A home in the hills

Beit Hakerem is still one of Jerusalem’s most desirable addresses.

A house in Beit Hakerem (photo credit: COURTESY ANGLO-SAXON)
A house in Beit Hakerem
(photo credit: COURTESY ANGLO-SAXON)
Jerusalem is Israel’s largest city and in some ways, the most urban of them all.
As a mountain metropolis, it has a beauty of its own, hemmed in by hills and by political considerations – which very much limit the possibility of creating suburbs like those of Tel Aviv. The only place to expand is in a relatively narrow corridor to the west.
Despite being a very urban city, Jerusalem has leafy, serene pockets inside its municipal boundaries – like Beit Hakerem.
Beit Hakerem is a green, family-oriented neighborhood in southwest Jerusalem. This charming area was once vineyard country, and indeed the name means “House of the Vineyard.”
At somewhat of a distance from the city center, Beit Hakerem is squeezed between the neighborhoods of Kiryat Moshe, Givat Mordechai and Bayit Vegan. But there is an efficient public transportation system, with buses and the light rail providing fast and practical service to most parts of Jerusalem, including the central bus station and the Jaffa Road commercial area.
Yet for those who choose to live in Beit Hakerem, the distance from the center is a perfectly acceptable inconvenience – as the area’s selling point is its rustic ambiance, living far away from it all. Most streets are bucolic in nature; in addition to lush public gardens, most private homes boast well-tended gardens.
As in most parts of Jerusalem, Beit Hakerem has a long history dating back to biblical times. Remnants from both the First and Second Temple periods as well as remains of Byzantine and Mameluke structures were found in an archeological dig on Hasatat Street in 2006.
Modern Beit Hakerem was established in 1922; in those days, it was a desolate suburb of Mandatory Palestine. Its founders hailed from Eastern and Central Europe; they were secular Jews and Beit Hakerem’s secular feel is maintained to this day – despite its location between the predominantly religious neighborhoods of Kiryat Moshe and Bayit Vegan.
To achieve their aim of building a settlement that would satisfy their needs for both home and livelihood, the founders set up the Association of Home Builders; it solicited funding from abroad to build the necessary infrastructure and financially assist the settlers.
Richard Kaufmann, the famous German-Jewish architect and city planner, was in charge of building Beit Hakerem; he designed a rural settlement of farms with homesteads that would provide residents with the means to make a living. Up until the early 1950s the neighborhood had its own local government, but was then “annexed” to Jerusalem.
Today, Beit Hakerem’s population numbers around 15,000. It has shed its agrarian antecedents and is now a neighborhood with 25 kindergartens, four elementary schools and three high schools, considered among the most prestigious in Jerusalem. The David Yellin Academic College of Education, established in 1913, is also located there.
Prices range from NIS 20,000 to NIS 25,000 per square meter; this means a 100-sq.m. apartment can cost anything between NIS 2 million and NIS 2.5m., depending on location and renovation status. Prices are usually higher for apartments with private gardens or semidetached homes; detached homes can fetch up to NIS 35,000 per square meter.
The area attracts many professors and academics who want to live near the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University, as well as medical personnel who want to live near Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem or Shaare Zedek Medical Center. A local real-estate agent notes, “Many of the buyers are actually residents already living in the neighborhood, who are looking to upgrade their lifestyle by adding a room or moving from an apartment to a villa. Those who move to Beit Hakerem usually stay for at least five years. Young families are attracted by the high-quality schools and extracurricular activities at the local community center.”
Among the neighborhood landmarks are Gan Ha’esrim (Park of the 20), commemorating 20 residents who died in the War of Independence. Denmark Square honors the Danish people, for rescuing 80 percent of their country’s Jewish population during the Holocaust; the square’s monument is shaped like a boat, recalling the vessels on which Jews were smuggled to Sweden.
Some famous figures who have lived in Beit Hakerem include renowned educator Prof. Alice Shalvi; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; and President Reuven Rivlin (who now lives in the President’s Residence).
Housing prices have escalated as Beit Hakerem has maintained its desirability among people who want to live in a non-haredi neighborhood in the capital.