Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Kislev 5766 - December 28, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Binyan Shaleim: Living in Good Company

by Tzvi Sofer

Breaking New Ground

Just before Pesach 5757 (1997), 730 residents of the Ramat Shafat building project in Yerushalayim's new Ramat Shlomo neighborhood had a pleasant surprise upon receiving letters informing them that after a final accounting, the Ramat Shafat company that had constructed their new homes was left with a thirty-five million shekel surplus, which it would be refunding to its customers.

This translated into a refund of over ten percent of the price they had paid and was without precedent in the annals of the Israeli construction industry, even among other similar projects run by nonprofit organizations rather than by private contractors. News of the surplus created a tremendous kiddush Hashem, besides the fact that most of the apartments had been handed over to their purchasers way ahead of the scheduled completion date. It is not presumptive to attribute this achievement to the company's founding by Degel Hatorah and the consequent ongoing coordination of all its operations with its rabbinical advisory board.

Neither is this the only saving that Degel Hatorah has managed to secure for the public in its housing projects. Rabbi Menachem Blumenthal, one of the company heads, estimates the overall saving to their clients at no less than forty million dollars, due mainly to the appreciably lower prices that Binyan Shaleim charges, and the wide gulf between the prices of apartments on the general market and those sold by Degel Hatorah in Yerushalayim.

In the fifteen years that have passed since Binyan Shaleim's founding by the Housing Committee of Degel Hatorah, Yerushalayim, over 2,800 families have moved into apartments built by the company in a range of projects in chareidi centers all over the country: in Yerushalayim, Modi'in Illit, Elad, Beit Shemesh and Beitar Illit. The company's new flagship project, a huge neighborhood with thousands of housing units in the southern city of Yeruchom, is scheduled to begin construction very soon (see accompanying box).

Widen the Site of Your Tent

When Degel Hatorah was founded in 5749 (1989), its leaders met in Yerushalayim to discuss the very difficult housing situation that the chareidi community faced. Yerushalayim, Bnei Brak and Ashdod, the main centers, were straining at the seams. Several smaller communities were scattered much further out, in faraway corners of the country. The first chareidi neighborhood in Beit Shemesh was in the early planning stages, and the cities of Beitar Illit and Modi'in Illit were at very rudimentary stages of construction. Elad and Ramat Beit Shemesh were still unknown.

It was decided to establish a housing committee to seek ways of alleviating the pressure. The Binyan Shaleim housing company was founded as its executive branch, with the encouragement and support of gedolei Yisroel, who gave the venture their blessings with prayers for its success. Degel Hatorah chairman Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz was serving as Deputy Housing Minister at the time, and on his initiative, cheap plots of land were allocated to Binyan Shaleim in Yerushalayim's northeastern suburb of Neve Yaakov and in the new neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo (which was then still known as Reches Shuafat).

Although its first projects were in Yerushalayim, the ongoing pressure to provide affordable housing led Binyan Shaleim to undertake projects in many other locations around the country. It has become a model of honesty and reliability in the chareidi housing market. The prices it charges are the lowest on the market and take all the factors relevant to its clientele into account. Particular attention is paid to developing infrastructure that is socially and economically suited to Torah communities.

Binyan Shaleim does not do the actual construction itself. It organizes and plans the neighborhoods, but it hires outside contractors to do the work.

Binyan Shaleim accompanies the projects and the buyers through every stage of the construction and handing over. It supervises the quality of the building, provides necessary legal coverage and assists clients with any claims they may have against the contractors. The company's involvement has led to discounts adding up to hundreds of thousands of shekels that have been achieved by cutting costs and avoiding linkages; this shows in the contracts that have been signed with the developers.

New Neighborhoods, New Cities

Binyan Shaleim's first project, the construction of ninety apartments in Neve Yaakov, got underway in 5751 (1991) and introduced a new standard in housing for the chareidi community. The project was planned by representatives of Binyan Shaleim and applicants were processed according to clear criteria such as families of bnei Torah, economic standing etc. The apartments were allocated by drawing lots, a method that was duplicated in future projects and that has been adopted by the Ministry of Housing in low cost projects. Most of the families who bought in Neve Yaakov are still occupying their apartments, which cost them $36,000 — less than the regular market price at the time.

A year later, construction began on 730 apartments in the main, central building project in Ramat Shlomo. The work, which lasted several years due to the huge scope of the project, was carried out through the Ramat Shafat organization that was founded by Degel Hatorah. The same methods were employed for the processing of applications and allocation of apartments as in Neve Yaakov. The project won wide publicity, both because of the low prices and the refund to the residents after they had moved in. The effect of the prices of Binyan Shaleim in the new neighborhood was such that when another organization started building and asked much higher prices for its apartments, it was quickly forced to back down and reduce its prices.

In 5755 (1995), before the completion of the project in Ramat Shlomo, Binyan Shaleim started building a completely new area: the first 420 apartments in Achuzat Brachfeld, to the north of Kiryat Sefer in Modi'in Illit. (In fact, it was Binyan Shaleim that gave the Kiryat Sefer-Brachfeld region the name Modi'in Illit, which has since been adopted by the local authorities.) After many delays, the necessary permits were obtained, with great siyata deShmaya, finally enabling Binyan Shaleim's agreement with the firm Tzifcha International to build the new area to be implemented.

