By Bracha Schwartz
The Israel of today, known for high tech and innovation, is a thriving, modern country, with throngs of American Jews making aliyah to call it home. It wasn’t that way when Shelly Levine moved there 40 years ago. She has helped transform Israel into a sought-after destination by working with builders to create new, nurturing communities and improve the quality of life.
When observant Americans are looking to buy real estate in Israel, as a home or as an investment, it’s likely they will find their way to Levine. Her company, Tivuch Shelly, has offices throughout the country and specializes in selling in new and existing communities that attract Anglos, working exclusively with quality builders. She knows what will attract American buyers and uses her influence to shape new communities by consulting with builders to include the services and educational structure residents need.
Levine is currently immersed in selling a new 750-unit complex in Ma’aleh Adumim. She convinced the builder that more than a supermarket, the community needed a gorgeous shul. “I’m known for bringing rabbis into communities,” she said. “The builders support the rabbis until the community gets started.” Levine is very excited about this project. “Ma’aleh Adumim is one of the best small cities in Israel,” she said. “It’s close to Jerusalem and affordable. These are gorgeous luxury apartments. Instead of buying a one-bedroom in Baaka, you can buy a three- to four-bedroom apartment in Ma’aleh Adumim. We hired a rabbi out of Chicago that Yeshiva University helped us find.”
Although the complex is just being built, Levine has already sold 25 units to Americans, without using advertising or brochures—all word of mouth. “A lot of people know that when we put our name on a project, it will be exactly the way we say it’s going to be,” she said. “I just sold a bunch of apartments in Ramot. One buyer said he called up his sister in Ramot Aleph to ask her opinion. She said, ‘If it has Shelly Levine’s name on it, buy it.’”
Levine has been a committed Zionist since she was a teenager. At summer camp, she met a girl whose parents were Holocaust survivors, and she told the girls in the bunk about the concentration camps. “We didn’t believe her. No one discussed the Holocaust in the 60s,” said Levine. “I went home and read Holocaust books, and then I read ‘Exodus.’ I became a Zionist.”
But it wasn’t until 1978 that she made it to Israel with her late husband Charley. A rising public relations executive, he was recruited for a position with the government. He became a consultant to national leaders in Israel, and promoted Israel to the leading politicians and executives in the U.S., eventually starting his own company, Lone Star Communications.
Levine enjoyed traveling with her husband—she has been to 67 countries— but felt she needed her own niche. She had always been a go-getter. Her mother passed away when she was 9, and when there was a school vacation day, she would accompany her father to his business. As a college student, she was president of the Jewish Student Union. In Israel, she had planned to take a job with Amit Women, but needed all her energy to settle in a new country and care for her new baby. But after a while, she got restless. “I was in culture shock, with no family and little kids to care for,” she said. “In 1986 we flew back from a trip to New Orleans and I said, ‘I’m not happy, I have to do something for myself.’” Together, they came up with a list of 10 or 15 things she could do. Real estate was the winner.
“I thought, ‘I have a degree in social work, I’ll help settle people.’”
Levine started her real estate business at the kitchen table. Shortly after, she went with her husband to Bet Shemesh, where he was needed for a minyan at a cemetery. At that time, the only Americans there were the ones being buried. Levine saw the potential in Bet Shemesh to become a vibrant community. “High tech was coming in and it was suburbia, like Levittown after World War II,” she observed. “We needed a place between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with quality of life.” She met a developer who had 1,000 units there and told him she wanted to bring in American buyers. She succeeded so well that a house was recently sold there for almost the same amount that the builder had paid for all the land.
Tivuch Shelly works as a bridge between builders and buyers from the beginning of the process to completion. Her social work skills help guide potential homebuyers to the right community. “When someone calls who wants to move to Israel, and they don’t know where to go, I always ask if they have children, and if they have any kids with special needs. It makes a difference where they should be.” When a buyer chooses a property, she explains all the logistical details so there are no surprises. “Nobody buys until we have a discussion over the phone, Zoom, or in person about financing, bank guarantees, and taxes.” She has a technical staff to work with the builders, and she is in contact with buyers every couple of weeks to keep them apprised of the progress.
Levine and her company work with investors as well as with people looking for a home. If an investor wants to rent the apartment, she’ll handle it without a fee to ensure suitable tenants. And if they want to flip the property at completion, she’ll handle that sale, too, without a fee. “No financial investment is greater than real estate in Israel—people have made a fortune with me.”
Now is the right time to buy in Israel, said Levine, either as an investment or with an eye to moving in the near future. She sees anti-Semitism pushing people from many countries including Britain and France to move to Israel. “There’s not going to be enough housing, so buy now if you’re thinking of making aliyah in three to four years,” she advised.
COVID-19 has not dampened the real estate market, although it kept Levine on an extended vacation with family in Englewood. Still, in the several months that she was here, she sold many apartments. Now back in Israel, and vaccinated against COVID-19, she is continuing to work on building up the country she loves.
“After 2,000 years of Jews being in galus, what better privilege than to be involved in building Eretz Yisrael,” she said. “In my generation, Israel developed into an amazing country, right before my eyes. I believe I have played a small part in the history of the Jewish people, by settling all these Americans in Israel.”
For more information, call Shelly Levine at 646-704-1185, an American cell phone number, or in Israel, 050-7264376. E-mail email@example.com or visit TivuchShelly.com.
Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Link of NJ.