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'All Of A Sudden I Heard Explosions': Israel's Deadliest Day Hits Close To Home For U.S. CRE

When Henry Manoucheri woke up the morning of Oct. 7 in his house in Jerusalem, he didn't check his phone because it was a Saturday — and observant Jews don't use electricity during the Sabbath. 

"All of a sudden I heard sirens. I went to our porch and I looked up outside, and all of a sudden I heard explosions, right over our heads," said Manoucheri, the CEO of Los Angeles-based multifamily investor Universe Holdings.

Manoucheri said he remembers the Yom Kippur War from when he was a 10-year-old growing up in Iran, but this felt even more intense. As he walked to a business meeting at Bank Leumi in Jerusalem last Monday, he said he had to take cover under a tree as two rocket blasts rang out overhead.

"Everybody was traumatized," he told Bisnow this week after returning to the U.S. "It’s just a horrific tragedy and beyond anyone’s imagination."


Isaac Pinto had been in Israel celebrating holidays with his family before getting on a flight back to the U.S. on Oct. 6. His sister lives in a moshav not far from the Gaza Strip, where Hamas militants broke through Israel's border and went on a killing rampage that left more than 1,000 people dead, with nearly 200 more kidnapped and still unaccounted for.

The terrorist attack went from town to town, kibbutz to kibbutz across southern Israel. Pinto, the co-founder of New York-based apartment operator July Residential, said his sister and her three children were huddled in the Nir Akiva bomb shelter, praying that the attackers wouldn't reach them. They were stopped just a village or two away, Pinto said.

"You get the news and it’s blowing your mind. You don’t know what to do. Your families are locked in their shelters scared to death," he told Bisnow. "Chatting on WhatsApp, you feel helpless. You cannot do anything. They cannot do anything."

Ran Eliasaf said he couldn't sleep for four days as the bad news kept pouring in. He is the founder of real estate private equity firm Northwind Group, but before that he was a captain in the Israeli navy.

"It's the realization of your worst nightmares. It's something that you never think will happen, and then you're realizing it's happening and it's happening to so many people that we know," Eliasaf said in an interview. "I lost a good friend of mine that served with me for two years in the naval academy. A son of one of our attorneys, a daughter of one of our investors, two best friends of one of our employees, one of our team members.

"There's no words to describe the feeling." 

Israel-born developer Michael Shvo's family wasn't harmed, but he said he is haunted by accounts of his friends' daughter being raped by Hamas militants after she had been kidnapped. 

"We know many people that have been killed or kidnapped or missing," Shvo said. "Israel is a small country, and everybody knows somebody that is directly affected by this."

Israel may be small, but its influence in U.S. commercial real estate isn't. Israel has produced many prominent industry names, like Shvo, WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann and Silverstein Properties President Tal Kerret. 

But more broadly, Israel's significance as the Jewish state created in the aftermath of the Holocaust gives it a powerful significance for Jewish Americans, many of whose ancestors restarted their lives after escaping persecution by acquiring property in their adopted home in the U.S.

Bisnow spoke to nearly a dozen commercial real estate professionals who were born in Israel or have family there and have a personal connection to the events unfolding. They expressed rage, horror, grief and resolve to support the country's response to the act of terror committed inside its borders.

"What we witnessed here is a massacre," Kerret, who served in the Israel Defense Forces for six years, said in an interview. "Rapes of daughters of my friends, dragging children and women and elderly people into Gaza into an area that you cannot bring them out, and doing things to people that are just — I can't talk about them. I wish I could unsee what I've seen in videos and images."

Bisnow reached out to several commercial real estate professionals with ties to other Middle Eastern countries, but all declined to comment, citing fear of backlash.

The attack last weekend was the deadliest in Israel's history. More than 1,400 Israeli people were killed and more than 3,400 injured, according to the Israeli government, The New York Times reported. Israel has responded by shelling Gaza and telling hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians to evacuate before an expected ground invasion. More than 2,800 Palestinians have been killed and more than 10,000 wounded in the response, Palestinian authorities have said. Israel's military has called up more than 300,000 reservists to respond to the terrorist attacks, CNN reported

Benji Zoller, top, and Sammy Zoller are Texas-born sons of Weitzman Executive Vice President David Zoller serving in the Israel Defense Forces after the attacks by Hamas.

Two of the soldiers are Sammy and Benji Zoller, the sons of Weitzman Executive Vice President David Zoller, a Dallas-based retail broker.

Both were born and raised in Texas but moved to Israel after high school and attended yeshiva. Benji, 26, was still in the midst of his mandatory military service when the attack happened early Saturday morning. That afternoon, he packed his bags and left for the West Bank, David Zoller said, where more violence has broken out in recent days. 

