Israeli businessman Motti Zisser passed away Thursday morning after a lengthy struggle with cancer. He had been in remission since the 1990s, when he first came down with the illness and became sick again two years ago. Zisser, who made his fortune in real estate and construction across Europe and in South Africa, was engaged of late in a lengthy dispute with Bank Hapoalim over a debt that was growing to close to $300 million.
Mordechai Kalman Zisser was born in the poor neighborhood of Hatikvah in south-eastern Tel Aviv to Polish Holocaust survivors who belonged to the Hassidic dynasty of Sochatchov. When he was two, his family moved to the Haredi city of B’nei B’rak, where he joined the religious youth movement Ezra. He studied at the Netiv Meir Yeshiva and served in the IDF as an Armor officer while attending the hesder yeshiva Kerem d’Yavne. He acquired a BA in Economics from Bar-Ilan University.
Zisser captured the Israeli public’s imagination, especially in the religious sector, in the early 1980s, when he initiated the founding of the city of Emanuel in Samaria, the first urban settlement in the newly captured territories. Since then Zisser went on to build across Israel and in Eastern Europe. He was known as a generous philanthropist, especially focusing on Jewish communities in Hungary.
In the 1990s, after recovering from a bout with cancer, Zisser and his wife established the first bone marrow bank in Israel. The couple also contributed to the Oranit rehab center for children and teens with cancer. The Zissers also contributed millions of dollars to charity and educational organizations in Israel and around the world.
In 1999 Zisser purchased Elbit Medical Imaging, a holding company with activities in real estate, medical imaging, hotels, shopping malls, and retail, for an estimated $128 million. Zisser integrated his real estate activities into the company and restructured Elbit Medical Imaging as a holding company, focusing on real estate and hotels development, shopping and entertainment malls, industrial manufacturing and supply of components for the medical imaging, as well as venture capital investments in high-technology and bio-technology companies.
At some point Zisser’s company started a downward spin which eventually landed it in Israeli court, which wiped out close to half a billion dollars of its debt in exchange for transferring 95% of its stock to the creditors. Zisser, who lost control over his company, still owed more than a quarter of a billion dollars to the bank, which asked the court to declare him bankrupt.