When making aliyah, most people buying a home tend to purchase in communities that have a nucleus of families with similar backgrounds and hashkafot, or world views. Such an arrangement offers immigrants a network of like-minded families, affording them educational, spiritual and social support. Sometimes, however, we meet clients who want to either hit the “reset” button and start afresh, such as the Wall Street financier whose dream is to become a winemaker in the Golan, or merely a family desirous of moving north to a warm, accepting, quiet community. Both types often end up in unique communities such as Zichron Yaakov.
Located 20 miles south of Haifa, Zichron Yaakov is a charming city of 25,000 people situated on the southern end of the Carmel Mountain range. One of the oldest cities in modern Israel, it was established at the end of 1882 by 100 pioneers from Romania, members of the Hovevei Tzion—or Lovers of Zion—movement. Hovevei Tzion was one of several organizations that gained traction in Europe in response to the waves of pogroms and openly anti-Semitic laws that had the cumulative effect of causing approximately 2,000,000 Jews to relocate, a minority of whom made their way to Israel.
Most of Zichron Yaakov’s original settlers were unable to survive the initial year, owing to the exceedingly challenging rocky terrain, which made farming practically impossible, coupled with an outbreak of malaria. However, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, who was a winemaker, realized that the slopes of the Carmel mountain range offered superb wine-growing properties and decided to establish a winemaking town. He put all the farmers on salary and created a community-wide master plan comprising residential housing and farming lots. Baron Rothschild named the settlement in memory of his father James—or Yaakov—Mayer de Rothschild.
Soon thereafter, Rothschild founded Carmel Winery, which was the first winery in Israel. The winery, as well as the huge wine cellars that were carved into the mountain over a century ago, are still in use today.
Modern Zichron Yaakov oozes with charm, boasting a quaint brick-paved downtown district, stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea, attractive parks, beautiful homes, lovely neighborhoods and good schools. Accordingly, it has become a desirable bedroom community for the hi-tech hubs and universities in Haifa. It also has become a magnet to olim: Approximately 10 percent of its residents immigrated to Israel within the past 15 years.
What makes Zichron Yaakov particularly unique, though, is its religious landscape. The city comprises all stripes and colors from yeshivish on one end of the spectrum all the way to non-religious, with many shades of religious observance in between: There are two charedi communities, many traditional dati leumi—or national-religious—synagogues, egalitarian synagogues, a Conservative synagogue and a Reform community. Such a wide range of religious observance in a small Israeli town is unique, but what is truly rare is the strong interaction among the sub-groups. The city’s rabbinic and professional leadership work hard to nurture communal Shalom Bayit by fostering open dialogue among the members of the various communities.
Real estate is more expensive in Zichron Yaakov than most northern cities but is reasonable compared to large cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Prices range from under $400,000 for a two-bedroom apartment to around $500,000 for a townhouse, to $800,000 and up for private homes. Unlike many Israeli communities, the houses are not cookie-cutter—or “tract”—homes built from the same mold; rather, each private home has its own unique character.
It’s easy to understand why many people looking for something different fall in love with this delightful town.
By Gedaliah Borvick