"The activity against haredi domination in big secular cities is replaced with a decent welcome in periphery towns, where the population is traditional," haredi housing activist says. Dozens of communities in the periphery are being taken over in an almost military-style campaign launched by haredi press, asking the "holy public" "not to make too much noise" doing it.
Haredim 'taking over' periphery
Ultra-Orthodox sector finds solution for real estate bubble in distant communities
Ofer Peteresburg • Ynet
As real estate prices in central Israel rise, the ultra-Orthodox public is eyeing the periphery's outer circles – areas which have miserably failed in attracting strong populations from the center.
Take the city of Carmiel for example, which attracts many haredi families due to its cheap prices and the option to maintain a religious lifestyle. The cheap housing in the northern city has been attracting more and more haredim.
"The activity against haredi domination in big secular cities is replaced with a decent welcome in periphery towns, where the population is traditional,' says an official in an organization promoting haredi housing.
Yavne'el is another good example: Only a decade ago it was a moshava which marketed hundreds of acres of agricultural plots, but Breslov Hasidim discovered the potential and took over the rural community.
Kiryat Gat has undergone a similar revolution and has become mostly haredi. It will soon be joined by dozens of other communities in the periphery in an almost military-style campaign launched by haredi press, asking the holy public "not to make too much noise."
Its happening in Arad, Hatzor Haglilit, Safed, Tiberias, Carmiel and many other places in the periphery, where the government has already given up on efforts to attract young people from Tel Aviv.
So what can we to learn from the haredi public? Their ability to adjust to new areas on the map, areas where apartment prices are exceptionally reduced and have a potential of becoming religious centers.
The haredi public, it turns out, is not intimidated by the absence of work or by the fact that the anticipated train project could take 10 years to complete.
"The reason for the new phenomenon," says Shahar Ilan of Hiddush - Freedom of Religion for Israel, "is that the haredi public needs 5,500 apartments a year. Its main demands are living in haredi areas next to religious institutions and cheap prices. This is due to the poverty among the public and the fact that haredi parents buy their children apartments as part of the matchmaking arrangement. As a result, every haredi family must buy its children an average of 3.5 apartments."
The apartments sold in the periphery are about a half or one-third of the price of the famous haredi areas. According to the haredim, a quiet, slow and consistent revolution is taking place, and the dozens of new haredi neighborhoods can already be seen in the Galilee and Negev. Rabbis are giving their green light and the past two years have seen nthousands of apartments purchased in the periphery by haredim.
There are new projects in the center as well: Some 1,700 apartments for haredim in Moshav Ahisamakh near Lod and 2,000 housing units in Beit Shemesh. But the prices there have also gone up, particularly in light of the development costs. The only solution is the periphery communities, and the haredim have been flocking there in masses.
'Hundreds of haredi communities blooming'
One of the options being advanced is the community of Harish, a ghost town in Wadi Ara, which the Housing Ministry has been stuck with for years. But nearby communities have filed 1,500 objections against turning the area to a haredi center. The government is also promoting a new community near the southern city of Arad.
The following quote was taken from the Yated Ne'eman newspaper: "The haredi public has no choice. The State isn't building us new cities? Then we shall rise and do something very simple: Create facts on the ground through haredi concentrations in non-haredi cities across the country. We'll make one neighborhood after another haredi. We'll slowly see dozens of haredi communities blooming in different places across the country."
The newspaper lists a number of new haredi concentrations in the periphery: Kiryat Malachi, Ramla, Lod, Tiberias, Yeruham, Arad, Dimona, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Afula, Kiryat Ata, Carmiel, Safed and even Akko. The prices range between NIS 200-400,000 ($55-110,000) for three-room apartments.
A local real estate agency admits that "people are quietly buying apartments – one apartment and another apartment and another apartment. And not too many months pass before young haredim come to live in these apartments."
Rabbi Shai Abramovich, 33, Ilana, 29, Nahorai, 6.5, Metanya, 5, and Noah, 1.5, moved to Arad less than a year ago. Shai is originally from Netanya and Ilana is from Tel Aviv. "We are Chabad people and work according to the rabbis' mission – distribution… There is no housing distress. When you want to live in the periphery you can find options for a spacious apartment for attractive prices. Arad is a nice place to raise children."
The phenomenon has even generated organizations whose goal is to help young couples purchase an apartment: The "Shehasimcha Meono" organization was founded two years ago with the aim of helping parents marry off their children and provide them with an apartment. In one of the PR conferences, head of the Yad Aharon Yeshiva Rabbi Yehoshua Eichenstein said that a yeshiva student buying an apartment in any haredi concentration in central Israel has a weak spiritual influence on his surroundings. But in a distant community his chances are higher.
Another active organization is the "committee for housing solutions", which has received the blessing of religious leaders, led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach. "We must act quietly and modestly," the rabbis recommended. "The most important thing is to stay away from mayors. Their considerations are usually only political, and they don't wish to see yeshiva students in their city."
And how do you prevent a price hike? You buy in small portions, and sometimes promise a blessing with the purchase: "The great advantage," says D., a yeshiva student from Jerusalem, 24 with two children, "is that the public in the peripheral communities is traditional. They are glad to sell to us. In one case the landlord was ready for a bargain, as long as he receives a personal blessing from Rabbi Kanievsky."
'Anarchy may lead to tensions'
MK Menachem Eliezer Mosez, chairman of the United Torah Judaism faction and of the lobby for solving the housing distress, is also advancing housing solutions for the haredi population in Safed. In a meeting he had with Mayor Ilan Shohat, they spoke about a large reserve of 2,000 housing units, which may serve as a solution for the haredi distress. Nazareth Illit Mayor Shimon Gaspo is also wooing the haredi public.
Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias recently marketed thousands of housing units for particularly cut rates in the towns of Hatzor, Netivot, Kiryat Gat, Beit Shemesh and other places where the haredi public plans to storm apartments offered in tenders.
Not just new apartments – second hand too: In Tiberias, for example, Karlin Hasidim have decided not to wait for marketing and bids and have stormed hundreds of second-hand apartment. A three-room flat sold a year ago for NIS 200,000 ($55,000) is sold today for NIS 380,000 ($104,000).
The committee for housing solutions is headed by Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Hagar, who told Yated Ne'eman: "The goal is to form a community of yeshiva students which will set up a center of studying Torah."
Rabbi Uri Regev, director of Hiddush – For Religious Freedom and Equality, warns against "the anarchy in the haredi settlement plans in the Galilee and Negev, which may lead to tensions and struggles."
According to Regev, "The State of Israel must provide housing solutions for haredim, while demanding they integrate into the labor market so as not to become a burden. But at the same time it must ensure a planning policy which will prevent battles between haredim and other populations and areas becoming haredi."
Regev is demanding that the Housing Ministry ensure that the plan for haredi communities in the Galilee will not push residents away from their homes.