In memory of
Joseph Pell
In memory of
Joseph Pell
Joseph Pell Joseph Pell, Holocaust survivor, fighter with the partisans in WWII, founder and president of Marin-based Pell Development, and 58-year resident of San Rafael, died peacefully on December 29, 2020. Joseph Pell was born Yosel Epelbaum on May 5, 1924 in the small but bustling town of Biala Podlaska, Poland. He was the son of Fejga-Rywka and Hershel, who owned and ran a kosher butcher shop. Yosel shared a one-room apartment, without electricity or plumbing, with his parents and his three brothers, Simcha, Sol and Moishe, and his sister Sima. As a child, Yosel, known in the family for his tendency to break rules, learned the family business and developed his business acumen during weekly trips to the livestock markets, where his brother Simcha taught him to negotiate. When a deal was struck, the participants would slap hands to confirm a deal. At the age of 15, Yosel's childhood and world were forever altered as WWII broke out and life became unthinkably dangerous for his Jewish family. The entire family was uprooted as they fled east to the small town of Manievich, in the Soviet-occupied province of Volhynia. Before long, Manievich fell to the Germans, and after a failed attempt by Yosel and his brothers to flee by train, the town became almost impossible to escape. During a sweep by German forces, Yosel's dad and two of his brothers, Simcha and Moishe were exposed by a Ukrainian neighbor as they hid in an outhouse. They were captured and taken out of town where they were stripped, beaten, cursed, and ultimately shot, along with hundreds of others in a massive, open grave. The remaining members of the family were moved to a smaller ghetto. Yosel's sister Sima didn't come home one day and he never saw her again. Several months later, Yosel got a tip that the Germans and their Ukrainian henchmen were preparing to round up everyone in the ghetto. That night, he hid beneath some hay in a barn's loft. A Ukrainian soldier entered and searched the barn but found nothing and left. Hours later, Yosel, 18, with no family and just the light clothes on his back, crawled on his hands and knees through the mud and eventually made it to the Polish forest, where he spent months surviving on his own, hiding in barns or sleeping on top of outdoor bread ovens to survive the winter's cold. Dazed, hungry, and his spirit shattered, Yosel eventually managed to get a gun, which was a requirement to join up with a group of partisans led by a Polish communist named Jozef Sobiesiak (aka Maks). Wartime life was one of extreme hardship and constant danger. Nevertheless, Yosel's band of partisans caused huge disruption to the German war effort, saved many citizens, and played a critical role in the outcome of the war. One of Yosel's specialties was blowing up trains and tracks used to supply arms to the German front. Following the war, Joe returned to Biala Podlaska, the sole surviving member of his family. In his words: "The loneliness penetrated my bones." After several years making his living smuggling goods across war torn borders, Yosel was convinced by his friend, Paul Sade, to move to America, where he would begin his life as Joseph Pell. After passing through Ellis Island and arriving in America with no English, a few dollars, and a Leica camera, Joe met Sade in Baltimore. After seeing a poster featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, Joseph and Paul boarded a bus for San Francisco. Following a series of odd jobs, Joseph began to work in an Ice Cream store called Shirley's in the Sunset district. He would eventually buy the store, and it was during this period that he met his beloved wife Eda. He chased her for four years and they married September 20, 1953. Eda was an essential part of his business success throughout his life. Soon, Joseph would open the wildly popular Moo's Ice Cream in Richmond. While the ice cream business was successful, building a four apartment building - living in one, and renting out the other three - gave Joseph the real estate bug; and thus began a career in the business that would result in him, with Eda by his side, becoming one of Northern California's most successful and respected developers. After a series of projects in Marin (including Twin Oaks in Fairfax and The Woodlands on Kent Avenue), Joe built Woodlark Apartments on Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur. Then, next door, he built Skylark and Skylark Heights, one of Marin's pre-eminent residential projects, featuring nearly 500 units, carved into the base of Mount Tamalpais. During the ensuing decades, the Pell Development portfolio would grow to include town houses, office buildings, and shopping centers. In 1993, Joseph traveled back to Biala Podlaska with Eda and two of their children, Debra and Dave. While he felt the pain of his past, he was also excited to show his family where he came from. The trip dramatically changed Joe, who until then had been relatively quiet about his personal history. Upon returning home from the trip, Pell began to write his memoir with his friend, the Jewish historian Fred Rosenbaum. While the project was intended to leave a history for his family, the book, called Taking Risks, that covers both his childhood and rise in the business world, ended up being widely read, won several awards, and is still being taught at several universities. Joseph's life was one of stark contrasts, a point that is best described in his own words in Taking Risks. "Many times in my life I've been in danger and somehow survived, even thrived. Usually it wasn't the result of long, deep philosophizing, but, rather, quick thinking and then action. And I needed a lot of luck along the way, too. My life has been one of extremes. I've known luxury but also have had to scrounge for potatoes to keep from