It’s time to grow

It’s time to grow

The Torah Academy of Bergen County plans to expand, renovate, and move into the future

Architectural renderings show the building as it will look after the expansion and renovation are complete.
Architectural renderings show the building as it will look after the expansion and renovation are complete.

Of all the problems a Jewish day school could be facing, the one confronting the Torah Academy of Bergen County is the best one. It’s a good problem.

TABC is running out of space.

The all-boys modern Orthodox high school has as many students as it can pack into its Teaneck building; large numbers of them stay after school to learn, play sports, and be together. As its science programs grow, so does the need for space for the equipment those programs need. And TABC also houses one of the Sinai School’s Karasick Shalem high schools.

The problem does have an obvious if complicated solution. Expansion!

Architectural renderings show the building as it will look after the expansion and renovation are complete.

So, its rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Joshua Kahn, said, “We are launching our Building Our Future campaign. We are going to expand the building by adding a second floor, and we will punch out and square off a side of the first floor.” That means that the footprint will not get much bigger, but the available space will be doubled.

“Three things happened that made us realize that this is the time for us to engage in this expansion,” he continued.

First, “we’ve been in conversation with Sinai for about seven years.”

The Sinai Schools, also Teaneck-based, enroll non-neurotypical students and offer them an education tailored to each child’s specific, idiosyncratic needs. The students in its Shalem high schools, most of whom do not continue their educations in college, have their own classes but share some afterschool and lunchtime programs with the neurotypical students in whose schools they are housed.

Rabbi Yosef Adler is TABC’s rosh yeshiva emeritus.

“Sinai needs more space,” Rabbi Kahn said. “We value our relationship with Sinai, and the benefit that both our student bodies, ours and theirs, gain from sharing the building. We at TABC appreciate the role that Sinai plays in the school and in the community.”

Those discussions took as much time as they did because covid interrupted them, Rabbi Kahn said. Once the pandemic ended, construction prices went way up. But now is the time.

Secondly, “Thank God, TABC is growing,” Rabbi Kahn said. “We want to go from strength to strength. We want to be able to meet the needs of our students and continue to build. We want the facilities to meet our needs.”

This year’s freshman grade enrolled 83 boys, he said, and the incoming grade will have 88. The goal is to remain in the 80s, or perhaps have as many as 90-plus.

A TABC student makes music in the school’s studio.

But it’s not only the number of students in the grade that matters, Sharon Rifkind, its director of institutional development, said. “As we grow, we also are growing our curriculum. We have more classes now, because we didn’t offer the large number of enriching electives that we do now.”

Those electives aren’t really STEM classes, Rabbi Kahn said. STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. They’re STEAM; the extra letter, A, is for Arts.

The third stream of thinking that went into the decision to expand now came from the school leaders’ desire to honor Rabbi Yosef Adler, TABC’s rosh yeshiva emeritus, “who built TABC to where it is today,” Rabbi Kahn said. “We want to pay tribute to him.” Rabbi Adler is important not only to the entire community but to Rabbi Kahn in particular. “He hired me. He was my mentor. He shaped me. He shaped TABC, and more broadly, he shaped the Teaneck community.

“The plan is to name the building the Yosef Adler Building.”

TABC students learn together in the beit midrash.

“It is an $8 million project,” Rabbi Kahn said. “We have been engaged in the silent part of the process. We have been going out to higher-level donors and our leadership. We have been fundraising.

“Most of what we’ve raised is from alumni families, from families who want to make sure that TABC continues to be a strong institution, and from families who want to honor Rabbi Adler. There is really strong interest and excitement from alumni parents, and from community-minded parents who understand the role that this school and that Sinai play in the community, even if they didn’t have sons here.”

So far, TABC, partnering with Sinai, has raised about $6 million. Now TABC is launching the expansion project and opening it to the entire community.

“Our commitment is to raising the rest of the money, because it is very important to us that this be done in a financially responsible way,” Ms. Rifkind said. “We are sensitive to tuition. It will not rise based on this project, on a building fund, or additional debt. We will raise all the money we need for it, so that our regular operating budget can be used for the education that will take place in this beautiful building.”

Student videographers work in the studio.

When the construction is complete, Sinai, which is scattered throughout the building now, will consolidate on the second floor, although TABC will have some new classroom space there as well. TABC will be able to use the reconfigured space downstairs, including the spaces that had been dedicated to Sinai.

“We talk about the campaign as honoring our past and building our future,” Rabbi Kahn said. “We will take what Rabbi Adler built and continue to build on it. Our goal is to magnify everything that he did. He stressed the primacy of talmud Torah, both in TABC and in the Teaneck community. He brought a high level of learning to both the school and the community. So one of our goals is to take our beit midrash, expand it by 50 percent, with a beautiful glass wall that you’ll see as soon as you walk into the building.”

The space the school uses now already is beautiful, “but it doesn’t meet all our needs,” he said. More than half the school’s students stay for afterschool programs that should be in the beit midrash, “but we don’t all fit in it,” Rabbi Kahn said.

