South Africa in Israel

Built in 1951 by the South African Zionist Federation, Afridar is still Ashkelon’s most high-end neighborhood

Afridar521 (photo credit: Eyal Asraf)
(photo credit: Eyal Asraf)
Ashkelon may not be the first city that comes to mind when one thinks of Englishspeaking communities, but its Afridar neighborhood was actually the first urban center in Israel earmarked for English-speakers, specifically natives of South Africa.
The name itself is a combination of “Africa” and the first three letters of “darom” – south in Hebrew.
Ashkelon is geographically the country’s most western city, and Afridar is its most western neighborhood. The city itself dates back to antiquity. It has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years, with the exception of the period between 1270 and 1596. In 1270, the Mameluke Sultan Baybars destroyed the Crusader city and the citadel there – part of his policy to eliminate the Crusader presence completely by capturing the city of Acre and all Crusader strongholds. The Turkish empire rebuilt the city in the late 16th century.
Afridar has a history of its own, which is closely linked to the history of Anglo settlement in this country. Founded in 1951 by the South African Zionist Federation expressly for South African immigrants, it has the distinction of being a double first: It was the first modern neighborhood in Ashkelon, and the first urban neighborhood built for Anglos in the country.
Today, the South African population has been greatly diluted, but Afridar is still Ashkelon’s most high-end residential area. Approximately 15,000 people live in the original area built in the 1950s. The English-speaking community of Ashkelon now includes South Africans, Britons, Americans, Canadians and Australians, but it is very small.
Despite its size, there is an association called the English Speakers of Ashkelon, which is active socially and culturally.
It arranges wine-and-cheese evenings, as well as a book circle that holds talks on recently published works. The association’s chairwoman, June Narunsky, says that there are approximately 400 Anglo families in all of Ashkelon, and the numbers are growing all the time.
“The attractions of Ashkelon as a place of residence are one of Israel’s best-kept secrets, and those in the know in Englishspeaking countries come here,” she says.
“Our association has social and cultural activities to help newcomers from Englishspeaking countries and make them feel at home as much as possible. We help them settle down and acclimatize themselves in their new environment.”
Not only is Afridar the city’s most highend neighborhood, it also has a strong rural character. At the time of its founding, it was planned to be as close as possible to a garden city in the South African model: single-family homes with large private gardens, and an abundance of green public spaces. In addition, it was next to the seashore and the city’s sandy beaches.
Now, 60 years later, the original area of Afridar still retains many of these characteristics. There are high-rise buildings, but these are located in the periphery of Afridar, opposite the sea; the vast majority of residents in the “Afridar core” – approximately 80% of them – live in single-family homes.
Afridar proper can be described as the area bounded by Hatayasim Street in the west, Park Vedeshe (a public municipal park) in the east, the Eshkol quarter in the south and the area known as Barnea in the north.
Although it is located in the geographical center of a large city, Afridar has retained its rural character in part due to the stringent zoning laws of the municipality.
There are few apartment blocks, and none are planned for the future except a swath of residential towers in the western promontory linking Hatayasim Street to the marina.
Most dwellings in historic Afridar are single-family homes on what are considered large plots of land in this country. The plots the South African “founding fathers” bought were from 700 square meters to 800 sq.m. on average – large by Israeli standards, though small by South African standards.
The original single-family homes mostly had red-tiled roofs, but there are not many of these left.
Many who bought these old homes that were built in the ’50s tore them down and built modern homes in their place. In many cases, the large plots were subdivided into two small plots each, with two houses where before there was only one.
Miki Peri, the Anglo-Saxon concessionaire in Ashkelon, says Afridar is not only a great place to live, it is also a great investment opportunity.
“It is the most sought-after area in Ashkelon, the place where most Ashkelonites would like to live in,” says Peri. “Afridar is completely built up, which means that there is no more building land available, and consequently there are no building projects. The only supply is of those families who sell their homes.
Currently many would-be buyers buy an old house on a plot of land, tear down the existing house and build a new, modern dream home.”
According to Peri, one such property on a 340-sq.m. plot recently sold for NIS 1.2 million.