May 20, 2024
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Jewish Center of Teaneck Accepts Heichal HaTorah’s Proposal

Teaneck–Last week, Heichal HaTorah, a boys’ yeshiva high school, won an important victory when the board of the Jewish Center of Teaneck (JCoT), in a tie vote broken by the board president, Isaac Student, elected to begin negotiations towards the yeshiva’s purchase of the building.

The JCoT, which opened its doors about 80 years ago to provide a shul and community center in a single facility, has been struggling to pay its bills in recent years. The center still provides services, like a fitness club and swimming pool to the community. But shul membership has dwindled from about 1,500 members in its heyday as a traditional Conservative congregation to approximately 70 Modern Orthodox families with only 30 men and women attending on a typical Shabbos.

The JCoT’s spiritual leader of the last eight years, Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, stepped down from his position two months ago, when he and the JCoT board mutually agreed that the congregation could no longer afford his salary. In order to maintain the building, the JCoT has been renting out its facilities to other institutions, including the high school, Heichal HaTorah, which is dedicated to providing a classic yeshiva education with a strong general studies program.”

Heichal HaTorah has rented space in the JCoT since the fall of 2013. With 33 students in the 9th and 10th grades, the school currently rents four classrooms, as well as the swimming pool, a lunchroom, the fitness center and the beis medresh.

Two other organizations sought to buy the building–Holy Name Medical Center and Chabad of Teaneck. The board members of JCoT did not seriously consider Holy Name’s offer, as they all agreed that the building should only be sold to a Jewish institution. However, 14 of the 29 board members were in favor of selling the building to Chabad.

Board member Zalmen Mlotek, who voted in favor of beginning negotiations with Chabad, said, “I felt and still feel very strongly that Chabad’s proposal would have provided the opportunity for the Jewish Center to become the center it once was and become even more as the community continues to grow. Chabad has experience with programming. Chabad brought 700 people to a Purim event at the center last year. That’s what Chabad does. It builds communities.”

According to Rabbi Ephraim Simon, spiritual leader of the Chabad of Teaneck, he and his board of directors approached the JCoT with a proposal in which they would bring all their current activities as well as new programming to the Center. The Chabad’s current activities include a preschool and camp for preschool age children, lectures, holiday programs, Shabbos and holiday meals, and daily and Shabbos services. He told JLNJ that Chabad would also invest in helping to renovate and repair the structure of the building.

“We felt this was aligned with the vision of the founders of the Jewish Center of Teaneck and would restore the legacy of serving the entire Jewish community of Teaneck and Bergen County,” said Simon.

“The Chabad proposal comes with people and with a vision,” said Mlotek. “What Chabad offers is building a state of the art nursery school, and this brings families. It is also committed to becoming a true Jewish center of Teaneck.”

Mlotek felt that the only reason the other board members voted in favor of Heichal HaTorah’s proposal is because Heichal offered more money than Chabad and would be able to put $1 million dollars down at closing.

However, Isaac Student, president of the board, who cast the deciding vote in Heichal HaTorah’s favor, did not cite this as a reason.

“Both Heichal HaTorah and the Jewish Center of Teaneck leadership believe that the combination of shul and school will revitalize the JCoT building and, with new and innovative programming, will serve the needs of the overall Teaneck Jewish community, including the Orthodox community,” said Student.

Rabbi Aryeh Stechler, rosh yeshiva of Heichal Torah, believes that this negotiation will benefit both Heichal HaTorah and the larger Bergen County Jewish community, but did not specify how the yeshiva’s ownership of the JCoT building would benefit the community.

Heichal Hatorah board president Yehuda Jacoby noted that their proposal to JCoT board included 13 different programming initiatives geared at strengthening the JCoT. “We are excited to embark on this partnership with the JCoT,” he told JLNJ.

Currently, the yeshiva holds a Junior High night seder program where over 50 boys from the community attend. Next week they will be hosting a Chanukah party on Monday, December 22nd, for boys in 5th through 12th grade and their parents.

According to Student, negotiations are projected to last a couple of months. They must culminate with the ratification by 2/3 of the JCoT’s members. If the sale is approved, JCoT board members will join the members of Heichal’s building oversight committee to supervise JCoT programming. The JCoT congregation will remain an independent unit within the JCoT building, controlled by the current JCoT board.

By Tova Domnitch

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