Flatbush builder makes dream of upscale Eden a reality in Israel

The ranger's green jeep bounces up the torn-up road, its tires springing over the rough, muddy track.

He brakes suddenly in the middle of a grassy field, the overgrown weeds spotted with clusters of purple cyclamen and red poppies.

We climb out of the dusty vehicle and find ourselves looking over fields and hills of green grass and wildflowers.

"This," declares Jack Leibowitz, "is Eden Hills."

For 13 years, the Brooklyn builder has envisioned a Middle Eastern Eden, the suburban Jewish dream in Israel. His plan was to build a comfortable haven for well-to-do immigrants, transporting American Jews from their secure, suburban homes in Englewood, N.J., or Lawrence, Long Island, to equally affluent digs in the Middle East.

Now, after 13 years of wrangling and negotiating with the bureaucratic nightmare known as the Israeli government, it looks like Leibowitz's dream is going to come true, and his garden community will get built, with the first phase of construction taking place this year.

"I invested my life savings in this project," says Leibowitz, who moved to Jerusalem from Flatbush six years ago with his wife, Devorah, and their two daughters.

"I always believed in it, but I also believe in making money."

Jelco, Leibowitz's construction company, recently won the rights to this 200-acre property of valleys and hills, and will build Eden Hills in the Elah Valley, which is situated roughly between Beit Shemesh and Tzur Hadassah, next to two moshavim, Aviezer and Roglit. It was the third site sought by Leibowitz, who has persistently negotiated with the Israel Lands Authority, often attempting to work directly with Ariel Sharon, whom Leibowitz says has always supported the project.

Think of it as a town with the country charm of New York's Catskill Mountains, coupled with the high-priced village character of the Hamptons.

Leibowitz calls it Israel's Englewood.

"I could never understand why people with million-dollar houses in Flatbush and Lawrence would go to moth-eaten cabins in the Hamptons or Catskills for the summer," he says. "So I figured I'd try to replicate the elements that draw people to that natural environment."