Growing up in Bergenfield, I was instilled with a strong sense of Zionism from an early age. Throughout my life, I have observed the profound and enduring connection between the American Jewish communities and Israel. I made aliyah at the beginning of 2020, and after concluding my service as a lone soldier, I embarked on a career assisting foreign clients in their pursuit of Jerusalem real estate. The dream of owning a home in Israel holds a special place in the hearts of countless Jewish families worldwide, even when immediate plans for aliyah are not on the horizon, and I enjoyed being able to help these dreams come true.
After the horrific events of October 7, as real estate professionals in Jerusalem, we understood that we were in a unique position to help families who were forced to flee their homes near the Gaza Strip. Avi Goldberg, CEO and founder of City of Gold Apartments, and Ben Levene, CEO and co-founder of CapitIL Real Estate, undertook an emergency housing initiative in memory of Nathanel Young, a British lone soldier who served in the Golani Brigade, who was killed on October 7.
As olim, we possess a unique ability to bridge the support from American communities and aid Israeli families in need. We began reaching out to clients, and over the past month, we have ’onboarded’ over 70 apartments that have been used to house families from areas such as Sderot, Netivot, Ashkelon, and more. Homeowners have voluntarily offered their apartments, providing refuge to families that have experienced something unimaginably horrific.
Many of the families from the South were previously unaware of the American Jewish communities’ support. I remember placing a family in an apartment, and when they inquired about how these accommodations were made available, I explained that it was American homeowners opening their Jerusalem homes, waiving rent, covering expenses, and donating essential supplies and food. Their faces lit up in amazement at how people living halfway across the world could have such a profound impact on their family.
Over 150,000 individuals have been evacuated from the regions surrounding the Gaza Strip, each with tragic stories that weigh heavily on our hearts. Shirley, a resident of Netivot, was at home on the morning of October 7. Her family was in and out of their secure room (mamad) all morning when suddenly they heard a group of people outside. Fearing terrorists had infiltrated their area, Shirley was terrified but then realized that the group outside was yelling desperately for water. A group of young adults had fled the Nova Rave, running until they could barely stand. Shirley and her husband welcomed them into their home, providing water, sustenance and emotional support until they could be safely evacuated. Shirley herself was eventually evacuated from her home, and we were fortunate to offer her family a temporary home in Jerusalem.
Shirley expressed her gratitude to City of Gold: “I want to say thank you to City of Gold for all their kindness and assistance, for providing us with an apartment and welcoming us with open hearts and warmth. We received an apartment, food, toys and games for our children. Our volunteer coordinator, Hendelle, brought us everything we needed, sat with us, and is always available to help with anything we need. To everyone, I can only express my profound gratitude for your generosity.”
Shirley’s story is just one of the many heart-wrenching accounts I’ve encountered in my work with families from the South. Each time, I’m left thinking, “This must be the most horrific experience someone can endure,’ only to meet yet another family bearing the weight of another devastating story. These families have no home to return to. The relentless sound of rockets falling nearby, claiming the lives of their loved ones, has shattered these communities. The list of tragedies seems endless, and the trauma these families have shouldered is simply incomprehensible. I have had families calling me in the midst of panic attacks, feeling isolated, and with no one else to turn to, they called the people who helped them secure a place to live.
One father shared the devastating reality that his 15-year-old daughter no longer has a school to return to, as more than half of its students have been injured, kidnapped or killed. He shared how they hid in their mamad for hours, while his daughter was texting all her friends, receiving messages in her friend’s group chats that their houses had been lit on fire, that terrorists were at their door, and she watched as her friends went silent one by one.
I’ve witnessed families arriving in Jerusalem with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, traumatized by their experiences. The transformation I’ve witnessed in these families, from the day they arrived to two weeks later, after receiving our support, is beyond words. Just last week, I received a call from one of the mothers who had recently moved into one of our apartments. She could barely speak, and it was difficult for her to form a coherent sentence. She pleaded for my help, explaining that she was grappling with the trauma of her recent experiences and had no one else to turn to. I was able to reassure her that we were there to support her and would make sure she received the necessary help.
This week, her husband reached out to me. He was overwhelmed with gratitude, expressing his heartfelt thanks for the assistance we provided to his wife. He believed we had not only helped her but saved her, and his appreciation knew no bounds. What we’re accomplishing is making a real difference in people’s lives. We are, in fact, saving lives. It’s a truly indescribable feeling.
What We Do
The COG Apartments Emergency Housing Project has successfully relocated over 600 people to apartments in the Jerusalem area. Upon securing the homeowners’ approval, we diligently assess and prepare each apartment to ensure it is suitable for living. Within a mere 24 hours, these accommodations undergo a comprehensive cleaning, receive complete furnishing, and are stocked with essential supplies. Furthermore, every family placed in an apartment is assigned a dedicated volunteer coordinator who ensures they receive comprehensive support, including access to food, mental health services, activities for children, and more.
You Can Help!
Many families are still trapped in their homes within the war zone, enduring the constant threat of rockets and the distressing sounds of war emanating from Gaza. Every explosion they hear deepens their trauma. We urgently require additional apartments to provide refuge for these families.
If you are contemplating selling your home, the entire process can proceed while a family stays there. One of the conditions is that the apartments must be maintained in a clean and presentable condition for potential showings. We have successfully implemented this arrangement in several cases, resulting in positive experiences for all parties involved.
Additionally, homeowners planning renovations or complete overhauls of their apartments can also use their apartments for a family, since damage is not a major concern, and we can manage the cleanup, furnishing, and other necessary preparations.
If you own an apartment in the Jerusalem area, I urge you to get in touch to explore the possibility of offering your home to assist these families. To arrange a conversation, please reach out via WhatsApp at +972-58-564-6062 or send an email to [email protected].