This was the first project in the area where Jerusalem stone was used to encase the buildings. Here too, the cost of the apartments was significantly cheaper — by $10,000 — than the cost of other apartments in the area at the time. In addition, upon moving into their new homes, each family received a IS 15,000 refund.

With the arrival of the first residents, Tzifcha International constructed temporary batei knesses, in keeping with its undertaking to Binyan Shaleim. The beis haknesses and the neighborhood were named after the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh, HaRav Dovid Povarsky zt'l, who passed away at that time. The residents moved into the beis haknesses' permanent building several months ago.

Shortly thereafter, in 5757 (1997), Binyan Shaleim built a hundred apartments in Ramat Beit Shemesh B, in the framework of the Housing Ministry's distribution of land in the area. These apartments were appreciably cheaper than those built in Ramat Beit Shemesh A.

Two years later, Binyan Shaleim initiated the construction of the 160 apartments in the Yefe Nof project, adjacent to the chareidi area of Beit Shemesh, into which the residents moved two years ago. The Rassido construction company which built the neighborhood owned its own tracts of the land in the area and, due to low demand, agreed to lower its prices. The company invested huge sums in the project, which today is admired for its beauty.

Beitar — Planting a Swiftly Growing Seedling

A year later, in 5759 (1999), after its senior members had met with HaRav Eliashiv and received his blessing, Degel Hatorah made its first appearance in the city of Beitar Illit when Binyan Shaleim signed an agreement with the construction company B. Yair to build 291 apartments on Givah A.

The low prices in the area attracted the heads of Binyan Shaleim, even though there had not been a sizable community of bnei Torah in Beitar beforehand. This project proved to be the groundbreaker for a series of similar ventures that were undertaken in the years that followed.

Hundreds of families of bnei Torah have since settled in Beitar. All along the way, from the first project to the latest ones, assistance and support were extended by Rabbi Yitzchok Pindrus, who originally served as a deputy head of the local Council for Degel Hatorah, and who is now the city's mayor.

Binyan Shaleim was instrumental in bringing a caravan trailer to the area that served as a Torah center for the entire area. When the Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron, HaRav Simchah Zissel Broide zt'l, passed away, the beis haknesses that was erected there was named Derech Simchah in his memory.

Residents began moving into Beitar's new Gefen (Givah B) neighborhood in 5763 (2003). A strong group of families of bnei Torah was present from the beginning and with a view to strengthening the local communities, Binyan Shaleim entered into an agreement with the Dona construction company to build seventy-six housing units. Here too, Binyan Shaleim's representatives joined the planning team and the prices asked were very cheap indeed — $73,000 for a two- bedroom apartment (compared with a hundred and $115,000 for a similar apartment on the general market), attracting many clients to the project. The superlative planning gave the project a good reputation and all the apartments were sold before the first foundations were laid. The residents were able to move into their new homes a year ago.

New Horizons

Three years ago, Binyan Shaleim signed an agreement with the Cheftsiba construction company to erect a building project to the east of Modi'in Illit. Here again, Binyan Shaleim led the way in the construction of a new area. The Cheftsiba and Solel Boneh companies who owned the land realized that they would not be able to break into the market in a new area on their own and owing to Binyan Shaleim's experience in building up new areas, Cheftsiba sought its assistance. Against a background of rising apartment prices in the area, an agreement was reached to provide cheap apartments on easy terms.

For example, a two-bedroom apartment in Nachalat Cheftsiba cost only $73,000, compared with $95,000 in other projects. All the apartments were sold within a short time and are shortly expected to be ready for handing over.

At the same time, Binyan Shaleim was making its first foray into the new city of Elad. This project encountered considerable delays in receiving building permits, caused by political difficulties on the part of certain groups. The way forward was eventually found and the families who purchased the 104 apartments are expected to be moving in very soon.

A further 320 units have also been erected in two of Binyan Shaleim's projects on Beitar's Givah B — Achuzat Miriam and Kiryat Degel Hatorah-Beitar on the hill's southern slopes, with a stunning view. Sales have now begun for another two projects in the neighborhood, where 200 apartments are to be built, costing just $82,000 for a two- bedroom apartment, including a storage room.

These figures add up to a total of $2,800 housing units in chareidi centers across the country — a formidable achievement. So far, 820 apartments have been built in Yerushalayim, 900 in Beitar Illit, 690 in Modi'in Illit, 260 in Beit Shemesh and a hundred in Elad.

Kiryah Ne'monoh — Striking Success in Modi'in Illit

by R. Collins

Families began moving into their new apartments in Kiryat Degel Hatorah-Modi'in Illit several months ago and hundreds more apartments are now in the final stages of completion. The high standard of construction, the superlative planning of the apartments and the excellent conditions of purchase have made this new project much-sought-after. To all appearances, it will become the most dominant housing project in Modi'in Illit and one of the preferred chareidi locations in the country.

