Israel property a hot commodity for U.K.s Orthodox Jews

london | The British weather might have been cold and cloudy, but visitors to London’s first-ever property fair for fervently religious Jews were focused on warmer climes.

More than 1,000 people flocked to a recent event in London’s heavily Jewish Golders Green neighborhood, astonishing organizers who had booked a small hall, expecting a low turnout.

“The consultants told us that normally 50 percent of people come for a day out and 50 percent because they’re interested in buying,” said Yeshua Jacob, U.K. manager of Hamodia, the Orthodox newspaper that sponsored the fair. But this time, he said, 95 percent “were there to buy.”

The 4-year-old intifada is proving to be a spur, rather than a disincentive, for Orthodox British Jews to invest in Israel. The surge is borne of feelings of solidarity amid the violence, rather than concern over rising anti-Semitism at home, Jacob said.

“England is quite a safe place, not like Europe,” he said.

While some Orthodox buyers are considering aliyah, or immigration, many are inspired more by what they see as the mitzvah inherent in buying property in Israel. There are more pragmatic reasons too: With a large proportion of Britain’s Orthodox community involved in the property business, investment in Israel is an attractive option at a time when U.K. prices are high and good properties hard to find.

The Zionist Federation has held Israel property fairs in London before, but this was the first event specifically geared to the needs of the Orthodox community.

The strength of the British pound against the Israeli shekel also makes it a good time to find a holiday home, or a sunny spot for retirement.

As in other property deals, the main criteria are location, location, location. For speculation, Orthodox Jews are interested in mainstream properties in locations such as Netanya and Tel Aviv. But for a second home, there’s only one place for the discerning religious buyer: Jerusalem.

Moishe Gross, a father of six, already had booked a follow-up meeting in Israel with one exhibitor to look at some Jerusalem properties, both as an investment and as a vacation home, he said.

Gross visits Israel up to six times a year and wants to have a base there. With his eldest child now of bar mitzvah age, Gross anticipates sending him to a yeshiva in Israel — a common Orthodox rite of passage — in the next three or four years, with the rest of his children following later.

Among the 14 exhibitors at the event were Israeli property companies, banks and representatives of various Israeli cities hoping to attract investors. Organizers said one stand closed 20 deals during the afternoon.

“It was the first time I was at something like this in the U.K., and it was excellent,” said Orna Zouari, sales director of the Sea Opera development in Netanya, an Orthodox-friendly project. A luxury two-tower residential development with a spa and 24-hour security, it also has Shabbat elevators and separate beaches for men and women only 100 yards away.

That’s because 95 percent or more of the buyers are observant, Zouari said.

“Last month most of my buyers were religious Jews from England,” she said. “I told the organizers of the fair that if they make it once a month, I’ll come from Israel.”

Another incentive is the fact that Sea Opera flats start below $370,000 — less than the cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Golders Green.

Jacob, who estimates the size of Britain’s fervently religious community at around 18,000, already was making plans for another fair.

“Next time,” he added, “we’ll hire a hall double the size.”