Until now, the building’s growth has been higgledy-piggledy, with adjustments made as necessary or as soon as possible. “It’s about 30 years old,” Rabbi Kahn said. “It was a warehouse, and we tried to create a school out of it. About 12 years ago, we added a two-floor wing on the Queen Anne side of the building. At the time, it met our classroom needs, but it didn’t give us all we needed for our communal needs.”

A student conducts an experiment in the science lab.

“We built a beautiful makers’ space and a learning center,” Ms. Rifkind said. “We have done what we can with the space we have. At this point, there’s not much rejiggering we can do.

“We have a lunchroom and a lunchroom auxiliary and a café, but everything is here, there, and everywhere.”

“When the expansion was done 12 years ago, it was about adding classes,” Rabbi Kahn said. “We didn’t start knocking down walls or reconsidering space. Now, we are going to gut the center of the building.”

The new first floor will have a student center. “It will be the lunchroom, lounge, a place where students can be comfortable, a kind of café/lounge hybrid,” Rabbi Kahn said. “One of the features of TABC is that it really is a home for our students. They are here all day. They need a place where they can socialize, work, unwind, or just sit around between school and a sports game.”

TABC students go for lunch in Teaneck.

He returned to the importance that his mentor, Rabbi Adler, placed both on limudei kodesh, but also on secular academics. “He believes strongly in Torah umadda” — the importance of studying both Torah and more worldly matters. “Our science labs are about 25 years old,” Rabbi Kahn said. “To be able to offer a first-class academic science experience, we need science labs that can support it. Now we have one lab. We want to turn that space into two state-of-the-art labs. We will have a science wing, and we are creating an art and elective wing right next to it.

“We have a music program, but it has outgrown its space. Interest in it has skyrocketed.” The school also wants space for studio arts, podcasting, and videography. “In an all-boys environment, we need space for our students’ various interests,” Rabbi Kahn said. “Our students do not fit into a one-size-fits-all mold. They all need their own space.

“The beauty of electives is that you can work collaboratively. When musicians and sound engineers finish their work, they need designers to create their album. It’s all interdisciplinary, collaborate work.” Soon there will be room for all of it.

“Our plan, God willing, permitting willing, is to start work on the second-floor addition. Once that structure has been built — it will not use our building as support — work can continue on it during the year. Once that is done, we can start to move Sinai up to the second floor. Post Pesach, we hope to start work on some of our current spaces.

Sinai students get individualized learning inside TABC.

“Our goal will be to sequence the work so we can use it in September 2026,” Rabbi Kahn said.

Over at the Sinai Schools, academic and administrative leaders are excited about the renovation. “Sinai has been at TABC for 34 years, and over that time we have profoundly affected not only several generations of Sinai students, but also thousands of TABC students and the broader community by helping to normalize the inclusion of people with development or learning disabilities,” Sam Fishman, Sinai’s managing director, said. “TABC was our first high school, our second school overall, and our first school in Bergen County.

“Back then, I was on the board when we approached TABC. The world was very different back then, and it was a big deal.

“At Sinai’s 2020 dinner we honored Rabbi Adler. That honor was in conjunction with Sinai having been at TABC for 30 years. When I approached him about it, he told me how proud he was to have Sinai within TABC, and he spoke very eloquently about how the relationship benefitted TABC’s students and faculty, and how he benefitted personally as an educator, as a rabbi, and as a human being. To quote Rabbi Adler, he said that Torah teaches us, and Sinai reminds us, that every person was created in the image of God, that every person has value, that every person is to be respected, and that we can learn something from everybody. He said — and these are his words — that every TABC student has gained as much, if not more, than the Sinai students from the friendships and the interactions.

TABC students take a walk in Teaneck at lunchtime.

“Perhaps the great proof of Rabbi Adler’s point is that many TABC graduates have become our supporters. In some cases, they have become significant supporters. One of our leading board members became involved in Sinai at a very young age because he grew up side by side with Sinai students at TABC.”

Rabbi Yisrael Rothwachs is Sinai’s dean. “We are very excited about this expansion,” he said. Part of the excitement is practical. “We will be able to create a teaching kitchen,” he said.

Now, Sinai uses an outside space to teach kitchen skills, but once the second floor is done, TABC will be able to use it for its own culinary club. “It’s another way to foster inclusion,” Rabbi Rothwachs said. It’s one of the many ways, big and small, that the two schools work together, to work toward goals that they share. TABC treasures the inclusion that brings its students together with Sinai students, and the whole community benefits from it, he believes.

“We are extremely grateful to the small group of donors who made it possible for Sinai to partner with TABC in this project,” Mr. Fishman said.  “These donors are individuals and institutions who care about both Sinai and TABC. They care very deeply about Sinai remaining at TABC – which, God willing, will now be assured for the indefinite future.

“We are thrilled to be able to continue to grow together with TABC.”


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