starving. Much happiness has come my way and yet nothing can make up for what I lost. And for all my daring and independence, I'm actually quite shy. I have even been of two minds about telling this story; most of the time, I've wanted to keep it locked inside me." Thankfully, for his family and the entire Jewish community, Joseph Pell did not keep his story locked inside. He was a business savant who translated the skills he learned on a field outside of Biala Podlaska to high rises in San Francisco. A notably modest man, he had a zest for life and celebratory events. He loved tennis, golf, poker, and almost any form of competition. He was a driven athlete and almost never missed a day of exercise, even in his final weeks, when that meant a few slow laps around the driveway. Throughout his adult life, Joseph was a keen observer of the news and had shrewd insights into politics and power. He accurately predicted the outcome of many world events, and repeatedly warned about America's slide away from democracy during his final years. Nothing that's happened in the weeks since his death would have surprised him one bit. In addition to business, Joseph Pell had street smarts about geopolitics. Joe was a generous donor to the Jewish community including the S.F. Jewish Community Federation, Jewish Family and Children's Services, Marin Jewish Community Center, the Holocaust Museums in S.F. and Washington, DC, Congregation Rodef Sholom, and Marin General Hospital. Although Joe never stopped missing the family he lost, he was proud of the family he raised with Eda, that grew to include four children and nine grandchildren. His happiest days were vacations in Lake Tahoe and Hawaii, and family events where his children entertained and he laughed and danced up a storm. At moments when he was truly enjoying himself he would say in Yiddish "Mechayeh!" which literally means something that has brought you back from death to life: a real joy and delight. Little Yosel, who crawled into the forest with nothing, somehow came out on the other side as a remarkably successful businessman and philanthropist; and a loving father, husband, and friend. Joseph Pell died at Marin General, in the shadow of Skylark Apartments and in a hospital where the entrance bears his name. As he would say, that's a Mechayeh. That's a life. Joseph is survived by his loving wife of 67 years, Eda; his children Debra Pell, Karen Pell (and Heather Lupa), Becky Pell Kaplan (and Lorin) and David (and Gina) Pell; and his grandchildren, Alex, Lindsay and Jeremy Kaplan, Beronica and Gabi Pell-Duev, Emma and Tessa Pell, and Herschel and Octavia Pell. He was the brother-in-law of Henni Kuflik and the late Joseph and Fella Tadmor; and uncle to Naomi Aharon and Orly Paz. Charitable donations can be made in Joseph's memory to Jewish Family and Children's Services, Congregation Rodef Sholom, or a charity of choice.
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In memory of
Joseph Pell
Joseph Pell Joseph Pell, Holocaust survivor, fighter with the partisans in WWII, founder and president of Marin-based Pell Development, and 58-year resident of San Rafael, died peacefully on December 29, 2020. Joseph Pell was born Yosel Epelbaum on May 5, 1924 in the small but bustling town of Biala Podlaska, Poland. He was the son of Fejga-Rywka and Hershel, who owned and ran a kosher butcher shop. Yosel shared a one-room apartment, without electricity or plumbing, with his parents and his three brothers, Simcha, Sol and Moishe, and his sister Sima. As a child, Yosel, known in the family for his tendency to break rules, learned the family business and developed his business acumen during weekly trips to the livestock markets, where his brother Simcha taught him to negotiate. When a deal was struck, the participants would slap hands to confirm a deal. At the age of 15, Yosel's childhood and world were forever altered as WWII broke out and life became unthinkably dangerous for his Jewish family. The entire family was uprooted as they fled east to the small town of Manievich, in the Soviet-occupied province of Volhynia. Before long, Manievich fell to the Germans, and after a failed attempt by Yosel and his brothers to flee by train, the town became almost impossible to escape. During a sweep by German forces, Yosel's dad and two of his brothers, Simcha and Moishe were exposed by a Ukrainian neighbor as they hid in an outhouse. They were captured and taken out of town where they were stripped, beaten, cursed, and ultimately shot, along with hundreds of others in a massive, open grave. The remaining members of the family were moved to a smaller ghetto. Yosel's sister Sima didn't come home one day and he never saw her again. Several months later, Yosel got a tip that the Germans and their Ukrainian henchmen were preparing to round up everyone in the ghetto. That night, he hid beneath some hay in a barn's loft. A Ukrainian soldier entered and searched the barn but found nothing and left. Hours later, Yosel, 18, with no family and just the light clothes on his back, crawled on his hands and knees through the mud and eventually made it to the Polish forest, where he spent months surviving on his own, hiding in barns or sleeping on top of outdoor bread ovens to survive the winter's cold. Dazed, hungry, and his spirit shattered, Yosel eventually managed to get a gun, which was a requirement to join up with a group of partisans led by a Polish communist named Jozef Sobiesiak (aka Maks). Wartime life was one of extreme hardship and constant danger. Nevertheless, Yosel's band of partisans caused huge disruption to the German war effort, saved many citizens, and played a critical role in the outcome of the war. One of Yosel's specialties was blowing up trains and tracks used to supply arms to the German front. Following the war, Joe returned to Biala Podlaska, the sole