The neighborhood, Shaarei Hesed, Gates of Mercy in Hebrew, is located between the more well-known neighborhoods of Rehavia to its north, Nachlaot to its south and the Wolfson Towers to the west.
The neighborhood was established in 1909 and covers an area of 40,000 sqm (approximately 40 dunams or 10 acres). The neighborhood had very orthodox beginnings. It was first inhabited by ultra-orthodox Jews and they insisted that residents should strictly adhere to Halacha (Jewish religious law). Only those who agreed to live according to the requirements of halacha were allowed to live there. One of the founders of Shaarei Hesed was Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Porush (there is a street named after him in the neighborhood). He was helped in his endeavors by the then Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shmuel Salant. They set up a general fund headed by Porush and raised money from the Diaspora (mainly East and Central Europe), and used the money to assist ultra-orthodox Ashkenazi Jews to purchase modest apartments in Jerusalem. Consequently the vast majority of the residents were Yeshiva students who studied in the area.
The first 114 houses were built in a row on long narrow plots similar to the style used in Eastern and Western Europe. Each apartment had a small yard either in the front or in the back. This architectural style was very different from what had been built in those days in Jerusalem outside the walls, epitomized by Rehavia; a garden suburb of spacious single-family homes, gardens, trees, greenery etc.
Shaarei Hesed was built to make optimal use of the land available so as to build as many living units as possible. Trees were uprooted to make room for houses; something which sadly is now happening all the time.
The neighborhood has always been inhabited by ultra-orthodox Jews and its residents were famous for their piety and modesty at least outwardly. Many influential Rabbis have lived there, and it has several yeshivas, among them Maalos Hatorah, Midrash Shmuel and Noam HaTalmud, plus, as can be expected, a large number of synagogues.
Despite its ultra-orthodox makeup, Shaarei Hesed is considered more moderate and tolerant than other ultra-religious (Haredi) neighborhoods such as Geula & Meah Shearim. There are far fewer reported confrontations between the Haredi residents and their secular neighbors in Rehavia. Residents of Shaarei Hesed seem to adhere to a less confrontational approach when dealing with secular Jews living in Rehavia. There was a lot of tension surrounding last year’s local elections. Many Haredi residents and local politicians wanted to join Shaarei Hesed with neighboring Rehavia, a move that could extend Shaarei Hesed’s borders and invite Haredi influence into Rehavia, such as closing off streets on Shabbat and Jewish festivals, more synagogues and Yeshivot etc.
The real estate scene in Shaarei Hessed is dominated by the housing needs of the religious or ultra-religious segment of the population. Houses are adapted to the needs of the ultra-orthodox (e.g. low rise residential blocks, space for a sukkah etc).
There is a growing interest from local contractors to buy land in this area; mostly plots with existing houses or apartments in this area that are then pulled down to make room for more modern structures. Although many existing properties have historical protection, which means that because of their historical or architectural significance, they cannot be torn down or altered, there are still opportunities to buy run-down buildings of no historical or architectural value whatsoever, and build new modern and more spacious apartments. Orna Even Parker of RE/MAX Vision in Jerusalem, who specializes in the Shaarei Hesed/Nachlaot neighborhoods, told “In Jerusalem”, “the current real estate trends in the area herald a change in the makeup of the neighborhood. It has not lost its ultra-orthodox make up, but the area is losing its aura of modesty and of being a relatively poor area, into one of the more affluent neighborhoods of Jerusalem, with residents that can afford the prices charged by the new developments”.
There is another trend in the neighborhood. Affluent ultra-orthodox Jews from English-speaking Jewish communities in the Diaspora and also from continental Europe (especially France) are buying the old apartments in some cases join two together and create a nice large modern dwelling. This way, old-time residents have been able to “cash out” by selling to affluent Orthodox Jewish families from abroad, and buying property in less expensive neighborhoods.
Buying property by Europeans, especially French Jews, was motivated by the very strong Euro and by the current antisemitic atmosphere in France. Many French buyers feel they need a haven in Israel and they have lost faith with the local stock market, and today the Euro goes a lot farther than the Dollar. Currently, the average price per sqm in Shaarei Hesed can range from NIS 25,000 – 45,000, compared with NIS 18,000 – 25,000 in Geula or Mea Sharim. An older, 80 sqm apartment in Shaarei Hesed can go for as low as $600,000, whereas the larger cottages and villas that are 180 to 300 sqm can range anywhere between $2,000,000- $8,000,000.
According to RE/MAX Broker/Owner, Alyssa Friedland, “Although the area is a highly desirable one for the wealthy Orthodox foreign buyer, the current world financial crisis has caused many of these buyers to become conservative in their purchases. They purchase vacation homes that are more modest and smaller. The demand for the muti-million dollar homes has decreased by about 40% from 3 years ago when it was at a high. We are seeing buyers with budgets in the $800,000- $2,000,000 range who are satisfied buying 3-4 bedroom apartment, as long as they are well-located.
Below are some examples of recent sales:
1- Nachlat Tzadok- Cottage, first floor, 6 rooms, 212 sqm, sold for NIS 9,742,200 ($2,600,000)
2- Parosh 15- Third floor, 4 rooms, 181 sqm, sold for NIS 9,412,000 ($2,500,000)
3- Diskin 13- Ground floor, 4 rooms, 100 sqm, sold for NIS 2,300,310 ($620,000)
4- Parosh 15- Second floor, 4 rooms, 150 sqm, sold for- NIS 6,190,200 ($1,650,000)
5- Parosh 15- Ground floor, 4 rooms, 150 sqm, sold for NIS 8,896,400 ($2,400,000)
6- Diskin 11- Second floor, 3.5 rooms, 105 sqm, sold for NIS 2,859,260 ($770,000)