Suffern girls school to move to old Frisch site
Miriam Bak, principal of The Bat Torah Academy The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School in Suffern, N.Y. has long dreamed of starting a school in Bergen County. Now, with her Monsey school moving to the old site of The Frisch School in Paramus in September, she will see that wish fulfilled.
A former resident of Teaneck the family moved there on the suggestion of Rabbi Stanley Fass, first rabbi of Cong. Beth Aaron Bak said she "fell in love" with the town, helping to found the nursery school at Cong. Bnai Yeshurun and providing an early home for Cong. Rinat Yisrael in her basement.
Her children attended the Yeshiva of Hudson County when it was in Union City, she said, pointing out that when her daughter Nomi was in the fourth grade there, "60 percent of the students were from Teaneck."
"I convinced the late Aaron Rosenbaum to move to Teaneck," said Bak, noting that she was subsequently involved in the school’s search for a new building. Today, the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey is based in River Edge.
After a year’s sabbatical in Israel, where her husband, Dr. Yosef Bak, lectured at Tel Aviv University and studied with Nechama Leibowitz at Hebrew University, Bak the first female Judaic faculty member at The Frisch School was approached by Berel Wein, dean of (then) Bas Torah, to lead the all-girls’ school.
"The school was small and thinking of closing," she said. "I was looking for a school for two of my daughters, in seventh and eighth grades, and I thought I could take it and mold it." Deciding not to return to Frisch, Bak took over leadership of the school in 1981.
"The first thing I did was change its name from Bas Torah to Bat Torah," she said. "I did it to signify our philosophy, to represent the school properly. Our advanced Judaic studies classes are taught in Ivrit, and I wanted to demonstrate our closeness to Israel."
In 1995, following the violent death in Israel of Frisch student Alisa Flatow, the name of the school was changed again. "Alisa’s three sisters attended the school," said Bak, pointing out that just as Alisa’s photograph hung in the old Frisch School, it will appear once again when Bat Torah occupies the building.
With about ‘0 students in each grade, Bat Torah places a high value on academic excellence, said Bak, adding that her own daughters’ accomplishments are typical of those achieved by graduates of the school. Her oldest daughter is an assistant principal at a yeshiva high school in Philadelphia. Another, with a doctorate in math, lives in Israel. A third, a math teacher, holds a master’s degree from Columbia University, while the fourth is a graduate of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
The school is very selective in the choice of faculty, Bak said, noting that all teachers have "at least a master’s and all share the same hashkafa [religious outlook]. No one will say to a student, ‘Why do you need to go to graduate school?’ or ‘We don’t march in the Israel Day Parade.’" Bak said the school has achieved "a sense of harmony; it’s how the school is." She said she is particularly proud of the tracking system, "where one subject doesn’t affect another," and of the variety of co-curricular offerings, from Torah Bowl to sports, as well as music and art.
The principal pointed out that Bat Torah students have traditionally come from diverse schools in Bergen County Yavneh Academy, The Moriah School, RYNJ as well as from schools in Monsey, Highland Park, and even Connecticut and Pennsylvania. "For ‘0 years we’ve provided door-to-door transportation from Teaneck, Englewood, Passaic, and Fair Lawn," she said.
With changing demographics in Monsey, she said, noting the movement of the religious community to the right, the board decided that the school should move. Not surprising, she said, the Bat Torah building has been bought by a "chasidische boys school."
Bak said she had been approached years earlier about moving to Teaneck, but, she said, "I was young and financially na?ve. Monsey was a rich and thriving Jewish community and we had a building. I thought, ‘How can we leave?’ It’s a case of the road not taken."
Seven years ago, when her board decided it was time to look for a new location, the school had its eye on a property in Hackensack, but the deal never materialized. In January, negotiations began for the former site of Frisch. Last Monday, the school learned that its offer had been accepted.
While Bat Torah, which Bak said "has very high academic aspirations," will rent the whole building, the school hopes ultimately to share the facility with other groups. "We’ll want to remain small," said Bak, indicating that she would not want more than 40 students per grade.
"We have to clean it up," she said, noting that the school has been vacant since Frisch moved, "and we have to give it ‘our touch.’ We’re coming from a beautiful building to a wonderful new place in the right community."