A New Chapter in Binyan HaAretz
BY RABBI ARON WHITE
“Did you hear about the new project in Carmei Gat?” “I hear there’s a new Anglo shul opening in Neve Shamir.” “There’s a group of families trying to start a new community in the north.”
For anyone living or visiting Israel in the last few years, these snippets of conversation about new construction and new communities will be familiar. While there have long been established Anglo communities in Yerushalayim, Beit Shemesh, Gush Etzion, Modi’in, Ra’anana and more, it seems that there are no end of new projects, opportunities and Anglo communities taking root across the country.
Each of these new Anglo communities is only one sentence in the new chapter of Israel’s development, and one needs to take a step back to see the larger picture. Israel is engaging in a remarkable construction spree that is quite literally reshaping the country. Israel is constructing homes at a rate that may be unparalleled in the Western world; one out of every six homes in Israel today was constructed since the year 2012.1 The main driver of this construction is Israel’s remarkable demographics. Israel’s fertility rate of 3 is almost double that of the OECD average of 1.6.2 Combined with consistent Aliyah from around the world, this means Israel’s population continues to grow, and Israel needs to construct between 50,000 and 60,000 homes a year until 2040 just to keep up. These are remarkable figures, equivalent to building a new Ra’anana, Modi’in and Efrat every year for the next 20 years! Israel’s population is about to reach ten million, and it is forecast to reach fifteen million by the time Israel turns 100,3 and building must keep pace.
This sustained building spree is creating fertile ground for new opportunities, and it is against this backdrop that many of the new Anglo communities are developing in new cities, new neighborhoods, and renewed cities.
Israel is a young country, and it is still establishing entirely new cities and towns. Even cities like Modi’in that are now well established are less than 30 years old! In recent years, two new locales that have developed Anglo communities are Harish and Givot Eden.
Harish is a new city in northern Israel, located next to Israel’s central Highway 6. The aim of the new city is to help spread Israel’s population more broadly away from the center of the country. Despite being only ten years old,4 there are already 35,000 residents living there, with all the developing aspects of a city – schools, malls, parks and even government approval this year for a hospital. In construction terms, it was the fastest growing city in Israel in 2022, and is likely to continue growing over the coming years.
On the other end of the spectrum, Givot Eden (Eden Hills) is a new yishuv 15 minutes from Beit Shemesh in the hills of Judea. Initially planned in the 1990s, it is now under construction, and the first families will move there this summer. There will ultimately be 400 families on the yishuv, many of whom are Anglos.
These two developments also tell another story through their contrasts. Harish will be a city with tens of thousands of homes, the majority of which will be in apartment buildings, and due to the larger supply the housing prices are relatively low. Givot Eden will be a town with a few hundred mostly private homes, and due to the lower supply, prices are very high. This is the story of recent Israeli construction where in the past few years the construction of private homes has dropped as a percentage of homes being built. Due to Israel’s need to construct so many homes in so little time in a small country, the policy preference is undoubtedly for more apartments, making private homes less common today.
The development of new cities and yishuvim is what we most associate with Israeli history. From the building of the kibbutzim before the foundation of the State to the 1950s development towns, the story of Israel has been the story of new towns and cities being built by pioneers. There are plans for more of these in the future, including new yishuvim and a major city called Kasif in the Negev. Long-term, however, there are not likely to be many more new cities and moshavim built from scratch. Israel already has well over 1,000 towns and cities, and as a small country, protecting empty land is very important. For this reason, other forms of development are now becoming more common.
Israel is also building more homes by expanding existing cities through new neighborhoods, which can rely on the city’s pre-existing infrastructure. One of the most successful examples of this model is the city of Beit Shemesh. In 1995, the city had 25,000 residents, but since then has built a successive list of new neighborhoods. Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet and Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel have already been developed, each with their own flavor, as the city has expanded dramatically to 160,000 residents. In recent years, the Mishkafayim area of Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph and Neve Shamir (Ramah Heh) have become popular locations for Anglo olim, with new Anglo developments in Ramat Avraham as well. Just like the now veteran neighborhoods of Ramat Beit Shemesh, each of these new neighborhoods have hundreds of Anglo families, with shuls and developing institutions.
