Home buyers pay R1million premium to live in ‘shtetl’
Why are Jewish home buyers in Johannesburg prepared to battle it out and bid against each other for the privilege of living in Glenhazel or Fairmount? Read this to find out. Emerging in between this very small number of highly sought-after homes over the past few years has been an ever-increasing number of kosher businesses – and businesses that service the needs of the Jewish market. Even office space in this unique “shtetl” goes at a huge premium, if one can find premises.
Simply put, says Vered Estates’ Mike Rod, the answer is Yeshiva College, the Jewish community and social lifestyle. But, he adds, the market is cooling off somewhat at present due to the fact that many buyers, particularly those holding cash, are sitting on the fence and watching to see how the country’s economic and political stability pans out.
Glenhazel, says Joel Harris of Jawitz Properties, “offers to the Jewish community a ‘Little Israel’ with so many kosher restaurants and shops”. The proliferation of the kosher establishments is “making it so sought after”. Big money has also gone into shuls and school campuses, he adds.
Developer Daniel Rubenstein, whose grandfather was one of the original developers of the Glenhazel suburb, confirms that there is a premium price of 20 to 30 per cent, or around a million rand, for land in the core Glenhazel area.
RIGHT: Estate agent Joel Harris has a substantial 45 percent market share in Glenhazel
“A 2 000 square metre plot on which one would knock down the existing house and build a new one,” he told Jewish Report, would have a value of “R4 to R5,5 million in Glenhazel, depending on position and shape, whereas a comparable property in Melrose or Illovo would be priced at R3,8 to R4,8 million”.
Rod says about the market having cooled off: “Two years ago you could put a property up at any price and there would be a buyer.” Now it is taking him up to four months.
Another agent, who asked not to be named, agreed. But he said: “Money isn’t the issue. Sellers were asking for too much and buyers are concerned that interest rates are going to go up. Seller expectations are making it hard to buy.”
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ABOVE: The sweet-spot – Jewish buyers pay a million rand-plus premium to live within these boundaries (ANT KATZ)
Rod’s experience indicates that “the sentiment in the country at the moment is causing people with cash to hold on to it.” He cited “the political situation and the lack of financial stability – they feed off each other”.
Add the instability within the ANC, he says, and people with cash “rather keep it offshore. People who would be buyers are staying liquid and waiting.”
One anonymous developer who is looking for a large property – between 1 500 to 2 000 square metres – in what he refers to as “the absolute prime” area says he has been offered many properties over the past few months. But in every case the seller wanted an “absolutely ridiculous price”.
For what he describes as a “bash-down” property, in other words the homestead will be demolished and a new home or sectional title development built, he says he can buy in Melrose for R4 million, “but in Glenhazel the sellers want R5 to R5,5 million”.
Rod mentioned a house in Fairmount that he listed on a Friday last winter. He had a potential buyer who he called to meet him there and on his way in, Rod planted a ‘for sale board’ outside. The client duly made an offer on the spot, a little under the asking price.
“While I was still inside the house,” says Rod, “someone saw the board, called me and we made an appointment to show it on the Sunday”. With the Friday offer in hand, Rod told the other interested party that they had better make a quick offer if they had a genuine interest. They put in a higher offer and, by Sunday evening, the house was sold.
But with the market cooling off, he has eight or 10 properties on his books at the moment, but there is a 20 per cent gap between what sellers want (an average of R4 million) and what buyers are prepared to pay (R3,2 million).
Harris recalls listing a house near the Yeshiva College campus in November 2016. “The next day I organised an open hour and invited nine buyers to view, achieved two offers, and closed within 24 hours within 10 per cent of the asking price.”
Another of his success stories was a property in Study Road. Again he organised an open hour, this time for 10 buyers. “I received three offers and also closed within 24 hours.
“What was interesting is that the three buyers (making offers) all had different intentions. The one was going to knock the house down and build their dream home; the second was going to ‘gut’ the property and spend approximately R3 million renovating it; and the third was going to give it a paint job and some small cosmetic changes and move in.”
The only spark in the market right now is the demand for cluster housing, says Rod. A family with a reasonably high monthly income of R100 000 simply can’t afford Glenhazel today.
Harris says he holds the record price for sales for a cluster in Glenhazel – a whopping R10,1 million, back in 2011.
