Don’t know whether it’s my Kansas City upbringing, but residential real estate fascinates me. Thus was I pleasantly surprised to read of two non-Orthodox Harìsh residents recruiting more of their ilk to buy homes there. Hemi Bar-Or and Noam Hillel are to be applauded, not just for their tireless efforts in the business sphere, but for doing what I’ve been advocating for years: Instead of whiny, lame demonstrations and hand-wringing meetings in homes, Bar-Or and Hillel took their lemons and made lemonade. They grabbed the reins, jumped through a narrow window of opportunity and turned the tables (enough metaphors for you?) to their advantage.
In 2008, they perused Harish’s town plans, which suddenly showed separate boys’ and girls’ schools and mikves [ritual baths]. Uh-oh. They said, “We knew that telling planning committees that we opposed the plans wouldn't do anything…” Instead, they exploited the terms aimed at attracting ultra-Orthodox for their own aims: “Harish has been declared a priority zone. There's no minimum land price, and the development cost is being subsidized - ₪ 70,000 per housing unit. There's an exemption from local authority fees, and those eligible can get a ₪ 50,000 grant."
In 2011, Bar-Or and Hillel went to court on behalf of the residents, claiming discrimination on the part of the Housing Ministry in favor of ultra-Orthodox buyers. In the end the Housing Ministry committed to open sales to all, and in the ensuing year, Bar-Or and Hillel have dedicated themselves to recruiting non-Orthodox buyers. Their strategy has paid off in the form of hundreds lining up to sign on.
Harish’s story will be an interesting one to follow. Bar-Or’s and Hillel’s work isn’t done, and it’s possible it never will be: The ultra-Orthodox population is outpacing everyone, so that non-Orthodox activists can’t rest on their laurels. However, while the numbers are in the ultra-Orthodox favor, if the non-Orthodox follow Bar-Or and Hillel’s example and use our yiddische kups the way God meant us to, we just might be able give our children a country of the type Herzl dreamed of.