Netanya, Israel’s fifth largest city, has been undergoing a significant building boom recently; and one of the central “players” in this boom is an Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi named Yaacov Shimon Sher. Rabbi, who also is a prominent city council member, and a key member of the board of Laniado Hospital, seems to be almost too much involved in a number of construction projects, both commercial and residential, that have going on in this sea-side city, 30 kilometers north of Tel Aviv.
In fact, local building contractors have been complaining recently that in order to receive a permit to begin a construction project in Netanya, especially a large scale one such as the multi-story apartment buildings sprouting up in various Netanya locations, they must first pay a sizable “contribution” to one of the many philanthropic projects that the Rabbi is involved in. When asked how much they have to “contribute” some of these contractors (who asked not to be disclosed) said: “it’s usually somewhere between five and ten thousand”. And it turns out that these sums are Dollar amounts, not Shekels.
Rabbi Sher, who has close ties to Netanya Mayor Miriam Fireburg, seems to always be in the picture concerning goings on at City Hall, as well as at Laniado Hospital. Located in North Netanya, next to the Ultra Orthodox residential neighborhood of Kiryat Sanz, Laniado is the only hospital in Netanya; and it has been undergoing an expansion program, funded largely by donations from contributors in both Israel and abroad. Considerable donations have also been coming from sources in the U.K., as well as from the U.S.A. And when mention and recognition of these are noted, Rabbi Sher’s name seems to be frequently mentioned â€“ perhaps more frequently than should be for such endeavors.
Whether the Rabbi himself has any personal connection to any of these “fundraising projects” is a matter of speculation, as was noted on Israel Channel 2 television last Friday evening. During the program, it was noted that Rav Sher, as he is usually called, has a rather large villa on a very choice piece of sea front property located just meters away from a number of yeshivas that he is said to have raised funds for, as well as Laniado Hospital itself. The gist of the program was whether Rabbi Sher may have personally benefited from the numerous contributions he receives from the building contractors, as well as from other sources. Though he firmly denies this, many do wonder where how he was able to build such a fine home on such choice property, especially on the very modest remuneration that he receives for being on the City Council and as an Orthodox Rabbi.
A major commercial construction project, located in southern Netanya’s Sapir Industrial Park, called Alexander Center, is also connected with Rabbi Sher and his Philanthropic projects. Due to the scale of this project, which contains high tech companies, restaurants, and even a large cinema, the amount of the “contributions” is rumored to be even greater than the amounts previously mentioned. How the Rabbi allowed an American theme restaurant known as Hooters to be opened there remains a mystery, and no one is talking about this mater either.
The general consensus to this story is that if one wants to build a construction project in Netanya, especially a large scale one, he must first deal with Rabbi Sher and make the “appropriate contribution”.