Close to 300 people turned out for a demolition that will clear the way for a new home for Torah Links of Middlesex County.
They cheered at the Jan. 25 event as Torah Links president Dr. Steve Reich jumped into a bulldozer and began clawing at the bricks and concrete of the former McGinnis School in East Brunswick. Others broke into dancing or toasted the occasion with champagne.
Several members of the general community who once attended the long-shuttered, 90-year-old school watched sadly as the structure came tumbling down.
Torah Links, which paid the township $375,000 for the building 18 months ago, plans to begin construction in the spring. It will move from its rented space on Cornwall Drive, where it has been since 2000, to its new site at the intersection of Dunhams Corner Road and Hardenburg Lane. Construction is expected to take about a year.
Torah Links, an Orthodox-based education and outreach organization, serves Jews of all backgrounds and affiliations. It also runs Torah Links of Monmouth County and Torah Links of South Jersey in Cherry Hill.
The move reflects the growing popularity of the organization, which now draws as many as 200 people weekly to its classes and programs, said codirector Rabbi Dovid Gross. The new facility will allow expansion of its programming, which includes a religious school for youngsters, adult education classes, Shabbat and holiday services, and bar and bat mitzva classes.
It also offers an “MTV” (Mitzva Torah Values) program for teens and JWEB (Jewish Women of East Brunswick), run by Gross’s wife, Chana, and Shaindy Landau, wife of the other codirector, Rabbi Shlomo Landau.
“We have something for everyone,” said Rabbi Gross. “We now expect attendance at our classes, activities, and services will increase exponentially. This is a great location. It has such great visibility, I’m sure people will be attracted to come through our doors.”
The new facility will contain several new classrooms, a youth lounge, a library, a sanctuary for Shabbat and holiday services, and a mikva to kasher utensils and dishes. The organization has raised $1.5 million of the estimated $2.2 million cost of construction, it said.
The McGinnis School was closed in 1978. It has remained vacant since its closure, and was in such poor condition that the structure could not be salvaged.
The razing program began at the adjacent Warnsdorfer School with a buffet lunch and remarks by Rabbi Aaron Kotler, CEO of Beth Medrash Govoha, the 8,000-student yeshiva in Lakewood. The yeshiva founded Torah Links in the late 1990s.
Kotler said over the last six months, as he sat in on planning meetings for the new facility, he was impressed “with the level of commitment I saw here. This is a great Jewish community and a community of great inspiration.”
Later, dozens of youngsters were given protective eye goggles, hard hats, and construction vests and given the chance to swing a sledgehammer at the brick building before the bulldozers moved in.
Allison Hahn, 10, of East Brunswick attends religious school at Torah Links. The new building will “help the Jewish people so they can learn Torah,” she said.
“This is a childhood dream come true,” said another 10-year-old from East Brunswick, Josh Webber. “It was amazing. I might have my bar mitzva here. There was a horrible, terrible building here and soon there will be a new one. That is also a dream come true.”
His mother, Taryn, said she was astounded by the number of people who came out for the occasion.
“This is really great for the community,” she said. “There are so many more people here than I ever imagined. It makes a huge statement.”
Representing the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey were its president, Mitch Frumkin, and executive vice president, Susan Antman.
Antman noted the razing was taking place two days before the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
“A milestone such as this shows the strength of our Jewish community and is a testament to the continued resurgence of Jewish life,” she said. “It is an example of how together we can build a strong Jewish future.”