Northern New Jersey, which has the highest ratio of Jewish day schools to Jewish students in the country, will lose one of its yeshiva high schools next year, as Mesivta of North Jersey will close its doors.
The school, started six years ago as an outgrowth of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge, was meant to act as a receptor high school for graduating YNJ eighth-graders. It was funded in part with seed money from the YNJ board of directors, according to school sources, and YNJ’s dean, Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein, is listed as Mesivta’s dean.
Mesivta, which offered a more stringently Orthodox option to other local high schools such as The Frisch School in Paramus and Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, as well as an all-male atmosphere, was based in the Jewish Center of Teaneck.
But the Orthodox school left the Jewish Center three years ago to make way for the then newly formed Schechter Regional High School, which is Conservative.
After the school could not find affordable space in Bergen County, IDT founder Howard Jonas offered to house the school rent-free in his office building in Newark.
While the IDT building provided the school with all of the amenities it needed, such as a gym, a bet midrash study hall, and even a pool, the commute to Newark made the school a tougher sell to prospective parents, said Rabbi Michael Taubes, the school’s head.
"There is no local [Jewish] community here, and everyone is traveling here," said Taubes. "We had kids, but not enough to run the kind of educational programming we created the school to run."
Mesivta, said Taubes, has sent virtually every one of its students to Israeli yeshivas after graduation, but it has also placed its graduates in colleges such as Harvard, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins University.
But the school, which has some 60 students at a base tuition of $13,’50, gives away "hundreds of thousand of dollars a year" in scholarships, according to a board member who wished to remain unidentified.
While the board considered either raising tuition into the $’0,000 range or cutting some of its programming or 15-member staff, ultimately it made the decision around January that it would rather close its doors than offer a cut-rate or over-priced education, according to that board member.
The school would have needed about ‘5 students per grade to become economically viable, said Taubes, but its incoming class for next year was expected to be only about 17.
"I think it would have been easier in Teaneck," he said of the recruiting process. Now, Taubes thinks that students who might have gone to Mesivta will most likely end up at Yeshiva University’s Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy in Manhattan, Mesivta Yesodei Yeshurun in Queens, or possibly to TABC in Teaneck.
"Whenever any institution of education closes up, it is unfortunate, and it will have an impact on kids in our community," said Wallace Greene, the director of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Education Services. "Their kids will either come here [to Bergen County] or go over the bridge. Had they been in the community, perhaps it would have allowed them to sustain a larger student body."
Greene said that the federation reached out to Mesivta and offered to help it out financially if it could, but the yeshiva never responded.
"This wasn’t an easy decision," said Taubes. "There were thoughts that we should give it another go, but someone has to come up with the money to do that. And everything costs. Had we been anticipating a class of ‘5 to 30, it would have been a difficult decision, but we were kind of stuck in a rut."