Chesler Steps Down as Head of JAFI’s Real Estate Company

The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) had been around since 1929 and has played a significant role in the establishment of the State. As a result, JAFI helped lay the foundations for the current infrastructures of government. In so doing, they also became a significant property manager here in Israel – the operation of which is carried out through Real Estate Participations, Ltd. (REP), a wholly owned commercial business enterprise.

REP was founded in 1968 by JAFI  with the objective of providing a marketing and operational vehicle for income-producing properties purchased by Jewish investors abroad. Today, REP is one of Israel’s leading management companies of income-producing properties, managing upwards of 135 properties, comprising 500,000 square meters. For the past eight years, Chaim Chesler, past treasurer of JAFI, has served as Chairman of the Board of REP.

Natan Sharansky and Chaim Chesler

This past Sunday, Chesler was guest of honor at a farewell event in his honor held at Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai. Natan Sharansky, Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, as well as his successor as chairman, Avi Maoz, previously Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Housing, joined the assembled guests in thanking Chesler for his years of service.

In remarks to those attending, Chesler said that eight years after assuming office as chairperson, and following a serious financial crisis in the company in 2002, the company’s income has risen by 60 percent – from 100 million shekels per year to 160 million shekels in 2009.

During that same period, the area of the properties administered by the company grew from 300,000 to 500,000 square meters and some 760 new properties have been added to the portfolio. The properties enjoy a 98 percent occupancy rate and the rentals paid to the property owners have increased by 66 percent, while there has been no increase in overhead costs.

Chesler accepted the position following heavy pressure from the then Chair of the Board of Governors, Alex Grass, Chair of the Executive, Sallai Meridor and the Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, Richie Pearlstone. At the time the company was in the midst of a deep financial crisis. In fact, Pearlstone told him to take the job for just a couple of months. In Chesler style, he cleaned up the mess and stayed eight years.

“My appointment was an attempt to find a solution for the problems in the company. I am delighted that, with the active co-operation of the Managing Director, Benny Harfenist and his devoted staff, we were able to embark on the highroad to recovery. Today the company is profitable and it works in close cooperation with Amigour, the Jewish Agency housing company.”

Chaim Mevorach, Director of the Jewish Agency Staff Pension Fund, and Company Director Meir Dayan, said that the success of Chesler is amply measured in the financial results that were achieved during his eight years in office. Harfenist said that Chesler managed to stabilize the relations between shareholders and management and succeeded in installing a warm working professional relationship within the company.

Sharansky congratulated Chesler on his work – and related that he had been the first person he met when he arrived in Israel in 1986 while Chesler was Director of the Public Council for Soviet Jewry – and pointed out that Chesler’s untiring efforts will continue to be devoted to the Jewish people, especially through the project he initiated and runs, Limmud FSU, the educational learning experience for young Russian-speaking adults throughout the world.