Middle-class Modi’in, New Home of Israel's Rich and Famous

The city’s Buchman section has quietly become home to businesspeople, politicians and wealthy English-speaking immigrants.

When Moti Ben-Moshe first surfaced in Israel’s public consciousness at the end of last year as he and Argentine property mogul Eduardo Elsztain made an audacious takeover bid for the IDB group, much was made of where lives: Modi’in, a medium-sized city off the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway.

Tycoons, and aspiring tycoons like Ben-Moshe, tend to live in tony towns in the greater Tel Aviv area like Herzliya Pituah — the home of IDB’s previous controlling shareholder, Nochi Dankner — or Kfar Shmaryahu.

But Modi’in is conventionally thought of as a place of safe and secure middle-class comfort, with a nice shopping mall and good schools, not mansions and country clubs. The fact that Ben-Moshe chose it as his home might seem to attest to a relatively modest lifestyle, perhaps a sign of how the new regime at IDB will conduct itself.

But irrespective of what happens at IDB, the giant conglomerate that controls Super-Sol and Cellcom, to name just two of its businesses, Ben-Moshe’s hometown is no middle-class enclave. Without much fanfare, Modi’in’s Buchman neighborhood is rapidly turning into one of the country’s most prestigious residential areas. Having become home to many members of the business world’s elite, as well as high-ranking public officials and top-level professionals, Ben-Moshe's ascendance to the top of the Israeli business world will raise the neighborhood's profile even further.

In addition to Ben-Moshe, notable Buchman business leaders include Israel Electric Corporation chairman Yiftach Ron-Tal; Avi Gabay, the former CEO of Israeli telecommunications giant Bezeq and Azrieli Group CEO Yuval Bronstein, who heads the holding company that includes some of Israel's leading shopping centers and offices, including the Modi'in mall.

The neighborhood is also home to political and religious leaders including Pensioner Affairs Minister Uri Orbach, MK Yariv Levin of Likud and Israel's Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau.

In addition, a number of Buchman residents aside from Ben-Moshe played a key role in ending Dankner’s reign at IDB.

The two officials appointed by the court to oversee the conglomerate during its restructuring both live there: Eyal Gabbai, a former director general of the Prime Minister’s Office and of the Government Companies Authority who was appointed to supervise IDB’s activities, and Chagai Ulman, a partner at the commercial law firm Yehuda Raveh who was appointed as outside observer on behalf of the official receiver.

Another Buchman resident, Moshe Haviv, is an owner of the firm hired by Gabbai to appraise IDB’s value and played a role in verifying Ben-Moshe’s finances before the court made its final decision to hand IDB over to him and Elsztain. “The entire transfer of IDB ownership could have been handled at the corner grocery shop,” quipped a neighbor.

The neighborhood is more than the sum of its IDB–affiliated inhabitants, though.

“Buchman has become, to a large extent, a prestigious suburb drawing Jerusalem’s well-to-do seeking quality of life,” says Lior Roth, CEO of Ramot Real Estate, which is marketing a new project in the neighborhood by construction company Ashdar. “Many professors and faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are buying homes there, as well as senior government officials.”

About one–third of the neighborhood is comprised of religious Jews, nearly all religious Zionist and largely immigrants from English-speaking countries, says Roth. “Americans and British come on aliyah, sometimes in groups, directly to the neighborhood, and you can now find complete communities there,” he says.

Luxury at a (relative) bargain

Established just 20 years ago, Modi’in already has a population of more than 80,000. Many sections of the city are identified by the names of their planners, and Buchman is no exception, with the name referring to the architectural firm that planned the neighborhood. Officially, the area consists of two neighborhoods: Hashvatim, or North Buchman in local lingo, which has a population of 6,000, and the newer Moriya neighborhood, usually referred to as South Buchman, which has had 4,500 people move in since construction began seven years ago.

The last of Buchman’s low-rise terraced multi-family building projects are now under construction in South Buchman by developers including Levinstein Group, Avisror Moshe & Sons, Klod Nahmias and Ashdar. The Buchman Gold project is being developed jointly by several firms. Although there is a scattering of low-rise apartment complexes, the area has a large concentration of detached and semi-detached homes.

As to why this particular neighborhood has become a hub for luxury housing, Sharon Ben Zvi, marketing manager for the Levinstein Group, explains that Modi’in is regarded as one of Israel’s wealthier cities, with a rating of eight out of 10 on the Central Bureau of Statistics’ socioeconomic scale — a rating its shares with Herzliya and Ra’anana. Buchman has a large selection of detached homes, so it naturally attracts wealthier people.

Another factor that doesn’t hurt is the fact that the neighborhood is bordered to the east by the tony suburb Re’ut, a small town of single-family dwellings with a reputation of its own for high quality that was amalgamated into Modi’in in 2003.

Levinstein is building five terraced buildings containing a total of 73 units priced at 2.3 million shekels ($660,000) for a five-room apartment and 2.6 million shekels for a six-room apartment, according to Ben Zvi. A survey of neighborhood prices found that in the Ashdar project, penthouses start at 3.1 million shekels for 160 square meters plus a balcony of the same size. They reach as high as 3.7 million shekels for a 167-square-meter unit with 340 square meters of balcony space in the Klod Nahmias project.

Among single-family homes, the price range is still far below those in the more traditional luxury areas of Herzliya Pituah or Ra’anana.

A 110-square-meter five-room house on Reuven Street in North Buchman recently sold for 2.19 million shekels, according to the Israel Tax Authority. It said a 180-square-meter six-room house on Esther Hamalka Street in South Buchman went for 3 million shekels.

Except for a few exceptional cases, prices range between 2 million shekels and 3 million shekels, reflecting an average price range of 15,000 shekels to 20,000 shekels per square meter of indoor space.

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