Sammy, 24, served as a paratrooper but had completed his service and thus wasn't called up as a reservist. After being turned away, he slept on the floor of a local army base, determined to serve, Zoller said. He was eventually accepted into service and is now in the home front command.

"I was trying to talk to him about what his options were relative to serving the country without going back on full duty. He was having none of that," Zoller said. "He felt like it was his commitment as a trained sergeant and paratrooper to do what he could."

Kim Ruttenberg's brother was a little more than one month from finishing his service in the Israel Defense Forces. The sales professional for Mighty Dog Roofing in Fort Worth told Bisnow her brother, 24, was getting ready to move back home to Dallas and join her in the commercial real estate industry, but that isn't happening now.

"It was absolutely terrifying" when she first heard about the Hamas attacks, Ruttenberg said.

"Saturday and Sunday I was having panic attacks. I couldn’t sleep because I was so scared I was going to wake up without a brother."

Asi Cymbal, an Israeli-born, Miami-based developer, said two cousins of a close friend of his were kidnapped and killed. He has scores of relatives who have spent nights in bomb shelters. 

He said some tenants at a building he developed asked to be let out of their leases so they could join the fight in Israel. Another of his friends tried to volunteer to fight but was turned away.

"I was just very impressed that someone is willing to risk their life, after establishing a relatively safe and secure life in the United States, to defend their family in Israel or their Western view of the world," Cymbal said. "I was just really impressed. Frankly, I feel relatively impotent that I'm not doing much."

Many of the people Bisnow spoke to are taking action. Ruttenberg said she is flying to Israel later this week to bring needed gear that some soldiers are lacking, from high-tech equipment like Casio G-Shock watches to basic needs like underwear and thermal long-sleeve shirts. She is also bringing care packages from families in her area with children serving.

"One of my biggest regrets is not going to the IDF after high school," she said. "I didn’t get the chance to serve Israel the way a lot of people do. I felt like it was my time to give back."

Mark Rubin, a Colliers executive vice president of South Florida investment sales, said he has been paying for airfare for Israeli citizens living in Florida who had been called up to serve.

"I'm too old to go over there, and with no military training," he said. "But I feel a responsibility and obligation to help my people the only way I can, which, at this point, is financially."

Pinto's wife was raised on the Nir Oz kibbutz, the site of one of the most devastating massacres in the conflict — more than a third of the 400 people living there were killed or kidnapped, The New York Times reported. Pinto's efforts now are in helping the survivors rebuild their community.

"I can’t imagine the day after for them. They don’t have anywhere to go, they don’t have homes anymore. The homes are gone because they burnt the entire kibbutz," Pinto said. "They need a lot of help to rebuild, and not only physically the homes but rebuild their lives and hopefully prosper. This is something we feel very close to. We are personally committed."

All of the people Bisnow spoke to for the article lauded their colleagues in the industry, from all faiths and ethnicities, who they said have been unequivocally supportive and understanding.

Protests in support of Palestine have become more frequent in the days since Hamas' terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 and 8.

"I think the broader real estate community has come out in complete support of Israel," said Elliot Horowitz, the founder of New York-based real estate investment firm H Equities. "I've had calls from many non-Jewish friends and colleagues from all different faiths, including Muslims who have reached out who are appalled, shocked, angered and disgusted by what's happening in Israel."

As for what comes next in the escalating conflict, responses varied, from Manoucheri saying "the solution is to eradicate Hamas from the face of the earth" to others expressing dismay at places like Harvard University equivocating on its stance regarding the conflict and disgust at the demonstrations in the streets in support of Palestine.

But a common thread among the people Bisnow interviewed was drawing a clear delineation between Hamas, the group that controls Gaza and carried out the attacks, and Palestinian civilians.

"You will not see an Israeli saying, ‘It's OK to kill women and children.’ It's not OK," Eliasaf said. "Anybody who supports the Palestinians, you can do it, but still condemn these acts. I've been very active and very vocal saying being anti-Hamas is not the equivalent of being anti-Palestinian."

The people interviewed for this story said they are concerned about a rise in antisemitism in the weeks and months ahead, but they nonetheless said it is more important than ever to express their identity and full-throated support for Israel.

"How do we use our commercial real estate to support Israel? The simplest way is fly the Israeli flag everywhere," Shvo said. "We're flying it on Fifth Avenue, we're flying it in Beverly Hills, we’re flying it in Miami, we’re flying it in Chicago, we're flying it at the Transamerica Pyramid. We've lit the Transamerica Pyramid blue, and it will stay blue until this war is over."