A rising star

As developers replace old single-family homes with modern apartment buildings, the mostly haredi Sha’arei Hessed neighborhood is changing its character.

Rising Star (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Rising Star
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Sha’arei Hessed is a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood that is inhabited by people of very limited means, but is surrounded by highend dwellings such as the Wolfson complex and the more recent Supreme and Ha’uma projects. The latter projects are located in the area previously occupied by the wooden huts of the old Foreign Ministry. The area is centrally located with easy access to the national road grid, and developers of high-end projects may well try to buy out existing residents, tear down the old, modest buildings and build modern, luxurious accommodations.
In 1909, a group of haredi Eastern European Jews bought a plot of approximately 40,000 square meters with the aim of creating an Orthodox neighborhood in the holy city. The founders insisted that residents strictly adhere to Jewish religious law; only those who agreed to live accordingly were allowed to live there.
One of the founders of Sha’arei Hessed was Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Porush. He was helped by then-Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem Shmuel Salant. They set up a general fund, which Porush headed, and raised money from the Diaspora – mainly from Eastern and Central Europe. The money was used to assist Ashkenazi haredim to purchase small apartments in Jerusalem.
Consequently, the vast majority of the residents were yeshiva students who studied in the area.
The first 114 houses were ground-floor apartments built on long, narrow plots similar to the style used in the Tsarist empire from which most of the residents had come. Each apartment had a small yard in the front or in the back. The architectural style used was very different from what was being built in other parts of Jerusalem at the time, such as Rehavia – a garden suburb of spacious single-family homes with gardens, trees and greenery. In contrast, Sha’arei Hessed was built shtetl-style, with as many dwellings as possible for optimal use of the land available. In the process, trees were uprooted to make room for houses.
Many influential rabbis have lived in the area and it is home to several yeshivot and a large number of synagogues.
The neighborhood is considered more moderate and more tolerant than some other haredi neighborhoods, and Sha’arei Hessed has far fewer reported confrontations between haredi residents and their secular neighbors.
The real-estate scene in Sha’arei Hessed is dominated by the housing needs of the religious and haredi residents. Dwellings are adapted to their needs, such as low-rise residential blocks and space to build a succa.
There is currently a growing interest in this area from local developers, who tear down the existing structures and build modern, high-end apartment buildings in their stead. There is a problem with this urban renewal trend because many existing properties are protected based on their historical or architectural importance and cannot be torn down or altered. But there are opportunities to buy run-down buildings of no historical or architectural value and build modern and more spacious apartments on the property.
These new developments are changing the demographic profile of Sha’arei Hessed. It has not lost its popularity with haredim, but the area is beginning to attract more affluent residents. The average price per square meter in Sha’arei Hessed currently ranges from NIS 25,000 to NIS 45,000, as compared to NIS 18,000 to 25,000 in Geula and Mea She’arim.
In another trend, affluent haredim from overseas have begun to buy two or three adjoining apartments in the old buildings and turn them into one large modern dwelling; in consequence, when two or three adjoining apartments come onto the market they fetch premium prices. In this way, long-time residents have been able to cash in on their old homes..
An older 80-sq.m. apartment in Sha’arei Hessed can go for as little as $600,000, whereas the larger semidetached houses and single-family homes that are 180 sq.m. to 300 sq.m. can range anywhere between $2 million and $8m.
The prices in Sha’arei Hessed are also influenced by the Wolfson complex and the new developments in what used to be the Foreign Ministry compound.
Many wealthy haredi families, especially from overseas, own apartments in the Wolfson complex, which has had a long-term influence on prices. Newer residences in the old Foreign Ministry compound go for an average price of over NIS 50,000 a sq.m. •