Students “were treated as individuals,” Stephen Flatow said of the school that bears the name of his daughter Alisa. “Teachers never hesitated to look face to face with a student,” added Flatow, a member of the board. “It was also the hands-on approach … that made it so special.”
That school – Bat Torah – The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School, an Orthodox girls’ school that was set to move from Paramus to Teaneck this summer, is closing instead. Miriam Bak, the school’s principal, attributed the closing to a sudden and unexpected drop in numbers in the 11th grade.
She said that classes had ranged from 10 to 15 students over the past few years, with an incoming class that was “closer to 20,” but a few 11th-graders dropped out “very recently,” and that “tips the scale. The numbers are too small and we’re too vulnerable – when your numbers are small, you’re very vulnerable.”
She suggested that students switch schools for social and not educational reasons.
Bat Torah was founded in 1978 in Suffern, N.Y. According to a mission statement on its website, www.battorah.org, “Our primary and ultimate goal is to produce a mature, self-confident young woman who combines strict adherence to Torah and mitzvot with the ability to relate to society at large.”
“Our immediate goal,” the statement continued, “is to provide each of our students with the basic knowledge and the thirst for learning which will inspire her to continue both her Jewish studies and her secular studies far beyond high school.”
In 2008, the school moved from Suffern, N.Y., to the former Frisch School building in Paramus, renting the space from Frisch (which had moved to new quarters) and subletting some of it to Ben Porat Yosef, an elementary school. The roles were reversed when Ben Porat Yosef took over as principal tenant.
Bat Torah had planned to move to the Jewish Center of Teaneck this summer and prepare 11 classrooms there for the beginning of the school year.
But instead, said Bak, “we have until the end of the month, which is this week, to clear out of the Frisch building. I have invited a few yeshivot to ‘inherit’ whatever items they can use.” The remaining items will be sold.
The JCT was one of the first places Bat Torah had in mind when moving to Bergen County. In a newsletter published on the Bat Torah website, dated May 27, 2011, Bak wrote, “As you may know, we were hoping to move to the [JCT] three years ago, and it wasn’t available. Now, we are very excited to tell you that we will be moving there over the summer.”
In subsequent newsletters, Bak expressed concern about moving costs. On June 15, she wrote, “We’re getting estimates from the movers and the price quotes are frighteningly high.”
Bat Torah had already placed a deposit for the JCT space. “They have been wonderful to us, and we were so excited to be located in their space this fall,” said Bak. “It is very sad,” she added.
The Jewish Center of Teaneck will be left without a tenant.
JCT’s Rabbi Lawrence Zierler would not comment on the closing or its impact on his synagogue, saying, “it’s too early, too new to discuss.” He had only praise for the school, however. “It’s a wonderful school with great teachers, great administrators, and even better students.”
Stephen Flatow also was not prepared to discuss the closing. “We are now formulating a response” to it, he said. “This is a very emotional time…. It’s going to take time to recover from this.”
Three of Flatow’s daughters, Gail, Francine, and Ilana, attended the school.
Flatow held open the possibility that the school would reorganize and eventually reopen, but “definitely not this year…. We will miss it dearly.”
|‘She had a warmth about her’|
|Alisa Flatow, a 20-year-old Frisch School graduate and Brandeis University student, was killed, along with seven Israeli soldiers, in a suicide bombing in the Gaza Strip on April 9, 1995. She was on a public bus in transit to the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom.
Flatow had volunteered to teach children there while taking a semester off from her junior year. She also studied at the Nishmat seminary in Israel.
“She had a warmth about her, a real inner beauty that surrounded her,” said Rabbi Saul Zucker, Flatow’s former teacher and associate principal during her time at the Frisch School, in an interview immediately after her death.
U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey called her “an exceptional young American dedicated to Judaism, her people, and to Israel. She will be deeply missed.” More than 2,000 people attended her funeral in West Orange.
Bat Torah Academy, then in Suffern, N.Y., changed its name to Bat Torah ““ Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School, in her memory.
After the death of Alisa her parents, Rosalyn and Stephen, established the Alisa M. Flatow Memorial Scholarship Fund, to award grants to students for post-high school study in Israel. Scholarships are provided to those with academic promise in religious subjects and financial need. The scholarship fund is administered by the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest NJ.