These types of new neighborhoods are a good policy choice for many reasons. The existing town has infrastructure, from transport to medical to commercial services, and so it is not necessary to build all of this from scratch for the new neighborhood. This can also be a way of strengthening older towns that are in need of an influx of young people and investment. The list of existing cities building new neighborhoods is almost endless, from Netanya to Ashdod to Kfar Saba. Many cities popular with Anglos have recently built or are currently building new neighborhoods, including the Tamar and Dagan neighborhoods in Efrat, Nofim and Moreshet in Modi’in, Ir Yamim in Netanya and Neve Zamir in Ra’anana, and of course Beit Shemesh.
Some of these new developments are mega-neighborhoods, with construction planned on a huge scale. Carmei Gat is one such new mega-neighbourhood that has become very popular with Anglos. An extension of the existing town of Kiryat Gat, over 7,000 apartments have been built in the neighborhood, with another 10,000 due to be built in the coming years. Hundreds of young Anglo couples have recently moved to Carmei Gat, with new malls and train stations due to open in the coming years. Carmei Gat is particularly attractive because of the traditionally lower housing prices in Kiryat Gat, making it affordable for young families. It’s possible to buy a brand new apartment in a new neighborhood more cheaply than in many older parts of the country.
There are likely to be many more of these types of communities developing in the coming years. A more yeshivish Anglo community is developing in the Rova Yizrael neighborhood of Afula, and many Anglos have also bought on paper in Carmay HaNadiv, a new neighborhood of Kiryat Malachi.5
A third type of development that is becoming increasingly popular is urban renewal, which means reimagining and redesigning existing cities. This usually involves knocking down old buildings to build newer ones. This type of development is particularly popular in Israel’s two largest cities, Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv. These two bustling, cultural hearts of Israel have very little empty land to develop and so the only way to develop them is to rebuild. Urban redevelopers are replacing older run down buildings with new, structurally sounder, larger buildings, with amenities such as elevators, underground parking and central air conditioning as well as more modern apartments. As Israel matures, these types of projects have become more common. 31% of all apartments approved last year were in urban renewal projects, and this number is likely to rise.6
These projects are changing the skylines of Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv. For the first time, Yerushalayim is building office and residential buildings that will be 30 or 40 stories high, and there are now parts of Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan that resemble Manhattan, with many 70 and 80 story buildings already built. The urban glue that binds the cities together is also being remade as they shift from public transport to mass transit systems. Both Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv now have their first light-rail lines; Yerushalayim plans to build seven more light-rail lines, and the Tel Aviv metropolitan area is planning two more light-rail lines and three metro lines. Thus there will continue to be many opportunities for Anglos in Yerushalayim, but the available housing will likely be different. Rather than small apartment buildings, there will be more tower buildings connected by the light-rail network. Neighborhoods like Arnona and Kiryat HaYovel in Yerushalayim both have developing Anglo communities in some of these renewed developments.
We are living in times of unprecedented binyan ha’aretz, creating many new housing options for Anglo Jews. Wherever in the world we live, there is an exciting opportunity to participate and take an active role in this remarkable moment. Might there be an apartment that fits your financial needs, a community that is right for your family’s future Aliyah, or the perfect plot of land waiting to be developed for your dream community? With so many investment options, this could be the perfect time to make a long-term investment in Israel. In the unfolding tapestry of the development of Israel, is there the opportunity for you to take part?
4 Technically, there a kibbutz had existed in Harish, but it had basically been abandoned and had only a few residents before the more recent plan to turn it into a full city.
5 Full disclosure – the author is involved in the Carmay HaNadiv project, and serves as an agent for it.
Rabbi Aron White is the Managing Editor of HaMizrachi magazine.