Old City tents city
Tent protesters outside Jerusalem Old City demonstrating against rising rent prices. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Students and young people around the country have pitched tents to protest high housing prices, but a seeming lack of pronounced Anglo presence among the shanties may be due to rent subsidies immigrants receive.

According to Rachel Sarafraz, the student union representative for Anglo students at Bar-Ilan University, many of her peers support the student protests in principle, but most of them are not as hard-hit by the high cost of housing because they are entitled to rent subsidies, and their university tuitions are paid for by the state. In addition to this state-sponsored bundle of benefits, some students are getting help from their parents, says Sarafraz.

Rising rental prices spurred by a housing boom are taking a toll on young people and students struggling to make ends meet. Students and youth began setting up tents earlier in the week in public squares in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other large cities and the demonstrations have spread from the country's north to south, gripping the nation in the process.

Haaretz reporters scoured the protest camps of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the tents of native-English-speaking students, to no avail. Chris Fox, a 21-year-old tourist from Tampa, Florida, expressed empathy for the protesters he passed just outside the Old City walls of the capital. He noted that the U.S. economy has sunk into recession, reducing the purchasing power of young Americans, as well. "I support them because we have a similar crisis in America. People can't afford anything anymore, really," Fox said.

For those who have immigrated to Israel in recent years, discovering the extent to which one's earning power has been diminished can be jarring in the extreme. Before 22-year-old Katie Advocat moved to Tel Aviv two years ago, she was living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a large, luxurious apartment in a safe neighborhood. Working around the clock as a dancer, dance instructor and media planner, she says she now makes much less money than she did in the U.S., and the cheapest apartment she could find in Florentin is cockroach-infested.

Advocat ends off each passing month with a deficit, and she says that she's too embarrassed to tell her friends and family back in Brooklyn how deep in debt she really is.

"They see me smiling in all my photos on Facebook," Advocat says. "I don't want to spoil their image of Israel."

Passing through the tent city lining Rothschild Boulevard, she says that her spirits were briefly lifted by the knowledge that she wasn't alone in her dire straits, but sadness soon set in just as quickly, once she realized how widespread the crisis is.

"Taglit never told me how hard it was going to be here," she says. "In retrospect, I would make more money working at McDonald's back in America." Her landlord has announced that she plans to renovate the building, but that she will not be renewing any rental contracts in the interim, and Advocat says she is dreading the task of apartment hunting.

Earlier generations of Anglo immigrants didn't have to face the same set of problems, said Ronen Eidelman, 40. Eidelman, born in New York, moved with his family to Jerusalem at the age of seven and has lived in metropolitan Tel Aviv for the last 15 years.

"I, personally, am in a different position, because I'm older and I managed to establish myself when it was still possible," he says. He now teaches art at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, and with hard work and some help from his family he was able to purchase an apartment in Jaffa, so he is not directly affected by the housing crisis.

But he says he has been frequenting the protest tents night after night to demonstrate solidarity with his students.

"Today, for young people, it's impossible to live in Tel Aviv, and in many other places in the country, even if they're working full-time. More than half their salary goes to rent, and then there's other expenses, like food, transportation and all that," says Eidelman. "When I moved here as a student, we were students working student jobs, and people were renting apartments here on Rothschild Boulevard, not to mention in South Tel Aviv, in Florentin. We had nice, big apartments for reasonable prices. We were working and studying, but we were also able to be creative, and make culture, and not only be slaves to our jobs in order to survive."

Nadav Kenigsvain, 37, moved to Tel Aviv from Toronto just over a decade ago, and says that upon his arrival, "the cost of rent wasn't crazy," but that he has seen it double in the intervening years.

What's worse, he says, is that salaries don't correlate to the price index, so over the years, he's woefully watched his rent checks eat up bigger and bigger chunks of his take-home pay.

He says that while immigrants get subsidies, many may have trouble finding co-signers for rental agreements without family or large networks of friends in the country, a problem other renters don't face.