Up until recently the overwhelming majority of English-speaking olim have tended to settle in the evirons of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. While Israel's largest cities can boast significant English-speaking expatriate communities they are hobbled by real estate prices unaffordable to all but the wealthy. Real estate prices in Tel Aviv are obscene. In Jerusalem they are ungodly.
Real estate prices in Ashkelon are less than half that in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. It is possible to enjoy a very high quality of life at significant savings versus the tradtional Anglo areas of settlement. We have large numbers of olim arriving from France and the former Soviet Union but Anglos have yet to discover our humble little jewel by the sea.
Each city in Israel has its own unique character. Tel Aviv is liberal and secular. It is known as one of the most gay and lesbian friendly cities in the world. For young hipsters Tel Aviv is where it's at and nowhere else will do. In contrast, Jerusalem attracts olim who are overwhelmingly Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox.
Ashkelon's flavor is neither as liberal as Tel Aviv nor as religious as Jerusalem. There is neither great poverty nor great wealth. Just about everyone is either middle or working class. A majority of the population keeps kosher to some degree. Many self-identify as "traditional" rather than "religious". To describe the atmosphere as family-friendly would be a gross understatement. Kids are everywhere. Our beautiful beaches are full of famlies with children. On holidays the Ashkelon National Park is one big family cookout.
From an Anglo perspective the primary disadvantage of Ashkelon is the small size of the English-speaking community. However in the age of the internet this factor is far less imporant than it once was. It is no longer necessary to knock on your neighbors' door for advice. Moreover, if you want to learn Hebrew and integrate into Israeli society outside the local Anglo community you will be far more motivated to do so in Ashkelon than in Herzliya or Beit Shemesh.
what about the rockets?
Unfortunately Ashkelon only appears in the English-language press when Hamas are shooting rockets at us from Gaza. This tends to give Ashkelon an undeserved reputation as a dangerous place. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I lived in Ashkelon through operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in July 2014. Of the hundreds of rockets fired at the city only a handful landed within the city limits causing property damage but no casualties. The Iron Dome missile defense system is a magnificent piece of technology which has done a superb job protecting the residents of Ashkelon.
While the air raid sirens can certainly be unnerving, I would rather deal with this than the type of terrorism one encounters in Jerusalem. In the capital Palestinian terrorists attack random people with knives or vehicles without warning. Many have been injured and killed. These types of terror attacks, and the resuling paranoia, are unheard of in Ashkelon. The siren goes off, you walk to your safe room, wait a few minutes and then life goes on.
A given community's succeptibility to so-called lone-wolf terror attacks is influenced by, among other things, its proximity to Arab population centers. The closest Arab population center to Ashkelon is Gaza which is protected by a border fence patrolled by the military. There are no mosques, churches or Arabic-speaking schools in or around Ashkelon. You can drive from Ashkelon to Modiin on Highway 3 without seeing a single minaret. I can't think of a single busines with an Arabic-lettered sign in Ashkelon. Russian, French, Amharic, English - sure. Arabic? Nope.
The religious life in Ashkelon is varied and diverse. The majority of observant people are Sephardic, and there are shuls catering specifically to the Moroccan, Tunisian, Lybian and Yemenite communities. There are three Ashkenazi shuls which are most popular with the English-speaking community.
Kehillat Netzach Israel is one of the oldest Conservative (Masorti) synagogues in Israel. It is very popular with the expatriate community. They have a website in English and Hebrew: www.netzach-israel.org.il
Their facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/kehillatnetzachisrael.ashkelon
The Central Barnea Synagogue is located on Yiftah Hagiladi Street near the Kupat Cholim Clalit Clinic. They have a facebook page:
The Central Afridar Synagogue is located on Zonabend Street near the Ganei Shimshon hotel. They have a facebook page (Hebrew only): www.facebook.com/pages/בית-הכנסת-המרכזי-אפרידר-אשקלון/282122668580246
There are no churches or mosques in Ashkelon.
The overwhelming majority of restaurants in Ashkelon are kosher. Having said that, there's kosher and there's kosher. Almost all the meat restaurants and chain restaurants are certified kosher with a hechsher from the Rabbinate. There are quite a few family-owned dairy cafes which are open on Shabbat but which serve only kosher food. Because they are open on Shabbat they are ineligible for kashrut certification from the Rabbinate.
Almost all of the restaurants at the marina are open on Shabbat and therefore ineligible for official kashrut certification. There is a new shopping center on Rehavam Zeevi Street with an Italian bistro, American-style steakhouse, sushi/noodles restaurant and a shwarma place, all certified kosher from the Rabbinate.
There are a handful of "pork and shellfish" unkosher restaurants, including the Chinese restaurant next to the post office on Ort Street and Nitzachon on Herzl Street serving traditional Romainian cuisine.
In terms of grocery shopping if you want unkosher food you have to look for it. The major supermarket chains such as Supersol and Victory sell only kosher food. We have a branch of Osher Ad which caters to the ultra-orthodox community. We have a new, large branch of Tiv Taam which is popular with the Soviet emigre community and which is most certainly not kosher. It is the only major supermarket open on Shabbat.
The process of applying for a mortgage in Israel is rather different than what you are accustomed to overseas. Unless you are experienced in foreign financial transactions I do not recommend attempting it on your own. We recommend the services of Mortgage Israel, a firm specializing in helping English-speaking olim obtain residential financing.
I personally used their services when I purchased my home and can vouch for their high levels of service and professionalism. Please visit their website at mortgageisrael.com