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Tuesday, November 30, 2021
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“זה היום עשה ה’ נגילה ונשמחה בו!” With these words from Hallel, in a voice brimming with emotion, Deganit Ronen, Westchester Torah Academy’s Head of School, gave thanks to הקדוש ברוך הוא before welcoming an assembly of esteemed Westchester rabbis and government dignitaries, WTA teachers and administrators, parents, students, family members and friends, all of whom were gathered beneath a bright blue October sky for the חנוכת הבית dedication ceremony that took place this past Sunday, October 17, on the verdant and expansive grounds of the new WTA-Yeshivat Netzach campus in New Rochelle.

Nearly a decade in the making, this joyous occasion marked the grand opening of Westchester Torah Academy’s new and permanent home. It was an especial privilege to have among the honored guests several prominent rabbanim and leaders of the Westchester Jewish community, including Rabbi Reuven Fink and Rabbi Chaim Axelrod of the Young Israel of New Rochelle, Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg of the Young Israel of White Plains, Rabbi Chaim Marder of the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, and WTA’s own rav beit sefer, Rabbi Avi Hoffman. After offering gratitude to Hashem for the bracha and opportunity to celebrate this momentous occasion, Rabbi Hoffman led the day’s opening remarks with a memory of the building’s groundbreaking ceremony, which had occurred two years earlier, in mid-winter. “There was no frozen ice cream,” the rabbi recalled, “but it was a freezing day. The ground was frozen solid. The shovels were too cold to pick up, and the hardhats we wore had ice on them. But everyone was saying, ‘We’re starting to build!’ [Laughter] Now we stand here today, with the building behind us. Yet as we all know, ‘אל תקרא בניך אלא בוניך.’ The real ‘building’ is not about creating a physical structure, and it’s not just about teaching children. It’s about building children, the banim and banot who walk through these doors every day, who will become the builders of the Jewish future. Such ‘building’ never ends; it is an ongoing process. Although there is still more work to be done, we are up and running and in full swing. It’s a tremendous honor and zechut for us to be in the new building, and to have here with us today some of the leading rabbanim who’ve built the Westchester Jewish community to affix a mezuzah to each one of the entrances.”

Reflecting on the milestone that has been achieved with the building’s dedication, Ms. Ronen praised the foresight of the “amazing visionaries” who dreamed about making a difference in Jewish education. In the words of Aaron Herman, a WTA parent who in 2021 was honored for his active volunteer work on behalf of the school, the founding families joined together as a community about nine years ago “to solve a huge issue: affordable Jewish education. And with their model and understanding of how it can and should be done, WTA has provided families with the opportunity not only to have an incredible Jewish education, but a sustainable one.”

“An excellent and affordable Jewish day school that would be unique and special, located right here in New Rochelle,” is how Ms. Ronen described the founders’ vision of the current campus complex. She is thrilled and proud today to be standing in front of WTA-Yeshivat Netzach’s beautiful new bayit l’netzach, where this year more than 200 children are welcomed each morning and enjoy spending their days learning and exploring within a warm and nurturing environment.

In her dvar Torah, Ms. Ronen said that the words “chanukat habayit” bring to mind the following pasuk from Tehillim: “מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית לדוד.” “This is a confusing phrase,” she pointed out, inviting her listeners to ponder the question. “Shlomo is the one who built the Beit Hamikdash, so why are we mentioning David?” Referencing a beautiful teaching from HaRav Kook, she then explained that the words “חנוכת” and “חינוך” both derive from the same Hebrew root. And so David HaMelech educated his child that he needs a Beit Hamikdash—he needs to build a bayit. This moment of dedication, of chanukat habayit,” said Ms. Ronen, “celebrates a completion. It is the culminating moment that began with a vision, one that took us through the long and arduous process of finding a space, creating the plans, reaching out and fundraising, doing the construction, and all else that was necessary to ensure the project’s success. The same thing is true of education, which is a process that starts with a vision when a child is very young, and ends with a celebration as we had last year, when we celebrated our first graduating class. Like David, who taught his son Shlomo to build a special bayit as a home where his Torah education could be brought to life, we too are grateful to have our own bayit for this purpose. Ms. Ronen then closed her remarks with a heartfelt blessing, “יהי רצון שנצליח לחינוך ילדנו כדוד המלך בשעתו.”

Several notable elected officials also turned out to congratulate WTA at its inaugural event. Addressing the WTA community on behalf of his “colleagues in government and the 80,000 residents of New Rochelle,” Mayor Noam Bramson acknowledged “the hard work that made it possible for you to reach this point,” observing that “to create a new institution, and a physical space for that new institution, is a remarkable thing. It takes vision, determination, teamwork, patience and generosity—all of which are on ample display—and all of which should be celebrated. There is such a wonderful feeling of warmth and joy that is present here that I think all of us are feeling,” said the mayor, looking out upon the many families happily strolling the campus in the sunshine, enjoying the camaraderie and festive atmosphere along with the pizza, ice cream, and popcorn treats on offer. Among others who joined Mayor Bramson in attending were New Rochelle City Council Member Liz Fried, New York State Senator Shelley B. Mayer, and New York State Assembly Member Amy Paulin, who tweeted, “Mazel Tov @WestchesterTA on the move to your own campus in @New RochelleNY! I was so happy to attend the grand opening ceremony and be part of the celebration!”

At last came the moment of ceremony when the bracha “לקבוע מזוזה” was recited, and the honored rabbis attached each of their mezuzot to the doorposts, consecrating for the community the blessing of a new house of Jewish learning. Upon entering the newly dedicated building, one of the rabbis reverently reached out to touch the mezuzah, bringing its sacred words of Torah to his lips with a kiss.

A professional editor and published author, Andrea Raab is the communications liaison at Westchester Torah Academy, where she also teaches English Language Arts in the middle school.

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