In light of the project's great success we put several questions to Rabbi Avraham Rubinstein, Deputy mayor of Bnei Brak, who is well acquainted with the history and development of the new neighborhood.

YN: When was the project launched?

Rabbi Rubinstein: Several years ago, [when] the Kiryat Degel Hatorah organization reached an agreement with the Neot Hapisgah company to construct a first stage containing 200 housing units [and] a second stage [that] would bring the total number of units to 400.

According to Rabbi Rubinstein, construction began two years ago and in Menachem Av 5765 — just four months ago — the first residents were able to move into their new apartments.

YN: What are the advantages that are drawing so many families to the new neighborhood?

Rabbi Rubinstein: This project has many pluses, some of which are exclusive. First, the price. The planners and directors decided to make the prices lower even than those of other projects in Modi'in Illit itself. In addition, the applicants are very high level bnei Torah, and residents are being chosen according to responsible and serious criteria by a special committee that has been set up for the purpose. Virtually all the newcomers are affiliated with the Degel Hatorah sector.

YN: Don't the low prices suggest that the quality of the construction has been compromised?

Rabbi Rubinstein: Quite the reverse is true. Despite the prices, the caliber of the building is of the highest and also the dearest. The apartments are very spacious indeed. Each building has a large entrance lobby and the facades of the apartments are particularly pleasant to look at. Most important is the fact that every family enjoys a finished apartment that satisfies any criteria of quality and fine finish.

YN: How was the idea for the project first conceived?

Rabbi Rubinstein: There were a number of considerations, the main one having been the need to meet the ongoing demand in the area. The underlying idea was to assist avreichim in purchasing apartments by lowering prices. It seems that the initiative was taken at the right time. Many of the units have already been sold and more sales are in progress at present.

YN: What about the sort of problems that usually accompany any new neighborhood, such as a dearth of communal buildings etc.?

Rabbi Rubinstein: If one wants to register another point in the project's favor, I think it would be the preparedness of the planners with regard to educational and communal facilities. A beis haknesses was opened in the neighborhood on the first day that residents moved in. Kindergartens were also opened immediately, to meet the needs of the new arrivals. The project management is alert to the residents' needs and does all it can to respond suitably — in fact, all the necessary facilities are being provided.

YN: How is the project expected to develop?

Rabbi Rubinstein: Everything points to tremendous interest on the part of the public, boruch Hashem. It looks like the plan to build 400 apartments will be implemented very soon. In view of its great success, we hope that the project will continue its growth and will expand further with the construction of additional hundreds of apartments.

Neot Ha'irussim — The Torah City of New Yeruchom

Binyan Shaleim's major project, Neot Ha'irussim (Iris Oasis) is to be constructed in the city of Yeruchom, in the Negev. Nothing less than a new city is being planned, of high standard and on a huge scale, with the sole aim of alleviating the chareidi community's housing shortage. HaRav Eliashiv wished the planners success in their endeavors and encouraged them. He said, "It will be a great relief for the public and will im yirtzeh Hashem be successful."

HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman, HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira. HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, HaRav Shmuel Auerbach and HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel all gave the initiative their blessings.

The project, of unprecedented size and scope, will be located next to the thriving chareidi community of Yeruchom, which is led by its rov, HaRav Mordechai Krausz. The new project aims to provide quality housing at substantially cheaper prices than in the main cities and even in the various housing projects for bnei Torah. It is hoped that by providing affordable apartments on a large scale, the project will effect a turnabout in the housing situation, finally putting an end to the terrible difficulties undergone by so many. For this reason it has merited the fervent blessings of the gedolei Yisroel.

Planned for inclusion in Neot Ha'irussim are a large yeshiva gedoloh of distinction, tens of kollelim, employment opportunities for women and high quality building and infrastructure. All this will be available for approximately half the price of an apartment in a similar chareidi project and with an initial payment of just several thousand dollars.

There are plans to build a Shabbos generator to supply the city over Shabbos and have it operational by the time the first families move in. The spiritual foundations of the new city are already present; the level of the area's spiritual life compares favorably with any of the large cities. The Torah community of Yeruchom has produced several generations of avreichim and bnei Torah who have raised fine families. Yeruchom's chareidi educational institutions are among the finest in the chareidi centers across the country.

The construction of 4,000 (!) apartments is planned for the first stage. These will be spread out over a large area and will include large, spacious, high-quality apartments, parks and complexes providing all necessary services.

The project's best feature is the price: according to the planners, a two-bedroom apartment, ninety square meters (900 square feet) in size, with air conditioning and the shell of an extra room will cost just $52,000, after the reduction of the special grants for Negev Development. This would make Neot Ha'irussim the cheapest housing option available anywhere in the country. The low price and the special payment plans will mean that when purchasing an apartment for a young couple, each side will only have to put down three thousand dollars.

On a daily basis, gedolei Yisroel witness the distress of parents marrying off their children and yearning for some respite from the financial pressures. They have therefore encouraged the planners to speed up the implementation of the project, which they see as providing relief and assistance to families of bnei Torah and establishing a strong Torah beacon that will illuminate the entire Negev region.


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