Young voices will again ring through the former site of Metropolitan Schechter High School when Ben Porat Yosef moves its elementary grades to the Jewish Center of Teaneck in the fall.
BPY, housed in Leonia’s Cong. Sons of Israel for the last seven years, has long sought a larger space. After Schechter announced its closing in August, BPY’s leadership decided to see if the space would be a good fit.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Center was looking to fill its own gap.
Schechter had paid rent to the center through the end of August, although the school had left a skeleton staff in the building through the end of October to forward student records to their new schools. The center allowed Schechter two rent-free months, but it needed to make up the loss of $170,000 in annual rent.
"We were looking for another rental situation that would be beneficial to the community as well as to us from an income point of view," said Howard Wang, the center’s president. "We thought this was an ideal match."
Although neither Wang nor BPY officials would comment on the new school’s rent bill, Wang said it would be comparable to Schechter’s.
Wang looks forward more to what BPY brings with it, though: Children.
"Anything that brings young kids into our institution is a win-win deal for everyone," he said. "It’ll be great having young kids running around again. It could be a very positive situation for us down the road as we look forward to our new directions."
At present BPY has 170 students. Its vice president, Yehuda Kohn, estimated that 80 to 90 students would attend classes at the center.
"This gives us the option to grow," he said. "It’s a perfect fit for the next few years that allows us to provide everything our kids need."
Currently, BPY goes through only fourth grade. It will add a fifth grade class next year and move its first through fifth grades to the Jewish Center in September. The school will continue to add a grade each year as it grows.
The school’s early childhood classes pre-k, nursery schools, and kindergarten will remain in Leonia. Rosh yeshiva Tomer Ronen will move between the two schools while Stanley Fischman, director of general studies, will run the elementary school.
While BPY’s students come from northern New Jersey and some parts of New York, and the school offers an Orthodox Sephardic education, Wang was hopeful that some of the families would make new homes at the center.
"If the school works out for them they might decide to move into the community," Wang said. "It opens up a new horizon for us as far as getting people into our building."
Kohn, who helped negotiate the arrangement between the center and the school, said he would like to see the relationship between the two organizations grow. Already, he said, they have benefited each other.
"At the end of the day we felt this was less of a business transaction and more a quasi-merging of similar long-term goals," he said. "We saw that through our discussions that the synergies would be very positive and useful."
For BPY’s administration, the Jewish Center’s amenities made it an easy choice. The school will be able to use its swimming pool, library, and soon-to-be renovated gymnasium.
"We are moving to a space designed and created for a school," Ronen said. "Lockers, classrooms up to date with technology, everything is ready for a school. We don’t even need to paint the walls."
Teaneck’s more central location in Bergen County than Leonia was another selling point, which Ronen hopes will attract more students from Paramus, Fair Lawn, and Englewood. The center’s proximity to Teaneck’s library, municipal hall, and Holy Name Hospital also presents learning and community service opportunities for the school.
But BPY’s leaders know it will eventually outgrow the space and need to either move or renovate. The yeshiva would like to eventually reunite on one campus as well, Kohn said. He recognized that the center might not be able to accommodate the reunification but said it was still a few years off.
"If the opportunity presented itself and we could be unified [at the center], it would be something we’d consider," he said.
Parents were introduced to the Jewish Center last week and reacted enthusiastically, Ronen said. Acknowledging the space issues, however, he called the Jewish Center a temporary solution.
"We are looking to have the long-term solution soon," said Ronen. "But in the meantime the Teaneck Jewish Center is the perfect solution for our school."