Twelve years after opening in Deal, the Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore (YJS) will close its doors at the end of the school year in June.
YJS announced its closure in April in an email sent to parents and supporters from the school’s president, David Friedman. Friedman told NJJN there were “multiple factors” behind the closure; however, he said the main reason was declining enrollment.
Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY) in Edison has agreed to absorb YJS students, and is open to hiring faculty members if the budget permits.
In the email to the parents, Friedman said the board’s decision was made “after much discussion” and “with a heavy heart.” He also disclosed that the school hadn’t met its fund-raising goals. It had hoped to collect $500,000 to cover operating expenses through the end of the current academic year, but according to the school website, it had only collected $215,815 as of May 23; if it does not reach its goal, Friedman told NJJN, the expenses will go as unpaid debts.
Friedman, a Highland Park resident, said YJS once had enrollments of more than 100 students, but was down to about 85 this past year and the board projected further declining enrollment.
Friedman also said in the letter that for years the school had sought “a more favorable location” than at the JCC Jersey Shore to meet its demographic needs, but “unfortunately have not been successful, and now we have run out of time.” Some of the students traveled to the school in Deal from the Middlesex County towns of East Brunswick, Highland Park, and Edison.
“We realize that YJS has been, and is, a special place,” wrote Friedman. “Its loss will affect many people, especially the children.”
The collaboration between RPRY and YJS to absorb the students from the soon-defunct school — both are pre-K-eighth grade Modern Orthodox institutions — was formally announced in separate emails to parents and supporters of each school on May 4.
“After several discussions with, and tours of, RPRY by our professional and lay leadership, we have discovered that RPRY and YJS are quite similar in philosophy,” said the YJS letter signed by Friedman and head of school Rabbi Elie Tuchman. “We are both modern Orthodox institutions that value a strong general education in addition to a love of Torah and of the Jewish State of Israel. We value skills over content. Above all, we value derech eretz (respectful behavior).”
Both schools put a positive spin on the collaboration, which the YJS letter noted would “ensure that a piece of the YJS vision will live on to serve the broader community.”
RPRY head of school Rabbi Daniel Loew and board president Leslie Ostrin also noted the schools’ commonalities in their letter.
“RPRY and YJS share a progressive approach to academics, particularly with our differentiated and small group instruction, and are both Tzioni [Zionist] yeshivot that stress the importance of both Judaic and general studies,” wrote Ostrin and Loew, citing strengths of YJS that could be integrated into the RPRY pedagogy, such as its comprehensive integrated teaching, a system in which multiple subjects are taught together. The Edison school has more than 300 enrolled students.
The collaboration could make it easier for RPRY to hire select staff members from YJS. With the 2018-19 budget already approved by its board, new hiring is dependent on the size of student enrollment, Ostrin and Loew wrote in their letter. Their next steps, they wrote, will be “measured and cautious.”
Addressing the concerns of parents who might consider sending their children to other schools, Tuchman and Friedman pointed out the strengths of RPRY, including robust after-school activities, a science lab, hot lunches, coding classes, and other innovative academic programs.
Ostrin said RPRY had received numerous inquiries from YJS parents, but she was unsure how many would actually apply.
“Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore has some progressive academic programs we’re excited to incorporate and will enhance our school,” said Ostrin. “We have our own programs to offer so I think there’s some nice compatibility between the two schools. We look forward to taking it to the next level.”
While she said it is “very unfortunate” to see a yeshiva close, RPRY is committed to make the transition as easy as possible for students and their parents.
RPRY was founded more than 70 years ago by its namesake. Soon a thriving Orthodox community in Highland Park and south Edison grew around it.
YJS opened as an Ashkenazi alternative to the Sephardi Hillel Yeshiva in Deal. It also operates an off-site pre-school in partnership with the Conservative East Brunswick Jewish Center (EBJC). Friedman said that moving forward EBJC will run the pre-school independently.