Prime property that fetches the highest prices are in Tanced Road and Mejon Avenue, says Rod, where three-bedroom houses on a 1 500 square metre plots can go for up to R4,5 million. They would not be considered to be worth even R3.9 million elsewhere, he says, but buyers pay the premium for the proximity to the area’s biggest single drawcard, Yeshiva College.
The lifestyle and communal living that attracts buyers, he says, is not to be found anywhere else. In any other suburb, says Rod, one may see one’s neighbours once a month and may never go inside their homes.
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A drone picture illustrating typical Glenhazel homes (ILAN OSSENDRYVER)
In Glenhazel, if you eat a Shabbos meal alone with your family it is because you choose to.
A developer who asked not to be named, said that Glenhazel had become “unaffordable for young couples”. Rod says that, while sales have certainly slowed down, the demand is still there for the lower end of the market and at more reasonable prices.
Asked if heavily bonded buyers are able to get banks to see the premium value in these properties which are selling at as much as R1 million above similar houses elsewhere, Rod says: “Banks are quite clever; they will often back the jockey.”
Emerging in between this very small number of highly sought-after homes over the past few years has been an ever-increasing number of kosher businesses – and businesses that service the needs of the Jewish market. Even office space in this unique “shtetl” goes at a huge premium, if one can find premises.
Harris has the final word: “I think the choice for the observant Jewish community is Glenhazel vs Ra’anana!”
Yochanan’s gamble: the controversial move that saved Judaism
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, known as the father of rabbinic Judaism, saved Judaism from complete and utter destruction during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. However, his methods weren’t without controversy. He was crafty, practical, and pragmatic, and history has questioned his behaviour ever since.
Limmud@Home on 22 August 2021 featured Marc Katz, the author and rabbi at Temple Ner Tamid in New Jersey, United States, who discussed Ben Zakkai’s controversial gamble that saved Judaism, and the lessons that can be learned from it.
The zealots, a group of religious fanatics in Jerusalem, wanted to fight the Romans. When the sages refused to engage in battle, the zealots burned wheat, deliberately causing starvation to make the people desperate and have no other option but to fight.
“Show me a method so that I will be able to leave the city, and it’s possible that through this, there will be some small salvation,” Ben Zakkai told Abba Sikkara, the leader of the zealots.
Heeding Sikkara’s advice, Ben Zakkai pretended to be dead. In a coffin, he could possibly travel outside the city to seek a solution with the Romans.
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua successfully carried Ben Zakkai past the guards, who were of the faction of the zealots, by telling them that they were burying the coffin outside the city.
When Ben Zakkai reached the Roman camp, he spoke to Roman leader Vespasian. Ben Zakkai helped Vespasian cure his swollen feet. Vespasian offered something in return, and Ben Zakkai asked for certain Jewish lives to be spared and doctors to heal Rabbi Tzadok.
Why didn’t he ask the Romans to spare Jerusalem? He maintained that Vespasian might not do that much for him, and there wouldn’t be even this small amount of salvation. Therefore, he made only a modest request in the hope that he would receive at least that much.
Katz said several lessons could be learned from this story.
He drew a comparison to US President Abraham Lincoln at the time of the American Civil War in the 1860s, who freed slaves.
“One of the things he’s famous for is that he surrounded himself with people who disagreed with him in order to build the best coalition and understand that he didn’t have all the right views in a time of discord,” said Katz. “So, many of his secretaries – like his treasury secretary, his war secretary – were people who were actually his political rivals but he brought them in because it was really important for him to listen to them. It was pragmatic because he knew the social capital he was going to gain from it. It was also hopeful because he wasn’t so caught in his ways that he couldn’t hear them out or heed their warnings. That is exactly what Ben Zakkai is doing. Not only is he creating this plot of land where he is going to save Judaism, but he is the kind of guy who tends to think about politics in the way he governs.”
Another lesson is to try to seek compromises, just like Ben Zakkai did with Sikkara.
A further lesson is to have love and kindness, not regret and hatred. Katz discussed what happened when Ben Zakkai was leaving Jerusalem with Yehoshua, and they witnessed the destruction of the Temple. “Don’t be bitter, my son, for we have another form of atonement which is as great, and this is [an] act of love and kindness [gemilut hasadim],” Ben Zakkai told Yehoshua.
