Joseph (Joe) Popack // Dira Realty

I first met real estate investor Joseph Popack in his Crown Heights office around a year ago. We spoke for almost four hours, but even after such a long meeting, I felt we had more to discuss. And so we met again, shortly before this Sukkos. Joining us were two of Mr. Popack’s assistants—the man who oversees Mr. Popack’s chesed projects in Crown Heights, and a Chabad shliach who oversees much of Mr. Popack’s philanthropic work overseas as well as the rebuilding of mekomos hakedoshim in Europe—and Ami’s PR rep Ushi Teitelbaum, who arranged the interview.
Mr. Popack has built a real estate empire, with dozens of properties across the US, but that’s not what he wanted to talk about. While he did speak plenty about real estate and offer lots of business advice, chesed projects are his main focus. I was blown away by the number of his tzedakah projects.
Here is a summary of some of Mr. Popack’s projects:

Mr. Popack serves on the boards of many major organizations.

He has built schools and daycare centers in Lod and Kfar Chabad, Israel, and has partnered with Colel Chabad in building soup kitchens and food banks there.
Mr. Popack is a major annual supporter of C-Teen (Chabad Youth) in Israel, building “Popack House” Shabbaton centers in Yerushalayim and Tzfas. He has also become a supporter of Chabad on Campus in Israel, among many other projects in the pipeline.

Mr. Popack’s current flagship project in Israel is the new multi-million dollar visitor center being built by Rabbi Danny Cohen at the foot of Me’aras Hamachpelah in Chevron. In that project he is one of the lead donors and has dedicated the magnificent penthouse simchah hall overlooking Me’aras Hamachpelah.

He has also been a major sponsor of the restoration of desecrated Jewish cemeteries throughout Europe and of the renovation of the Baal Shem Tov’s Ohel in Ukraine.

On a more local level, Mr. Popack has spearheaded the distribution of 600 meals every month to needy individuals and families in the Crown Heights area through the organization Ahavas Chesed, as well as special food distributions to thousands of needy people for the Jewish holidays. He has also contributed his time and resources to the improvement of many schools in the Crown Heights community and built a state of the art gym in the Oholei Torah building at 667 Eastern Parkway that is open to the community, free of charge.

This is only a fractional listing of Mr. Popack’s chesed activities. While we all try to earn a living to support our families, helping others is an essential desire of the Jewish soul. People like Mr. Popack inspire us to strive for that goal.    A gut Yom Tov.    -Nesanel 

My family history defines who I am. My grandfather, Reb Avraham Popack, lived in Russia and went to yeshivah in the town of Lubavitch under the auspices of the Rebbe Rashab (fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Sholom DovBer Schneerson). When he was 20, he was going to be drafted into the Russian Army, but the Rebbe Rashab told him to flee the country. Right before this, Reb Avraham’s father had brought up a possible shidduch with the daughter of one of his friends. My grandfather wasn’t interested; he thought he was too young to get married. But the friend also had a son who worked on a ship and could help Avraham get out…if he’d marry his daughter. So he went to the Rebbe again and asked what to do. The Rebbe said he should marry this girl and go. And that’s exactly what he did.
“My grandfather worked on the ship going from Alexandria, Egypt, to Haifa. They boat had a cargo of fresh chickens, so he was employed as a shochet and got to eat as well. When he and my grandmother arrived in America, he got a job in New York as a shochet, but he was fired on the first day because he passeled a chicken. After that, my grandfather heard there was a job available to be a rav in Barre, Vermont, so he went there.
“To make a parnasah, he couldn’t only be a rabbi, so he opened up a little store. My bubbe would stay in the store during the day while he went out to work as a peddler. Sometimes, he would come back after a whole day and say, ‘I made no sales.’ My bubbe was suspicious, so she sent a family friend to follow my grandfather and see what he was doing. The next day, the man came back to her and said, ‘Your husband was walking down the road with his suitcase filled and then all of a sudden, he turned off of the road and went deep into the woods. He opened a book and sat there all day, shaking and reading.’ He was learning Torah.
“My father, Shmuel Isaac, grew up in Vermont, but he went to yeshivah out of town. First, he went to Rav Soloveitchik in Boston, then he went to Torah Vodaas, and then, when they opened the Lubavitcher Yeshivah in Crown Heights, he went there and eventually received smichah. For parnasah, he did a lot of different things. Originally, he had a store selling car parts: tires, spark plugs, batteries, things like that. In the late 1940s, he started buying cars and renting them out. Then he started leasing the cars from the manufacturers. He used to rent out cars for what we called ‘gypsy cabs.’ They used a lot of mileage, so when the manufacturers got the cars back, they would lose money on them. They didn’t want to do business with my father anymore, so he went bankrupt.
“After the car rental business, he opened a liquor store, which also went bankrupt. One day, a guy from the New York City unions came to buy liquor. He and my father developed a business relationship over the next six months. The man paid with checks, which always cleared, and everything was fine. Around holiday time, this guy said he needed truckloads of chocolate liqueurs, so my father sold them to him. This time, though, all the checks bounced. Turns out, it was all a big scam; he wasn’t even with the unions. My father didn’t have the money to pay the wholesalers, so he told them what happened and offered to pay them out in a year, not in 30 days, per the standard. The wholesalers agreed, but the New York State Liquor Authority said it was illegal, so they took away his license.

To read more, subscribe to Ami