SINAI on the move

SINAI on the move

From left, Rabbi Mark Karasick, SINAI chairman; Azi Mandel, chair, RYNJ building committee; Sam Fishman, consulting managing director, SINAI; Rabbi Yisrael Rothwachs, director, SINAI at Yavneh; Jonathan Silver, RYNJ officer; David Shapiro, SINAI president; Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein, RYNJ dean; Eli Weber, RYNJ president; Laurette Rothwachs, SINAI dean; and Barbara Goldstein, RYNJ director of the transitional program.

SINAI Schools will move its Bergen County elementary division for children with learning and developmental disabilities to the Rosenberg Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge next September.

The move from Yavneh Academy in Paramus, where the 24-student program has met in three classrooms for the past three years, became necessary because of a space crunch at Yavneh, said Sam Fishman, consulting managing director for SINAI Schools.

“Yavneh had planned to purchase the former Frisch building [in Paramus], and that transaction did not occur,” Fishman explained. “Also, Yavneh’s own population began to grow rapidly, and we found ourselves sharing limited and increasingly tight space almost from the beginning.”

By 2007, it became clear that Yavneh would not be able to accommodate SINAI past the 2008-2009 school year. “We wrote a letter to our parents explaining the situation and that we were committed to having an elementary school in Bergen County,” Fishman said.

SINAI has a larger elementary division in Livingston’s Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, but the commute from Bergen is long and expensive.

SINAI’s leadership held meetings over 18 months with representatives of the four Orthodox county day schools that refer children to SINAI – RYNJ, Moriah of Englewood, and Paramus schools Yeshivat Noam and Ben Porat Yosef – as well as with the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County. “They each turned themselves upside down to try to help us,” said Fishman.

SINAI Dean Laurette Rothwachs said she was heartened by the broad base of support. “We enjoyed seeing the cooperation and working together to make this happen,” she said. “The leaders of the schools understand how important it is socially for our kids and their parents to have connections in their own community.”

Until January, the best option seemed to be The Moriah School’s offer of a temporary solution. Then, RYNJ’s leadership realized that its planned extension, to be finished in time for the 2009-2010 school year, would have four extra classrooms available for a few years.

“We didn’t originally think we could help,” said Eli Weber, RYNJ’s president. “But when we found out they’d be happy to get space for a few years, it dawned on us that until we fill the building, we can give them the space.”

Weber said the school’s board approved the idea unanimously. “People are thrilled,” he said. “Part of hosting SINAI means mainstreaming its children with our children for social activities. We’re sure this will be a great thing for our students and parents and for their students and parents.”

Rabbi Mark Karasick, SINAI Schools chairman, said he has great expectations for SINAI’s future at RYNJ.

“Bergen County has always been the mainstay of our fundraising effort, and it is appropriate that it should continue to have a first-class SINAI elementary school in its midst,” Karasick said. “We are heartened by the warm welcome that we have received at RYNJ and feel honored and gratified that all of the local yeshivot, together with the RCBC and UJA, were involved in trying to provide us with a Bergen County home.”

“This will enable us to take children we could not have taken before,” said Rothwachs. “We get calls on a regular basis from all over, including New York. Plus, a significant number of Bergen County kids still have to go to Kushner, and if we can accommodate more of them locally next year, that also will open up spots at Kushner.”

She is hoping that the initial five-year commitment for the classrooms will turn out to be renewable.

“It’s been so hard on the parents,” she said. “Putting their kids in SINAI is difficult to begin with, and the Yavneh community had accepted them wholeheartedly. The idea of picking up these same kids – who have so much difficulty with transitions – and putting them in another school, especially short-term, was hard to contemplate. At the same time, our parents knew they had no other options for their children within a Jewish setting.”

SINAI, the only Jewish day school for children with special needs that has received accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, may even be able to expand its Bergen County elementary division from its current first- through fifth-grade structure. “We might think of a fully mature K-8 program in the range of 55 children,” Fishman said.

Rabbi Yisrael Rothwachs, director of the elementary division in Bergen County, said the program has thrived at Yavneh, but the tight space constraints posed an ongoing concern for both schools.

“We are very excited about the prospect of moving to facilities that will support our current needs and growth as well,” he said. “Our students will benefit from the availability of dedicated space for the individual instruction and therapies that we provide. Most importantly, I am so happy about partnering with my new colleagues at RYNJ because they, like my colleagues at Yavneh and all of our host schools, share SINAI’s vision of providing a quality Jewish education for all children.”

“The Arms of Sinai,” a song written by Fishman together with performer C Lanzbom of Soul Farm and Fools for April, will debut at the school’s annual benefit dinner, Feb. 8 at the Marriott Glenpointe in Teaneck. Lanzbom is the parent of a SINAI student.

Also to be debuted at the dinner is “Anny: The Poignant Story of a Remarkable Little Girl,” chronicling the successful integration of a legally blind, academically gifted child into SINAI’s elementary school program.

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