A foothold in Israel

jerusalem | Paul Bloom, a 53-year-old IBM executive from Edison, N.J., has been thinking about aliyah for a long time. But he knew he wouldn’t be ready to move to Israel until he retired, and at that point he would need something to encourage him. So he bought an apartment in Jerusalem.

“I’d seen my parents’ generation talk about aliyah but never execute the plan,” says Bloom, who is married with four children.

“I also knew that if I did buy an apartment, it would have to be in Jerusalem, because of its religious significance for me.”

But buying an apartment in a country where you don’t really speak the language and aren’t familiar with the mortgage system can be a bit daunting. Bloom began making the rounds of local Israel real estate fairs, and that’s where he bumped into Gary Steinman, a retired doctor who’d put together a presentation for Americans buying homes in Israel after buying his own apartment in Jerusalem in less than a week.

Steinman, a retired obstetrician, had purchased his Jerusalem flat through Remax Capital Real Estate, working with Alyssa Friedland, who immigrated to Israel from Houston nine years ago, and a local banker and lawyer whom she found for him.

“He was amazed at how easy it was to buy a property in Israel when you have a good lawyer, banker and real estate agent working together,” said Friedland.

“He figured that if he could show his friends back in New York how easy it is to create a foothold in Jerusalem, then he could significantly increase apartment purchases.”

Working with Friedland and Stewart Hershkowitz (a banker at Bank of Jerusalem, a mortgage brokerage), the three developed a PowerPoint presentation telling prospective buyers how to navigate real estate purchases, including legal requirements and mortgage financing.

They also showed photos and prices of properties in Israel, ranging from homes in Eilat to apartments in Jerusalem and Haifa. Prices also ranged widely, from $150,000 for investment and vacation apartments to multimillion-dollar homes in Jerusalem and on the coast.

Steinman had been giving the presentation to primarily Orthodox congregations and community groups throughout the New York metropolitan area. Working with Steinman, Bloom and a few friends from central New Jersey set up a group with the purpose of buying real estate in Israel for eventual aliyah. The first meeting was held in October, and while it was primarily advertised through word of mouth, 120 people showed up.

Using a panel of speakers, including Steinman and a representative from Tehilla, a movement for religious aliyah, the group talked about transporting their modern Orthodox community to Jerusalem in order to reduce some of the aliyah issues of language and culture that new immigrants are often confronted with.

Most of the interested buyers were in their 40s and 50s, predominantly modern Orthodox, and looking to buy in the $250,000 to $600,000 price range.

The central New Jersey group began meeting every two to three weeks, with Bloom sending along information regarding real estate agents and neighborhoods to their group’s Web site.

After bringing in Hershkowitz and an Israeli lawyer living in the United States, a dozen families from the group came to Israel in January to look at apartments. They split into subgroups to look at various neighborhoods.

“I liked French Hill” [where Remax is currently marketing an apartment project], “but I felt that if I’m going to Israel, I want to immerse myself in spirituality,” said Bloom.

For him, that meant being closer to downtown Jerusalem, in the midst of a more established modern Orthodox community. He thought Sha’arei Hesed or Rehavia would be more to his liking, but expected them to be too expensive. Nonetheless, they ended up finding a brand-new, six-apartment building in Sha’arei Hesed.

For Bloom, it’s the apartment of his dreams: Across the street from his favorite synagogue, in the middle of the city’s bustle and with two sets of friends in the same complex.

As for the group — now called the Highland Park/Edison Israel Real Estate Group — they’re still working closely with Tehilla, expanding their search for properties and helping to create spinoff groups.