The Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies, which enrolls nearly 300 students in grades eight through 1′ each year, will expand its programs in September to a satellite campus at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake. In addition to its Sunday morning programs at the Frisch School in Paramus, where it has been for 33 years, the school will begin a Monday night series in Temple Emanuel’s Hebrew school classrooms, beginning at 6:45 p.m.
"I want to emphasize that this is in addition to our regular program on Sundays," says BCHSJS principal Fred Nagler, who is celebrating his ‘5th year with the school. "We are not cutting back in any way there, just adding Mondays in a cooperative venture with Temple Emanuel."
Temple Emanuel, which has long been the only Conservative synagogue in Bergen County with its own Hebrew high school, approached Nagler about taking over its school. "Every year I get around to most of our ‘feeder schools,’" says Nagler. "Emanuel’s Rabbi Benjamin Shull was interested in pumping up their enrollment and asked if we’d take over their school, which was running on Sunday mornings as well. I said, no, that we couldn’t do that at the same time as ours." During subsequent discussions, the idea of BCHSJS opening another program at the synagogue was born. Monday was chosen as the best night, with fewest conflicts with other activities.
"I had been thinking that our students would benefit greatly from being with students from other congregations," says Shull, who is close to finishing his second year with the congregation. "There was a reluctance initially because we’ve had our own program for so long."
The BCHSJS program in Woodcliff Lake will be open not only to Temple Emanuel’s members but to any teenager who wishes to participate. The High School of Jewish Studies held an open house on April 30 at Temple Emanuel for teenagers in grades seven through 11 and their parents, inviting them to come learn about the new program, and 60 people attended. After an orientation, the students attended two simulated classes while the parents heard a panel of current BCHSJS students and parents, followed by a question-and-answer period.
"The response from the kids was very positive," says Shull. "There was a really great buzz going after the open house."
Any student enrolled full-time in the BCHSJS program at either site is entitled to participate part-time at the other location. The Paramus program offers two semesters of 15 weeks each. Every student must take three classes each semester, all electives. This will also be the format at the Woodcliff Lake location. All students will be eligible for the program’s other components, including shabbatonim, trips to Israel, and weekends in camp.
"Now the kids who have sports or other commitments on Sunday morning will have another option," says Nagler. "We also expect to pull in some new students. There’s a mindset that Paramus is too far away to come for some kids, but now they can stay in their home synagogue or close to it and still meet new kids."
One of the Temple Emanuel courses will be on Jewish culinary arts, which the school was unable to offer in Paramus.
BCHSJS is sponsored by the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and ‘5 synagogues, most of them Conservative, but some Reform, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist as well. Full-time enrollment costs $930, plus a $100 registration fee. Many of the sponsoring synagogues contribute $115 towards tuition for each student from their congregations.
Nagler said that the risk was greater for Temple Emanuel but that there had been no resistance to the venture. "They’re the ones taking the chance; they have a lot to lose," he asserted. The one teacher who had been working in Temple Emanuel’s Hebrew high school will be moved to the congregation’s Hebrew school.
"I’m very attracted to the idea that we can attract young people from all over northern Bergen County and establish our synagogue as a place where people can come for substantive Jewish learning," says Shull.
"As for how many students will attend our Monday evening campus in Woodcliff Lake, we don’t know," Nagler admits. "However, we expect most of the students currently attending Temple Emanuel’s upper school, plus a large portion of their seventh-grade students, as well as others from northern Bergen County and Rockland County."