(photo credit: Niv Elis)
In the Judean hills outside Jerusalem, with a panorama stretching from Mevaseret
Zion to Ein Kerem, Azorim, one of Israel’s largest real estate developers, is
planning a new approach to the Zionist slogan “A land without a people for a
people without a land” by scouring the world to find an intact community to
inhabit its new development, Azorim Motza.
“You’ve heard of A Star Is
Born?,” asks the project’s sales manager, Itzik Levi, referencing the Israeli
version of American Idol. “What we want will be ‘A Community is Born.’”
Importing a community for a new housing project was the brainchild of Hershey
Friedman, the Canadian billionaire who bought up the land in late 2010 before
rescuing the debt ridden Azorim company a few months later.
He had two
The first was the land’s significant Zionist history:
Theodor Herzl planted a cypress tree there during his only visit to Jerusalem in
The second inspiration stemmed from practical limitations: Both the
land’s protected status and the insistence of its neighbors in ritzy Motza Ilit
precluded building high-rises.
This pushed the developers toward a
smaller, more intimate building plan. The green, peaceful area reminded Friedman
of gated communities that are common abroad but don’t really exist in Israel; to
maintain the natural feel, no space is allotted for cars above ground,
relegating them to basement garages accessible from the road.
the plot’s center is a run-down building that in its glory days served as a
convalescent home. Preservation laws require that the facade of the historic
structure – built in 1927 and referred to locally as “The White House” due to
its neo-classical architecture – be maintained. But Azorim wasn’t sure exactly
what to do with the space that would stand at the center of its 218 new units.
That, they decided, would be best left to the desires of those who will live
“We want to fit the place to the community,” says Einat Zakariya,
the company’s vice president of marketing and sales.
“This is a one-time
opportunity,” sales manager Levi adds, explaining that when buildings are sold
one by one the plans are usually already set in stone.
“We will match all
the facilities here to the needs of the community,” adds Tomas Maimon, the
company’s Jerusalem sales manager.
Importing a community from abroad
didn’t seem entirely implausible, says Zakariya. She’s had requests from
communities abroad twice in the past seeking to move into a defined
The community in question would have to be well-off to afford the
$1 million-and-up price tag for each unit, and Zakariya reckons that it will
consist of families who have always dreamed of living in Israel and whose
children have already moved out of the house.
Although she has made
contact with Nefesh B’Nefesh, an immigration group, to facilitate community-wide
aliya, Zakariya says that Azorim is open to different kinds of
“A community isn’t just people living in the same place,”
she says. “It could be centered around a religious idea or music or being vegan
– anything that brings people together.”
If no Diaspora community
presents itself, the company is also open to bringing in members of a group,
collective or movement to reside together as a community for the first time. But
if indeed it finds the right hand to fill its glove, Azorim is hopeful that the
novel idea could take hold.
“I’d be thrilled if we developed a new way to
bring people to Israel!” says Levi.
Striking a note that would make Herzl
proud, Zakariya adds, “We want a community that needs the place, [a community]
for which it fulfills a dream.”