It’s hard to know how things will turn out and what life events will lead to important  decisions made later in life. Joseph Nakash could probably not predict that one mischievous childhood event could eventually lead him to a luxury hotel in Jaffa.

setai jaffa
The Setai Hotel – formerly the Kishle jail in Jaffa

Joseph Nakash was born into a Jewish Syrian family in 1942. After the state of Israel was established in 1948, life in Moslem controlled countries deteriorated for the Jewish population living there. Many immigrated over time and Nakash’s family arrived to the shores of Tel Aviv in 1958, when he was 16. His sister had previously moved to Israel and was living in the port city of Jaffa. Nakash went to stay with her and befriended the local Arabs in the mixed city.

Jaffa in the 1950’s was not the gentrified artists colony, filled with flea markets and tourists from around the world as it is today, but a poor, old, city on the southern edge of burgeoning Tel Aviv. Much of Jaffa had been destroyed and damaged in the Independence War during 1948-1949, and so it paled in comparison to the White City of modern Tel Aviv. As such, it became a lower class neighborhood, home to poor Arabs and Jewish immigrants, including Nakash’s sister.

Joseph Nakash hung out with the local Jaffa Arab boys and made sport of stealing horses. When the police pursued them, the local boys escaped, leaving poor Joseph to face the consequences. He spent 72 hours in the jail in Jaffa – the kishle – which was housed in the Ottoman building opposite the Seraya (Ottoman governmental city headquarters).  Soon after, in 1962, Nakash immigrated to New York City with $25 in his pocket. He worked as a stock boy, saving money to bring his brothers Rafael and Avi to the United States in 1966.

These 3 brothers took up residence in Brooklyn, in the heart of the Syrian Jewish community. There they opened a discount clothing store and, eventually bought the building. They sold mainly brand name jeans at discount prices and founded their own brand, Jordache, in 1969.

The business grew because of a fire. Sometimes after a fire, the forest regenerates even stronger than before; this happened with the Nakash brothers’ business. The New York city-wide blackout on the night between July 13 and 14, 1977, left the door open for the destruction and looting of many New York buildings, including the Nakash brothers’ main store. From the insurance settlement that they collected, they decided to embark on an aggressive advertising campaign which catapulted their brand, Jordache, into the spotlight and led them to become an “overnight” success.

With their new-found wealth, they branched out into real estate acquisition and international investment. And 20 years ago or so their sights returned to Israel. They acquired Arkia airlines for $12 million, which they turned from a money-losing small, local Israeli airline, to a profitable international carrier.

The Negev has been a special focus for the brothers, establishing an oil press and other agricultural projects in the region. And even farther south, they have the exclusive rights to operate the Port of Eilat as a franchise until 2028.

Recently, when they started looking at the retail market in Israel, investment and development of new hotels across Israel came to their attention. But one particular property was a MUST for Joseph when it came up for auction – the former Jaffa jail – the kishle. The same building in which he was held for stealing horses, is now Joseph Nakash’s latest luxury hotel, the Sitai Hotel, situated in the heart of the renovated old city of Jaffa.  Both Nakash and Jaffa have undergone quite the rennnaisance from the 1950’s until today.  You just never know what will happen with those kids who steal horses.

2 Comments

  1. I love your article. Why don’t you blog on The Times of Israel? Shabbat Shalom from Be’er Sheva,

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