May 22, 2024
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Local Rabbis Hail Kushner Bonim Program as Innovative and Forward Thinking

As previously reported in the Jewish Link of New Jersey, the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School has collaborated with local synagogues and the MetroWest JCC to forge an affordability program intended to draw families to these communities. By providing financial incentives ranging from tuition discounts, to membership discounts, to High Holiday seats, to discounts on camping and more, The Bonim Yesodot B’Atidenu Program looks to grow and build the school’s feeder communities, thereby attracting more students to JKHA/RKYHS.

Currently, participating synagogues include Congregations AABJ&D and Ohr Torah in West Orange, Congregation Etz Chaim and Synagogue of the Suburban Torah in Livingston, Congregation Israel in Springfield and Shaya Ahavat Torah in Parsippany. The total incentive value to new area families is potentially more than $50,000.

The possibilities for the future of this program appear limitless, and the school, JCC and synagogue rabbis are excited and hopeful that it will continue to meet and exceed expectations.

Rabbi Samuel Klibanoff of Congregation Etz Chaim believes that this program is sending an important message to current community members that the shuls and the local yeshiva are “working together to solidify a future for all in the community.”

“With the JCC involved, it’s huge and a model for other communities. Everybody is working together, there is more collaboration. Everyone is sharing a mission. We are being incredibly forward thinking,” said Klibanoff.

By offering these incentives, the school, JCC and synagogues are “literally putting your money where your mouth is,” Klibanoff continued. They are not only inviting people to join the community, they are providing significant financial incentives to do so.

Rabbi Marc Spivak of Congregation Ohr Torah had this to say, “The community has been working really hard on reaching out to new families to show them what a great and warm place West Orange is. We have hosted many new families. We have had a lot of growth at Ohr Torah over the last couple of years, and we are looking for ways to help it continue. Ohr Torah and AABJ&D had a joint table at the OU Fair, so our collaboration is not a new thing.” He looks forward to that collaborative effort continuing and expanding through this program.

Rabbi Zwickler of Congregation AABJ&D believes that “what we’re doing is innovative and may be unprecedented. We are delighted to join Kushner in this endeavor and we are confident our community will continue to grow because of this joint effort. We are excited to welcome new families to the greater MetroWest community.”

“West Orange has always been one of the biggest feeder communities to Kushner and we hope to continue that trend. We are very excited to partner with Kushner and our community to make it even more of a destination than it has been in the past,” Zwickler continued.

Rabbi Elie Mischel of the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah views the program from a practical perspective.

“No matter where you move, moving is expensive. There’s no way around it. But the purpose of this initiative is to help young couples in their critical first few years in the community, when they are paying for moving costs and doing work on their house. When a young couple doesn’t have to worry about shul membership dues and building funds, and when their tuition bill is significantly reduced for the first few years, it makes a very sizeable difference,” Mischel said.

“The incentive program reflects a recognition by our community and by JKHA that Jewish life is simply too expensive, and that we have to do whatever is within our power to ease the burden for our community—and particularly for the younger families in our community who are struggling to pay yeshiva tuition bills. We may not be able to fully solve the problem of the cost of Jewish living, but we have to do our best. I’m very proud that Suburban Torah is a part of this initiative,” Mischel continued.

While West Orange and Livingston may be the largest feeder communities to Kushner, there are other communities that send many students to the school and are additional, different and wonderful options for families looking to relocate to the MetroWest area.

Springfield, NJ is one of those communities, and has had its own community incentive program in place on and off for almost a decade. Rabbi Chaim Marcus of Congregation Israel is thrilled that the local yeshiva, in conjunction with surrounding communities and the JCC, have created a community-wide program to attract new families.

“I am so glad that other communities are on board with this and that Kushner took the lead. Bonim makes people look at MetroWest like they look at Bergen County. We are united, not simply individual towns,” said Marcus.

“The Bonim program brings more attraction to the whole area. What will close the deal will be when people see the communities. The money will get them in and the warmth of the communities will keep them. Checking us out is the first step, then fall in love with our community,” Marcus continued.

The newest community to join the program is Parsippany. Located in Morris County, it provides a different type of community for new families to experience. Rabbi Shalom Lubin of Congregation Shaya Ahavat Torah was so excited about the program that he reached out to Kushner to partner with them in this endeavor.

“We have been part of MetroWest for years and have had many children attending Kushner. I thought it was a great initiative and wanted to be part of it,” Lubin said.

He believes that Morris County brings its own unique flavor to the mix. Parsippany is a small one-shul community, a fact that will appeal to many prospective families. It is a community dedicated to welcoming “local people from all levels of religious experience. People are accepted for who they are,” continued Lubin.

Additionally, there are many garden apartments within walking distance of the shul and within the eruv, which may appeal to young couples. According to Lubin, the shul is “ripe for growth. We have open seats and are looking to fill them.”

Lubin may have summed up the Bonim initiative best when he said, “There is no reason not to be part of this program.”

By Jill Kirsch

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