Five score and two years ago

Once known as ‘Little America,’ Ra’anana is home to the highest percentage of English speakers in Israel.

The city’s hi-tech industrial park houses the offices of leading international companies. (photo credit: Courtesy)
The city’s hi-tech industrial park houses the offices of leading international companies.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 The city of Ra’anana has the distinction of being the only town in Israel founded by Americans. Now, more than 100 years on, it has the largest percentage of English-speakers of any town in the country. Other, larger cities such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and even Netanya may have a higher number of English-speakers, but percentage-wise, Ra’anana takes the top slot.
Its history goes back to 1912 – the year that the Company for Jewish Settlement in Israel formed the Ahuza A – New York group with the aim of buying land for agricultural settlement in Israel. The advent of World War I delayed those plans by about a decade, but on April 2, 1922, the first group of these settlers – four Ahuza members, three laborers and two armed guards – arrived by wagon in the area that would eventually become Ra’anana.
At first, the settlement was known as “Ahuza A – New York,” though the local Arabs referred to it as “Little America” due to the large number of Englishspeakers, many of whom were from New York. Later, it was renamed “Ra’anania,” and finally the founders settled on the name “Ra’anana” – Hebrew for “fresh.”
By the time the War of Independence broke out 26 years later, the village had 3,000 inhabitants.
Today Ra’anana has a population of some 70,000. Bordering it on the east is Kfar Saba, and on the southwest is Herzliya. The majority of the city’s residents are native-born Israelis, yet a large part of the population consists of immigrants from North, South and Central America – English- and Spanishspeakers.
Most of the English-speakers come from the US, and most of the Spanish-speakers hail from Argentina.
Though the majority of Ra’anana residents are secular, there is a sizable religious community, mainly modern Orthodox. Many of these are Western immigrants, in particular from the US, UK and South Africa. The integration of religious people into the city’s social, cultural and commercial life has had a distinctive effect on the town’s character: There are nearly 100 synagogues, ranging from small family-style buildings to large edifices. These include both Sephardi and Ashkenazi congregations, and because of the large number of immigrants in the city, many of these synagogues cater to specific immigrant groups.
The real-estate scene there is improving, according to Joe Cohen, the concessionary of the Anglo-Saxon real estate brokerage network.
“Ra’anana is a small town; there were no new building projects, and consequently the turnover in the real estate market was static,” he tells Metro.
“Now there are some exiting new projects afoot, namely the Neveh Zemer project in the northern part of town.
When completed, it will have 3,500 residential units, and it will use up most of the available building land in town.”
One of the largest projects in Neveh Zemer is All & More, which will have 207 spacious apartments built to high standards, including ceilings three meters high.
Ronnie Brick, chairman of the Builders’ Association in the Sharon and Samaria region, tells Metro that “the Neveh Zemer neighborhood is the largest ever built in Ra’anana. The area is very well planned, with very low density. Furthermore, it is planned as a green neighborhood, with green building techniques and a lot of green open spaces.”
These days, Ra’anana is a popular place to live because of the numerous work opportunities. The city’s hi-tech industrial park is home to many leading global companies and local start-ups. The industrial zone in the north of the city is home to the Renanim shopping mall and several hi-tech companies, including Emblaze, Hewlett-Packard, NICE Systems, OnTarget Communications, SAP and Texas Instruments. In addition, Microsoft’s head office in Israel, as well as that of Amdocs, is located in an office complex at the eastern edge of the city.
Ra’anana’s main thoroughfare, Ahuza Street, bisects the city from east to west and is lined with shops, restaurants and a cultural center, affording further commercial business opportunities.
In a talk with Metro, Mayor Zeev Bielski explains that “the town is very welcoming for English-speakers, especially if they are new olim. Twenty-two percent of the residents are new immigrants who came to Israel after 1990, many of them from English speaking countries. Organizations such as ESRA and the South African Zionist Federation organize activities for English-speakers.”
• A four-room, 110-square-meter apartment on the fourth floor with a terrace, an elevator, parking and a store room sold for NIS 2 million.
• An old single-family home measuring 280 sq.m. on a 450-sq.m.
plot sold for NIS 4.2m.
• A 145-sq.m., five-room rooftop apartment on the fourth floor sold for NIS 2.7m.
• A five-room, 120-sq.m. apartment on the second floor, which had a terrace, parking and a store room and was in dire need of renovation, sold for NIS 1.84m.
• A four-room garden apartment measuring 127 sq.m., with an additional 80-sq.m. garden, two parking spaces and a store room, sold for NIS 2.6m.
• A four-room, 110-sq.m. apartment on the sixth floor sold for NIS 2.12m.
It has a terrace and parking.
• A four-room, 98-sq.m. apartment on the fifth floor with no terrace but with parking and an elevator sold for NIS 1.6m.