Yeshivas Ohr Yosef settles in New Milford
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Yeshivas Ohr Yosef settles in New Milford

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Cong. Beth Tikvah in New Milford is the new home of Yeshivas Ohr Yosef.

Moving in the middle of high school can be tough, but after completing a major move last week to the New Milford Jewish Center almost halfway through the school year, the students of Yeshivas Ohr Yosef are settling in just fine, according to the administration.

The boys’ yeshiva high school started in 2007, with a group of 16 ninth-graders, at Cong. Kehillat Kesher on the Englewood/Tenafly border. With 28 boys enrolled for the 2009-10 year, the school’s third, its director, Rabbi Herschel Grossman, decided Ohr Yosef had outgrown the space.

Classes began in September at a temporary home at the Union for Traditional Judaism in Teaneck, but Grossman kept an eye toward a larger, permanent space. Last week, after some last-minute negotiation, Ohr Yosef moved into the lower level of the New Milford Jewish Center.

“We’re hoping coming into this permanent location – into a real school facility – will put us on the map as a viable option for eighth-grade students and their families,” Grossman said Tuesday as students scurried through the halls of their new home.

“It’s developing into more of a school now,” said Jacob Raskind, a 17-year-old junior from Teaneck. “It’s like a big family here.”

The school is the brainchild of Grossman and its president, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, who is also the rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore. The duo wanted to create a traditional-style yeshiva in Bergen County with rebbe-student relationships and an emphasis on Talmud study, while also stressing general studies. The school offers SAT and college prep and, once the student body grows enough, according to Grossman, it will add advanced placement courses.

“The goal is to inspire our students,” Grossman said. “We feel that during the teenage years there are many temptations competing for the hearts and minds of our youth. We strive to imbue them with a love of Torah and Torah study.”

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Rabbi Herschel Grossman

Most of the students come from around the New Jersey/New York area but five are from as far away as Cleveland. These students end up boarding with local families through the year.

“It’s a big move,” said Dovid Wertheimer, a 15-year-old sophomore from Philadelphia who stays with a family in Passaic. “When I got here I was scared I wouldn’t know anybody. You learn to live on your own. It’s a good experience to have.”

Grossman, who also teaches a Talmud class at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, hopes Ohr Yosef and its students will be able to reach out to the wider New Milford community. While the school was housed at Kehillat Kesher students did community service at Englewood Hospital. Grossman said he would like to see students also begin volunteering at the Jewish Home Assisted Living, Kaplen Family Senior Residence in nearby River Vale. Area residents would also be welcome at the school for special Judaic classes, he added.

“We would like to reach out to the community,” he said.

Faced with shrinking numbers, Cong. Beth Tikvah, the Conservative synagogue that owns the NMJC, had announced in September its intention to sell the building to Torah Links, an Orthodox outreach organization. The congregation would then rent space on the top floor of the building, which includes the sanctuary, social hall, and kitchen. Torah Links, in turn, had planned to rent most of the lower level to Ohr Yosef.

The sale of the building to Torah Links has been agreed upon, but the final details of the contract are still under legal review, according to Bob Nesoff, president of Beth Tikvah. To save time and because Ohr Yosef needed a permanent home, Beth Tikvah agreed to lease the lower level to Torah Links, which in turn is subletting to Ohr Yosef.

“At the last board meeting, the board voted unanimously to go ahead and enter a lease [with Torah Links and the yeshiva],” Nesoff said. “They also realized that if we said no now, it’d only be a matter of time before the sale and Torah Links [rented to Ohr Yosef] anyway.”

Nesoff expects the sale to be completed within two to three months, at which point Beth Tikvah will begin paying rent and Ohr Yosef will become a primary tenant of Torah Links. Until then, Beth Tikvah’s leadership appears satisfied with the arrangement.

“The yeshiva needed a good place,” Nesoff said. “This gives them a chance to spread out a little bit.”

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