In a move described as a “win-win” by both, Yeshivat Netivot Montessori will leave its longtime Edison home for the East Brunswick Jewish Center.
The growing Orthodox day school will move July 1 from Conservative Congregation Beth-El in Edison, where it has been housed since its inception 14 years ago, to space vacated by the Conservative-affiliated Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley when it closed in June.
“We are so excited about the move,” said head of school Rivky Ross. “The synagogue building has so many amenities and we are out of space at our present location. We are really bursting at the seams.”
The school, which now has 120 students in kindergarten-eighth grade, has been adding grades over the years; its first eighth-grade class was graduated last year. However, its lower-grade classes have also been growing, said Ross, necessitating renting space for the last several years in a building on Raritan Avenue for its early childhood program, which begins at infancy.
“We expect even greater enrollment after the move,” said Ross. The new facility has “beautiful science labs, a beautiful gym with basketball courts, a beautiful stage, and room for us to grow. It will also allow us to have students from different age groups interact with each other. Our middle schoolers can see toddlers. Our kindergartners can visit our first grade to see what it’s like.”
Many of the school’s students are from Highland Park and Edison, but in recent years it has begun to draw youngsters from Elizabeth, Linden, and Long Branch. Ross said Netivot is working on busing and carpool plans that will enable all current students to make the move to East Brunswick.
For EBJC, which is Conservative, filling the classrooms abandoned by Schechter when it closed after 31 years fills both a financial and emotional void. The school wing is attached to the synagogue and was constructed for Schechter, which paid $100,000 in annual rent.
“Having a Jewish school back in there fulfills all our dreams,” said EBJC copresident Eric Rabinowitz. “It was everything we wanted to replace Schechter: a Jewish school on the exact same schedule as ours, and a school that will draw Jews to East Brunswick. It’s an exciting time for us.”
The loss of Schechter had placed a financial burden on EBJC. While he would not say how much rent Netivot would be paying, Rabinowitz acknowledged, “We will be making up what we lost with Schechter.”
The Pre-Collegiate Learning Center of New Jersey, a small nondenominational Jewish high school that combines traditional classroom teaching with computer technology, is also housed at EBJC.
However, the surprise loss of Netivot has Beth-El scrambling for a new tenant to take its place, said its religious leader, Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg. “We were very pleased to have housed the Montessori all these years and did everything we could to help them succeed,” he told NJJN.
Netivot, which describes itself as a “centrist” Orthodox school, was the first Jewish day school in North America based on Montessori teaching methods, in which students are given more independence and freedom of choice than in a traditional school. Montessori launched a Jewish teacher training center two years ago for educators across the country.
Rabinowitz said the match was made through EBJC member Nir Granot, also a Netivot board member, who contacted Elissa Smith, the congregation’s other copresident.
Smith, said Rabinowitz, “worked with Nir and the board of Netivot and made this happen. She’s the real hero in all of this.”
Ross said she was struck by the congregational leaders’ strong desire to have “an elementary school with Jewish children in the building.”
“It became a very important symbiotic relationship,” said Ross. “While there won’t be any affiliation with them because we are an Orthodox school, we are very excited to partner with them. I think it’s very important for Jewish institutions to do what they can to support each other. This is a real win-win situation. We happen to be a school in need of a great building, and they have a great building to offer.”
Rabinowitz said EBJC feels “very lucky” to “be associated with this type of school, which is all about focusing on each individual child.”
“It’s more than just making up the monetary loss,” he added. “East Brunswick Jewish Center is all about discovery, all about focusing on children. We know not every child learns the same way, and we want to be associated with a school like Netivot that has every component we were looking for.”
Rabinowitz also said he believes the move will strengthen the entire East Brunswick Jewish community and be a draw for Jews looking for a place to settle. To that end, he said, Netivot and EBJC are working on a joint marketing campaign.
“One of our hopes is that having a Jewish Montessori school will reverse the demographic tide in East Brunswick,” he said. “We all know the trend has been Jews moving out…. We truly believe this school will reverse that, which will be good not only for EBJC, but for every Jewish institution of every denomination…. We will all benefit.”