Wanted: A community to make aliya

Azorim housing company plans housing development in Motza hoping to attract olim to buy the million dollar units.

motza370 (photo credit: Niv Elis)
(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 inspirations.
The first was the land’s significant Zionist history: Theodor Herzl planted a cypress tree there during his only visit to Jerusalem in 1898.
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.
Standing in 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 there.
“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 area.
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 communities.
“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.”