An additional lesson is not to be afraid of people. If they kill you, you won’t be dead for eternity as there is life after death. But the supreme king of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, lives and endures forever and all-time, and if he kills you, you are dead for eternity.
“Yochanan doesn’t know if he is going to heaven or hell,” said Katz. “I truly believe that’s because he doesn’t know whether he made the right call or not – he doesn’t know if the pragmatic decision he made was better than going for broke and asking for Jerusalem to be saved.”
The dispersal of the Bukharian Jews
The story of the Bukharian Jews, a community with deep roots in Central Asia, is sadly coming to an end, but the community’s legacy lives on in the United States and Israel, where most of the remaining Bukharian Jews now live.
Uzbekistan-born Bukharian Jew, Ruben Shimonov, told of this little known Jewish group which emanates mostly from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, countries in the heart of the Asian continent.
Speaking to a virtual audience via Zoom at Limmud@Home last Sunday, 22 August, Shimonov said the different layers of culture, cuisine, music, and language in the region were an amalgamation of all the different cultures of Central Asia, and were also reflected in the small but deeply-rooted community of Bukharian Jews.
The Bukharian Jewish story begins with the Babylonian conquest of the ancient land of Israel, Judea, and subsequent exile of Jews east of the land of Israel to other regions of the Babylonian Empire, namely present-day Iraq and Iran.
The Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire in 539 BC. “Under the Achaemenid Empire, the king was a more benevolent king and he allowed Jews to return to rebuild Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash,” said Shimonov. “But many Jews stayed as they now felt safe and secure under this new reign and moved even farther east of this new large Achaemenid Empire. This, folks, was Central Asia.”
Shimonov believes that the Bukharian Jews were more integrated with the local non-Jewish communities in Central Asia than, for example, the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe.
“Even though Bukharian Jews for a large part of their history lived in quarters [maḥalla], there was constant interaction with the dominant societies amongst which they lived,” said Shimonov. “For example, the shashmaqam musical tradition is influenced by Sufi Islam, but many Bukharian Jews became the gatekeepers of this tradition.”
According to Shimonov, there are 250 000 Bukharian Jews in the world. Most of them now live in Israel or the United States, primarily in the New York City borough of Queens.
“In Uzbekistan, there are fewer than a thousand Bukharian Jews left – mainly elderly folk who are staying behind because it’s harder for them to emigrate,” said Shimonov. “Jews in Uzbekistan are highly protected; their safety is preserved. And Jews do go and visit Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, where there is one kosher restaurant and a couple of synagogues. But our story is quickly coming to an end in our place of origin.”
In the Tajikistan city of Khujand, where Bukharian Jews once enjoyed a rich communal life, the last remaining Jew, Jura Abaev, died in January this year. Zablon Simintov, a carpet trader who is the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan, is reportedly safe as the country comes under the control of the Taliban.
Shimonov, who emigrated from Uzbekistan three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said the main reason for the low numbers today was the struggle of the Bukharian Jews living in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
“State-sanctioned antisemitism and dispossession or marginalisation of Jews was part of that story even though there were more ups than downs. And then, the subsequent new instability of the newly formed independent republics – whenever new countries are formed after the colonial past there is more often than not a lot of political, social, and economic instability,” he said.
“As a democratic minority, we felt that even more. So, the urgency to leave was clear and present. In the decade of the late eighties to mid-nineties, we went from having the majority of our community living in this place where we had lived for centuries to the majority of our community living in a new diaspora. In Uzbekistan, the real impetus to leave was more about everything I mentioned than antisemitism coming from our Muslim neighbours.”
“Our Muslim neighbours were our friends, and we baked bread with them,” Shimonov said. “This is different to Jews coming from the Arab world, where Arab nationalism and Zionism came to a head in a way that the Jews were sadly caught in the crossfire.”
In contemporary times, Uzbekistan-born billionaire Lev Avnerovich Leviev and Israeli Dorrit Moussaieff are two of the Bukharian Jews who have made an impact. Known as the “king of diamonds”, Leviev annually sent large quantities of Passover food to Chabad emissaries in the Commonwealth of Independent States to distribute to Jews in these communities. Moussaieff, the former First Lady of Iceland, promoted Icelandic culture and artistic productions in the international arena.
Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi
More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.
Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.
Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.
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