February 23, 2020

Jack Nagel, Builder and Philanthropist dies at 96

Jack Nagel

Jack M. Nagel, whose decades of generosity and leadership helped establish and develop the Los Angeles Orthodox Jewish community and its respected educational institutions, died on Oct. 12 in Los Angeles. He was 96.

Liberated from Auschwitz in 1945, Nagel and his sister Gloria survived the Holocaust while the rest of his family perished. Nagel came to New York in 1947 to start a new life and rebuild what was taken from him.

He began his career selling wristwatches, but a subsequent trip to California introduced him to his future wife, Gitta. After only three dates, they became engaged, leading to a 63-year marriage. Nagel was inspired to pursue a new path as a real estate developer when he recognized that the construction of freeways would lead to immense growth in California. He started by building individual homes, ultimately totaling more than 2,000 homes in the San Fernando Valley.

His vision led to the creation of Nagel Construction Co., which built high-quality, middle-income housing. Nagel later renamed his company Decron, an acronym demonstrating his devotion to his four children: David, Esther, Careena and Ronnie. By the 1970s, the company transitioned from single-family homes into developing apartment complexes, and in the 1980s, the company moved into commercial properties. Decron has been recognized by many organizations as one of the most successful family-run real estate businesses in California and is today led by his son David.

While his business success was impressive, he and Gitta took greater pride in their philanthropic achievements and community-building. For the past six decades, Jack and Gitta gave their time and resources to many major Jewish and Israeli organizations. Nagel was a founding trustee of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, whose dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, noted in his eulogy that Jack “not only felt an obligation to Los Angeles, but he felt an obligation to support the State of Israel and Jewish life throughout the world.”

“We have lost a true and irreplaceable giant.”  — Arie Zaban, Bar-Ilan University

A believer in the importance of Jewish education, Nagel was the longtime chairman of the West Coast Friends of Bar-Ilan University, and a member of the University’s Global Board of Trustees and Council of Founders. Jack and Gitta were founders of Yeshivat Yavneh and major supporters of YULA Boys High School, where they built the Nagel Family Campus. Nagel was a member of the board of trustees at Yeshiva University in New York, where he funded scholarships and helped build the Nagel Family Atrium and Student Commons. 

Rabbi Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University, told the Journal that Nagel’s “warmth, generosity and kindness empowered and enlightened so many others that his impact upon the Jewish world will be felt for generations.”

As staunch supporters of the State of Israel, Jack and Gitta were major benefactors of Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, where they built the Nagel Family Inpatient Pavilion of the children’s hospital. Their charitable involvement included Israel Bonds and the future Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. 

The President of Bar-Ilan University, Professor Arie Zaban, issued the following statement on Nagel’s passing:

“When the history books are written about the miraculous development of the State of Israel, spearheaded by its seven great universities, the name Jack Nagel will have a prominent place at the top of the most Jewish one — Bar-Ilan University. We have lost a true and irreplaceable giant.” Jack and Gitta were longtime supporters of Bar-Ilan University and were responsible for building the Nagel Heritage Center.

Nagel is survived his wife, Gitta, sister Gloria (Victor) Ungar, and children Ronnie (Cheryl) Nagel, Esther (Paul) Lerer, David (Marnie) Nagel and Careena (Drew) Parker, 15 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.