rags to riches. His parents left Aleppo, Syria, in the 1950s and had lost all their money by the time they arrived in Brazil. An enterprising youth, he began buying and selling real estate at age 19, partnering with his brother. In less than ten years, he became a multimillionaire.

“I’m a Jew and I have an obligation to preserve my people. It needs to be done”

By the 1970s, economists were already citing Brazil’s “economic miracle.” Elie Horn experienced his own wonders. He founded Cyrela Brazil Realty in 1978, which soon became the largest publicly traded developer of high-end residential buildings in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s two largest cities. Cyrela’s share price has risen 30 times in value since its initial public offering and it has a market value of $6 billion on the Brazilian stock exchange.

In 2010, Forbes ranked Elie Horn as the world’s 437th wealthiest man. For comparison’s sake, Forbes’ 2017 list rates a fellow named Donald Trump in 544th place.

But Elie Horn doesn’t measure success by his net worth or the size of his office. That’s not how he counts his blessings. He’s no stranger to 16-hour work days, but if he sacrifices his sleep, it’s to weep over lost Jewish souls. He earmarks the bulk of his tzedakah money to battle assimilation through the work of Olami. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 698)

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