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At left, Board of Trustees President Virginia Feldman addresses the crowd. Right, Gary Forman, a past RGHDS board of trustess president, and his wife, Marsha (center), a school nurse, take in the news the school will close. Jeff Karg

After 40 years, the Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School in Rockland County is closing its doors, causing “a lot of sadness” in the community.

“It’s the end of something really special in our county,” said Debbie Roth, vice president of the New City school’s board and the parent of Gittelman alumni.

Headed by Teaneck resident Rabbi Scott Bolton and serving students from a handful of Bergen County families, the school, serving Pre-K through 8th grade, will dissolve at the end of the current school year.

“We’ve had a drop in enrollment over the last few years,” said Roth, noting that changing demographics and widespread economic woes have taken their toll on the school. Parents were informed of the decision on Jan. 10. The board voted for the closure on Jan. 9.

Roth said volunteers are working to create a new entity in the area.

“They’ve hit the ground running,” she said, describing efforts already under way to launch the Rockland Jewish Academy, for children in Pre-K through 5. Families of middle school children would need to look outside the community for a day school.

“We’re hoping to keep a school here in our community,” she said, noting that the new school would be run under the auspices of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester and will be housed at the Rockland Jewish Community Campus in West Nyack.

“Our school is unique in terms of the spirit and Jewish feeling we create,” said Roth, stressing the importance of maintaining a Conservative Jewish day school in Rockland County. “We focus on teaching kids about values, and about caring for others. We’ve produced a generation of mensches.”

“They’re Torah readers at their shuls and they have ‘that feeling’ about being Jewish,” she said. They’re also strong advocates for Israel. It’s about educating the whole person.”

“We will write the final chapters of our school’s story with Jewish values at the core, like when our founders created our house of learning,” said Bolton. “Over 40 years, so many gave so much and gained so much. While our hearts are heavy, so many Jewish journeys and mitzvot can be counted in Gittelman’s legacy. A next generation of American Jewish leaders was taught where they come from, who they are, and how to live lives of Torah.”

“Our students will be our legacy,” said Bolton. “They are prepared to live as global Jewish citizens and advocates for education, Torah, compassion, justice, and Israel – and we can count on them to make the next centers of Jewish community and learning.”

Roth said the board considered many different options before reaching its decision. Ultimately, however, the numbers proved decisive.

“Our enrollment declined from a high of 350 students to 157 kids,” she said. “Over the past two years, we’ve seen a dramatic decline.”

“I really hope the new academy will take off,” she said, adding that presentations have already been made to families and parlor meetings are being scheduled. For more information about RJA, visit www.rocklandjewishacademy.org or e-mail info@rocklandjewishacademy.org.