A Jerusalem construction company has mobilized to help Israelis left homeless by the war with Hamas.
During peacetime, Hutzot Yerushalayim mostly builds residential buildings for ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, populations in Jerusalem. The company, owned by Haredi businessmen Yossi Schwartz and Yaakov Lipshitz, focuses on evacuate-and-rebuild programs (known as Pinui Binui) and various real estate ventures.
Now, during wartime, the company’s managers decided to house several families from the south in empty apartments free of charge until the war ends.
Most of Hutzot Yerushalayim’s clientele is Haredi, but the real estate projects also appeal to the wider population.
Avihai Deri, who has four young children and a fifth on the way, arrived in the country’s capital from Netivot, in the south of Israel. Deri works in a factory that produces Judaica goods, and his wife is a kindergarten teacher in Beersheba. Several days into the war, he began to search for a safer place for his family to stay.
With the help of family and friends, Deri came across Hutzot Yerushalayim, which placed him in a building in Ramat Eshkol, in north Jerusalem.
The apartment is in a building that’s set to be evacuated and reconstructed. Typically in such a case, the owners are housed elsewhere while the building is torn down and rebuilt. In the case of the building the Deris found themselves in, some of the residents had already handed their apartments over to the construction company, leaving them vacant, while others had not done so yet and were still living there.
The apartment was utterly empty when Deri’s family arrived, and when the neighbors heard this, they showed up with mattresses, sheets, towels, household goods and temporary furniture.
Deri told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, that once he arrived in Jerusalem with his family they “calmed down a bit.”
“My wife is pregnant and anxious. This apartment saved us. We’re in an apartment without a safe room in Jerusalem, but there’s a shelter on the ground floor. Since we arrived, there’s only been one siren, and we definitely feel much safer than we did in Netivot.”
Asked what else the Israeli public can do for Deri and his family, he responded: “I don’t know exactly what else we need. Our neighbors here organized and brought us things. We left our home in Netivot with our clothes and a few other things. I have to say, the people who gave us this apartment are Gur Hasidim, there’s nobody like them. They’re just perfect.
“We have some family in Jerusalem, my brother and his family, and my wife’s family. My wife is a kindergarten teacher in Beersheba, and I hope they’ll continue to pay her a salary. The factory where I work in Netivot is completely closed now. We are waiting for the Finance Ministry to publish the rules regarding financial assistance.”
Hutzot Yerushalayim’s Schwartz told Zman Yisrael that the company has so far prepared six apartments for displaced Israelis.
“I know that there’s one family from a kibbutz, and a secular family,” he said.
“I personally have no way of reaching the people who need apartments, so we turned to apartment brokers to help match us with families. Of course, everything is free of charge. The brokers work voluntarily and we give them the apartments for free.”
Schwartz added: “What we’re doing now is the minimum that we as citizens of the country can do. I wish we could give more.
“The buildings are slated for demolition in the future. One of the buildings we put tenants in is a building that already received all the permits for evacuation and reconstruction, and we already have building permits, but we stopped the process and let people live here.”
Schwartz says that their business is a well-known entrepreneurial company in the Jerusalem area with a turnover of about NIS 100 million a year.
“We have dozens of projects that are in various stages, starting with apartments that have already been evacuated or apartments that are about to be vacated. We did a quick mapping of the properties and decided to house as many people as possible who were evacuated from the Western Negev region.”
Schwartz believes in an ultra-Orthodox way of life. When asked for a photo of him and his business partner, he replied that he would prefer the story be published without their photos.
The story of their company, Hutzot Yerushalayim, is one of thousands of stories happening these days throughout Israel, of people from all walks of life who are acting in solidarity with Israelis in need.