Neighborhood Watch: From Near and Far

Still populated mostly by haredi residents, Sha’arei Hessed has become popular among overseas buyers

From near and far (photo credit: Courtesy)
From near and far
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The neighborhood of Sha’arei Hessed is located between Rehavia to the north and Nahlaot to the south. The Wolfson Towers are to its west. Sha’arei Hessed was established in 1909 and covers an area of 40,000 square meters, approximately 40 dunams, or 10 acres. The neighborhood was founded by haredim, who insisted that residents should strictly adhere to Halacha.
One of the founders of Sha’arei Hessed was Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Porush, and there is a street named after him in the neighborhood. He was helped in his endeavors by then-Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shmuel Salant. They set up a general fund headed by Porush and raised money from the Diaspora, mainly in Eastern and Central Europe. The money was used to assist Ashkenazi haredim to purchase modest apartments in Jerusalem. Consequently, the majority of the residents were yeshiva students who studied in the area.
The first 114 houses were built in a row in long narrow plots similar to the style used in East and Central Europe. Each apartment had a small yard either in the front or in the back.
This architectural style was very different from what was later built outside the walls of the city. This style was epitomized by Rehavia, a garden suburb of spacious single-family homes, gardens and trees. Rehavia was built for gracious country-style living.
On the other hand, Sha’arei Hessed was built to make optimal use of the land available to build as many living units as possible. Trees were uprooted to make room for houses.
The neighborhood has always been inhabited by Orthodox Jews. Many influential rabbis have lived in the area, and it has several yeshivot, such as Ma’alot Hatorah, Midrash Shmuel and Noam Hatalmud, not to mention a large number of synagogues.
Sha’arei Hessed is considered more moderate and tolerant than other haredi enclaves such as Geula and Mea She’arim, and there are far fewer reported confrontations between the haredi residents and their secular neighbors in Rehavia. Even so, there was a lot of tension surrounding last year’s community council elections. Many haredi residents and local politicians wanted to join Sha’arei Hessed with Rehavia, a move that could extend Sha’arei Hessed’s borders and expand haredi influence into Rehavia, such as closing off streets on Shabbat and holidays and building more synagogues and yeshivot.
On the real-estate scene, Sha’arei Hessed is governed by the housing needs of the religious residents. The dwellings are adapted to their requirements, such as low-rise residential blocks and space for a succa.
“There is a growing interest from local contractors to buy land in this area – mostly plots with existing houses or apartments in this area. They are then pulled down to make room for more modern structures. Although many properties are listed – which means that because of their historical or architectural importance, they cannot be torn down or altered – there are still opportunities to buy rundown buildings of no historical or architectural value and build modern and more spacious apartments,” says Yaniv Gabbay of RE/MAX Vision in Jerusalem, which specializes in the Sha’arei Hessed/ Rehavia area. “The real-estate trends in the past decade herald a change in the makeup of the neighborhood. It has not lost the haredi make-up of the residents, but the area is losing its aura of modesty and relative poverty, as it is attracting a much more affluent type of resident who can afford the prices charged in the new developments.”
There is another trend in the neighborhood. Affluent Orthodox Jews from English-speaking communities in the Diaspora are buying into the neighborhood. Many of these overseas buyers purchase the old apartments, in some cases joining two together, and create a large modern dwelling and are paying premium prices.
This way, long-time residents have been able to cash in on their old homes by selling to affluent Orthodox families from abroad and buying property in less expensive neighborhoods.
The purchasing of property by Europeans, especially French Jews, was driven by the very strong euro up to a few months ago and by the anti-Semitic atmosphere in France. “The French buyers feel they need a haven in Israel, and they have lost faith in the local stock market. Today, the euro goes a lot farther than the dollar,” says Gabbay.
At present, the average price per square meter in Sha’arei Hessed can range from NIS 25,000 to NIS 45,000 compared to NIS 18,000 to NIS 25,000 in Geula or Mea She’arim.
An older 80-sq.m. apartment in Sha’arei Hessed can go for as low as $600,000, whereas the larger semidetached houses and single-family homes that are 180 sq.m. to 300 sq.m. can range from $2 million to $8m.
According to RE/MAX broker/owner Alyssa Friedland, “Although the area is a highly desirable one for the wealthy Orthodox foreign buyers, the current world crisis has caused many of these buyers to become conservative in their purchases. They buy vacation homes that are smaller and more modest.
The demand for the multimillion-dollar homes has decreased by about 40 percent from three years ago when it was at a high. We are seeing buyers with budgets in the $800,000 to $2m. range who are satisfied buying three- or four-bedroom apartments, as long as they are well located.”