The Israeli military and two private institutions will share $5 million left by an eccentric recluse, despite counterclaims by the man’s relatives in California and Israel.
A Superior Court judge in California, James Gray, ruled Monday that Simon Lechtuz was of sound mind when he bequeathed $1 million each to the Israeli army, navy and air force, as well as to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and to the Hadassah Medical Center.
A native of Poland, Lechtuz was unmarried, childless and appeared to be penniless when he died two years ago at age 88. But his nieces and nephews claimed that the Israeli government conned a confused Lechtuz out of his hidden fortune by promising that he would be buried in an Israeli cemetery.
In fact, when Lechtuz died, Orange County officials were unable to locate any next of kin and buried him in a local cemetery.
When Lechtuz’s American and Israeli relatives ultimately learned of his death, they raised $15,000 to have his body exhumed and reburied in a Haifa cemetery.
Lechtuz spent the last 15 years of his life at the Leisure World retirement community in Laguna Hills, Calif. He appeared destitute, disheveled and eccentric to his neighbors, frequently rummaging through trash containers.
Lechtuz apparently amassed his fortune over decades by bartering and trading leftover flour sacks and steel drums, investing the proceeds in real estate and municipal bonds.
In his decision, Gray ruled that the promised burial in Israel was not a condition of Lechtuz’s bequest and that “he simply was not interested in leaving any of his money to his nieces and nephews.”
Gray added that “Mr. Lechtuz was quoted as saying, ‘I’m not close to relatives. They didn’t do anything for me; let them earn it themselves.’ “
Attorney Charles Kanter, representing Israel and its consulate general in Los Angeles, said that Lechtuz was buried by the Orange County public administrator before the State of Israel even knew he had died, according to the Los Angeles Times.
An attorney for the plaintiffs said Lechtuz’s relatives are considering an appeal.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.