Almond Heights is calling your name

Almond Heights is calling your name

A view of Migdal HaEmek, along the road from Nazareth to Tivon.

Each of the 12 tribes of Israel received a specific piece of the Promised Land.

Today, Jews returning to Israel may live wherever they wish. Most English-speaking immigrants gravitate to such central areas as Jerusalem, Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh, and Chashmona’im.

But escalating real-estate prices in these clusters are keeping people from making the move, said Soli Yisrael Foger of Englewood, who grew up in Israel, left in 1983, and is ready to return.

His solution to that problem: Create a new “American-style” neighborhood in the more affordable Lower Galilee as a communal aliyah project.

Foger has devoted the past four years to identifying a locale and getting officials on board with the plan. The next step is to motivate more than 200 other families to join him in moving there.

“I have never done anything public or political, but I am a big believer in the power of one, and no one has yet told me that there is anything that one cannot do, so I dream big,” said Foger, 59, an Israel Air Force veteran with an architecture degree from the prestigious Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Soli and Tani Foger with their sons and grandchildren.

Foger was born in Romania and moved to Israel when he was 10. He met his wife, Tani, a school psychologist brought up on New York’s Lower East Side, while leading a tour. They remained in Israel from 1978 to 1983, when Tani was expecting their second son. After raising their four sons in Englewood, the Fogers feel ready for a second aliyah.

“God gave me the chance to do it twice,” he said.

In meetings with such influential Israelis as Sylvan Shalom, who is minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee, and in his travels in the north, Foger discovered that although Israel is encouraging people to live in the Galilee – as is Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization that facilitates aliyah from North America – most existing communities do not have large blocs of housing available for a communal aliyah group.

And then he learned of an 1,800-unit neighborhood planned on the outskirts of Migdal HaEmek, along the road from Nazareth to Tivon. Migdal HaEmek is a religiously and ethnically mixed city about 25 minutes from Haifa and 40 minutes from the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret). It has high-tech parks, cultural and sports programs, an activity center for the elderly, easy access to several hospitals, and plenty of parks and playgrounds. The city received national education awards three times in the past six years. And Mayor Eli Barda is a rising star in the Israeli political galaxy.

“Some of my criteria were obvious, such as proximity to hospitals, transportation, and employment,” Foger said. “Others were less tangible, such as an attraction to a place, somewhere where people leaving their homes [in America] could decide it is worth taking the chance. A place they will forever love.

“But my above-all demand was to find a settlement or a neighborhood that can house not fewer than 250 families – and do it well.”

Speaking as an architect and urban planner, Foger said that the key to a successful community is community services, and decent services require a critical mass.

“They are building to ‘green’ standards, and the units are going to cost around NIS 1 million [$280,000] for 125- to 150-square-meter cottages and apartments,” he said. “I am hoping that efforts will go into American-style services and infrastructure. Otherwise you’ll have olim” – immigrants – “who become yordim” – émigrés.

He added that government subsidies will be available.

Rabbi Dr. Gershon and Dr. Mindy Gewirtz, of the Young Israel of Brookline, are partnering in the endeavor to attract people to this new home in Israel, which tentatively is called Ramat HaShaked (Almond Heights). The World Zionist Organization is the coordinator in Israel and is managing the recruitment process.
Foger posits that the time to make aliyah never has been better. “With the current economic climate, where young families cannot afford large enough homes for their families, and cannot pay the exorbitant tuitions for their kids at Jewish schools, the number of American olim to Israel has grown every year,” he said.

“Many immigrants come to Israel with existing marketing, trade, or customer-service jobs linked to the U.S., and need only a high-speed Internet line to support their families. And so, the thinking was that if we travel to all modern Orthodox communities in North America, we could easily attract the people we need, plus there are Israelis who want to return and Americans in Israel who would join.”

Foger says projects such as Ramat HaShaked provide a model for strengthening English-speaking communities, and in turn strengthening Israel.

“I can understand the doubts of an American moving to a place that is not exactly their style, but if I bring enough numbers we’ll have a hand in shaping it,” Foger said, adding that Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Ahavath Torah, who is the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, has pledged his support.

“Our real challenge is more to convince Migdal HaEmek of our strength, so as to create more than just affordable housing but a true community with all services necessary,” Foger said.

“Tani and I would like to be involved in creating the community. If we don’t succeed, maybe someone else will.”

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