Eliyahu Grumet, Agan HaAyalot
About twelve years ago a friend of ours who went into real estate was selling houses in Agan HaAyalot (also known as Givat Ze'ev HaChadasha) and suggested that we look into buying an apartment there. At that time there were only shells of a few buildings. The neighborhood was originally designed as an expansion of the existing municipality of Givat Zeev, but because there was no interest from the non-religious, it was eventually – and very successfully – remarketed as a Chareidi neighborhood. Its proximity to Yerushalayim and the substantially lower prices of its spacious suburban-style housing—all which is within a sheltered Chareidi enclave with no chillul Shabbos in sight—was a winning combination.
We originally came to Eretz Yisroel after getting married in the US with the idea that we would be here for about five years or so. We thought that buying an apartment would be a good investment even if we would end up moving back, so we signed a contract on one of those shells. We moved into our house when it was fully built three and a-half years later. (Today the pace of construction is much faster.)
After settling down in Agan HaAyalot and realizing we were here to stay, my wife, who had trained and interned here in Eretz Yisroel as a speech therapist in an American program, went through the process of obtaining citizenship and getting licensed so she could legally work here. Her background is very useful here for helping the local English speakers.
Agan HaAyalot translates to "Doe Basin." Living in the mountains the whole year round, we occasionally get to see some deer running around. I find it to be a very pleasant place to live in, while being close enough to the hustle and bustle of the city (only six miles away) but still like country living. The houses and buildings are spread apart. Many apartments have private entrances and many of the buildings have only four apartments. There is much more space, quiet, and privacy than in nearby Yerushalayim, where the developers are capitalizing on the limited space as much as they can. Here you can buy much more for your money. For about two-million shekels (under $600,000), you can get a four-bedroom apartment between 120 to 140 square meters (1500 square feet). There are private homes being built as well.
The Yerushalayim neighborhood of Ramot with its new and large shopping center is only a ten-minute car ride away, so Agan HaAyalot really is the closest thing to living in Yerushalayim. Most people in Agan HaAyalot have cars, but it is not a necessity. (We lived here without one for several years.) There is a small local shopping center, a hardware store, a toy store, medical offices, and other small businesses. It's also just a short bus ride to get into Yerushalayim. The bus fare between here and Yerushalayim is even the same as for the inner-city buses in Yerushalayim, so we really are like any other Yerushalayim neighborhood. There are many people here who work or learn in Yerushalayim. There also is a busload of avreichim (with many Americans) going every day directly to the Mir yeshiva.
Most of the English speakers here moved in after deciding to settle down here in Eretz Yisroel after being part of one of the more transient communities in Yerushalayim. Many have learned in Mir, Brisk, Toras Moshe, and other similar Yeshivos. There are some older people who have already married off children and even grandchildren, who moved here after selling more expensive properties in Yerushalayim. In general, though, it is a young community, with most people moving here close to their thirties.
Today there are about nine-hundred families in the neighborhood. About 70% are Hebrew speakers, and 30% are English speakers. The Americans are generally bunched together in the same buildings or on the same block. The two chadarim and one girls' school serve everyone together. There is an English track in the preschool, but it's just to ease the transition. They're eventually integrated into the mainstream system with everyone else.
Community life here is amazing. About five years ago we built an American-style shul/kehillah. Even the furniture in the shul is in the American style, with chairs and tables like in the Agudah-style balebatish shuls back in America. The official language of the shul is Hebrew, so Israelis who want to join can, but most members are English speakers. The Israelis who join are attracted by the warmth and community feel. The rov is English speaking, but came to Eretz Yisroel at the age of three so he has been well integrated into the Israeli Chareidi society. Though his derashos are in Hebrew, he answers shailos in either language.
Our shul is one of twelve shuls in the neighborhood. Six are nusach Ashkenaz, four Sephardic, one nusach Sefard, and one Belz. One of the shuls is a hub for working Israeli Chareidim. Everyone has a place here.
The second-day Yom Tov minyan is at our shul, but it is primarily for family and guests of the residents, because most of the English-speaking locals are here to stay. However, there is an increasing trend of Americans buying vacation homes in the neighborhood—including some parents of the permanent residents here—and they also make up part of the second-day minyan.
With many like-minded people around and more space inside and outside the house, people here are happy and content. With significant construction going on the population is expected to double within a few years. Maybe there's a place here for you too.
Still in Eretz Yisroel
When we moved out of Yerushalayim, many of our family and friends were a bit skeptical. They felt that by moving out of Yerushalayim, we were moving out of Eretz Yisroel. In reality though, this unique suburb of Agan HaAyalot with its proximity to Yerushalayim has enabled people to stay longer—many even permanently.
We told them that we're still much closer to the kosel than from those people still in America. Every Chol HaMoed we take a family trip to be oleh l'regel to the Old City. We tell our children that while there are thousands of people that spend thousands of dollars to travel there, we are fortunate that we can do it by just a cheap, quick bus ride.
Most of us Americans are living far away from our families, so we are here for each other like family. It has happened more than once that after a Friday afternoon birth, neighbors and members of our close-knit kehillah put together a shalom zochor within a short time.
This really is a wonderful and successful community.