surviving member of his family. In his words: "The loneliness penetrated my bones." After several years making his living smuggling goods across war torn borders, Yosel was convinced by his friend, Paul Sade, to move to America, where he would begin his life as Joseph Pell. After passing through Ellis Island and arriving in America with no English, a few dollars, and a Leica camera, Joe met Sade in Baltimore. After seeing a poster featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, Joseph and Paul boarded a bus for San Francisco. Following a series of odd jobs, Joseph began to work in an Ice Cream store called Shirley's in the Sunset district. He would eventually buy the store, and it was during this period that he met his beloved wife Eda. He chased her for four years and they married September 20, 1953. Eda was an essential part of his business success throughout his life. Soon, Joseph would open the wildly popular Moo's Ice Cream in Richmond. While the ice cream business was successful, building a four apartment building - living in one, and renting out the other three - gave Joseph the real estate bug; and thus began a career in the business that would result in him, with Eda by his side, becoming one of Northern California's most successful and respected developers. After a series of projects in Marin (including Twin Oaks in Fairfax and The Woodlands on Kent Avenue), Joe built Woodlark Apartments on Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur. Then, next door, he built Skylark and Skylark Heights, one of Marin's pre-eminent residential projects, featuring nearly 500 units, carved into the base of Mount Tamalpais. During the ensuing decades, the Pell Development portfolio would grow to include town houses, office buildings, and shopping centers. In 1993, Joseph traveled back to Biala Podlaska with Eda and two of their children, Debra and Dave. While he felt the pain of his past, he was also excited to show his family where he came from. The trip dramatically changed Joe, who until then had been relatively quiet about his personal history. Upon returning home from the trip, Pell began to write his memoir with his friend, the Jewish historian Fred Rosenbaum. While the project was intended to leave a history for his family, the book, called Taking Risks, that covers both his childhood and rise in the business world, ended up being widely read, won several awards, and is still being taught at several universities. Joseph's life was one of stark contrasts, a point that is best described in his own words in Taking Risks. "Many times in my life I've been in danger and somehow survived, even thrived. Usually it wasn't the result of long, deep philosophizing, but, rather, quick thinking and then action. And I needed a lot of luck along the way, too. My life has been one of extremes. I've known luxury but also have had to scrounge for potatoes to keep from starving. Much happiness has come my way and yet nothing can make up for what I lost. And for all my daring and independence, I'm actually quite shy. I have even been of two minds about telling this story; most of the time, I've wanted to keep it locked inside me." Thankfully, for his family and the entire Jewish community, Joseph Pell did not keep his story locked inside. He was a business savant who translated the skills he learned on a field outside of Biala Podlaska to high rises in San Francisco. A notably modest man, he had a zest for life and celebratory events. He loved tennis, golf, poker, and almost any form of competition. He was a driven athlete and almost never missed a day of exercise, even in his final weeks, when that meant a few slow laps around the driveway. Throughout his adult life, Joseph was a keen observer of the news and had shrewd insights into politics and power. He accurately predicted the outcome of many world events, and repeatedly warned about America's slide away from democracy during his final years. Nothing that's happened in the weeks since his death would have surprised him one bit. In addition to business, Joseph Pell had street smarts about geopolitics. Joe was a generous donor to the Jewish community including the S.F. Jewish Community Federation, Jewish Family and Children's Services, Marin Jewish Community Center, the Holocaust Museums in S.F. and Washington, DC, Congregation Rodef Sholom, and Marin General Hospital. Although Joe never stopped missing the family he lost, he was proud of the family he raised with Eda, that grew to include four children and nine grandchildren. His happiest days were vacations in Lake Tahoe and Hawaii, and family events where his children entertained and he laughed and danced up a storm. At moments when he was truly enjoying himself he would say in Yiddish "Mechayeh!" which literally means something that has brought you back from death to life: a real joy and delight. Little Yosel, who crawled into the forest with nothing, somehow came out on the other side as a remarkably successful businessman and philanthropist; and a loving father, husband, and friend. Joseph Pell died at Marin General, in the shadow of Skylark Apartments and in a hospital where the entrance bears his name. As he would say, that's a Mechayeh. That's a life. Joseph is survived by his loving wife of 67 years, Eda; his children Debra Pell, Karen Pell (and Heather Lupa), Becky Pell Kaplan (and Lorin) and David (and Gina) Pell; and his grandchildren, Alex, Lindsay and Jeremy Kaplan, Beronica and Gabi Pell-Duev, Emma and Tessa Pell, and Herschel and Octavia Pell. He was the brother-in-law of Henni Kuflik and the late Joseph and Fella Tadmor; and uncle to Naomi Aharon and Orly Paz. Charitable donations can be made in Joseph's memory to Jewish Family and Children's Services, Congregation Rodef Sholom, or a charity of choice.
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