Baka is a lovely upscale community located in southern Jerusalem. Baka is Arabic for “valley,” which alludes to Emek (or Valley of) Refaim, which runs along the western border of the neighborhood.
Situated between the German Colony to the north and Talpiot to the south, Baka was established in 1892 when the railroad line from Jerusalem to Jaffa was completed. In the 1920s, during the British Mandate period, wealthy Christian and Muslim Arabs built magnificent homes and moved into the neighborhood. With the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1948, the Arab residents abandoned their homes and fled the neighborhood.
Soon afterward, the Israeli government moved immigrant families, primarily from Morocco, into the deserted buildings. Unlike their predecessors, the new inhabitants were indigent, and each family received one to two rooms for their usage. In addition, the government built low-cost stucco-faced “shikunim” housing projects in empty lots to provide shelter for the thousands of Jewish immigrants who had been expelled from neighboring Arab countries. Baka was renamed Geulim, meaning “redemption,” because the immigrants felt redeemed from the bonds of the Diaspora. As is the case with a number of Jerusalem neighborhoods (such as Katamon, whose official name is Gonen), the new Hebrew name Geulim was never accepted by the public.
After 1948, neighboring Old Katamon and the German Colony attracted academics, doctors, lawyers, and political leaders. As a result, Baka started to gentrify as families desiring to live near these prestigious communities started purchasing homes in Baka. Initially, many buyers had shunned Baka’s run down housing stock for modern residential buildings. But starting in the early 1980s, it became fashionable to purchase and renovate the attractive Arab-style houses which boasted high ceilings and oodles of charm. The community, within a half hour walk of the Kotel, became a magnet for religious families. Today, Baka boasts many thriving synagogues, including Nitzanim, Yedidya and the Yael shul, plus the neighborhood is home to a number of outstanding elementary and high schools.
For a relatively small community – population 10,000 – Baka has a broad range of religious observance. The population is about 60% religious – primarily Dati Leumi or national religious – and relations between the observant and secular residents are positive and respectful.
In addition, Baka has a large percentage of English speakers, as a quarter of its residents were born in the United States and other English speaking countries.
One bastion of the Baka community was Ulpan Etzion. Founded in 1949, Israel’s first Hebrew-language school is the model for all ulpans across the country. A few years ago, their lease expired and the school was forced to vacate its large 18 dunam (4.5 acre) campus that was located in the center of Baka. The program moved to nearby Armon Hanatziv, and the former campus is now a residential development site. I am working with the developer, an experienced and financially sound company, in marketing the 180-unit project, whose first buildings will be ready for occupancy within three years. Initial buyer interest from within the Israeli community and from foreign buyers has been strong, confirming the huge pent up demand for luxury housing in this tight-knit, well-located and welcoming community.