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Realtors Meeting Special Needs of Valley’s Orthodox Jews

In today’s uncertain real estate market, buying a home often takes an act of faith. Some purchasers, though, take that act of faith very seriously.

Take Harry and Stacy Stark, for example. When this young couple set out to find their first home, they had one very important priority. “We wanted a home within a walkable radius to more than one synagogue,” Harry Stark said. For this couple, walking to synagogue isn’t just a convenience--it’s a requirement. The tenets of Orthodox Judaism forbid the faithful to drive a car on Saturdays and on holidays.

The Starks will soon be moving into their first home--a three-bedroom, two-bath residence on Collins Avenue that they are buying for $225,000. One of the home’s best features, they said, is that there are at least four synagogues within a one-mile radius.

Homes within walking distance to temples--especially Orthodox synagogues--have become a big attraction in the Valley. And, the burgeoning Orthodox communities of the Valley have encouraged a growing number of realtors to specialize in locating homes that are often advertised in newspaper real estate sections with headlines like “Walk to Temples.”

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“My specialty is finding homes in walking distance to a synagogue,” said Bracha Samet, the agent at Exclusive Realtors in North Hollywood who helped the Starks with their recent purchase. “The closer to the temple, the more Orthodox buyers you’ll find,” she said. And, “the closer you are, the more expensive the property.”

There are now about 10 Orthodox synagogues in North Hollywood, Valley Village, Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys, Samet said, plus synagogues for more liberal-minded Jews.

Samet noted that Orthodox buyers have other unique requirements when they go house hunting. “They look for big dining rooms where they can celebrate Sabbath and holiday meals with family and friends. It’s a very important feature,” Samet said. They also want kitchens with two sinks and enough room to accommodate separate dishes for meat and for milk, as is required by Jewish law.

Another big draw for many Orthodox buyers in the Valley is what’s known as an “eruv.” According to Jewish practice, the faithful may not carry anything--not even the keys to their house--unless they’re in a fenced-in or defined area, known as an eruv. The Valley’s Orthodox community has created an eruv that stretches roughly from Sherman Way on the north, the Ventura Freeway on the south, the Hollywood Freeway on the east and the San Diego Freeway on the west, said Marvin J. Sugarman, rabbi at congregation Shaarey Zedek on Chandler Boulevard in North Hollywood.

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This eruv is one of only a handful in Los Angeles, said Sugarman. “It has given the area a great boost,” he said.

If you’re confused about what an eruv is, Sugarman says, “it’s a legal fiction--they’re imaginary walls.” The “fence” of this “fenced-in” area is made up mostly of freeway fencing and wire that’s been strung atop utility poles--some under Rabbinic supervision.

Sugarman’s synagogue in North Hollywood has become a magnet for Orthodox Jews in the Valley. “We have probably been one of the most stabilizing organizations in the entire area,” Sugarman said. “We too have suffered from the depressed real estate market, but very few of our members have moved out of the area.”

Shaarey Zedek is close to several other synagogues as well as to a host of kosher butchers, bakers, restaurants and even a kosher pizza parlor. The synagogue’s membership was also a bastion of support for Richard Riordan, Sugarman said. And, he’s proud of the fact that his congregants helped lead the fight to nix a proposed light rail project along Chandler Boulevard.

“Increasingly, we’ve had more people moving into the neighborhood to be in walking distance to our congregation,” said Bittan Joshua, president of Em Habanim Sephardic Congregation on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in North Hollywood. This synagogue started in 1974 with just a handful of members. Now the congregation has its own building and a membership of about 300 families. Orthodox buyers are attracted to the idea of not just buying a house but buying into a community, Joshua said. “They’d get more for their dollar elsewhere, but here they get proximity to a synagogue and neighborhood stability.”

Mimi Karsenty, an agent with Century-21 Realty in North Hollywood, agrees with Joshua. “Prices have remained very stable and most homes sell within about 60 days,” in areas close to synagogues, she said. Often the best way to sell a home is to post notices on local synagogue bulletin boards, she added.

One example of just how powerful an influence the Orthodox have had on the neighborhood is in the area of Magnolia Boulevard and Bellaire Avenue. Almost every one of the more than 10 recently constructed homes in the $600,000 range have sold to Orthodox families, Karsenty said. “Usually there is more demand than supply.”


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