May 30, 2024
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Teaneck’s Heichal HaTorah Marks 10 Years

Heichal HaTorah, the Teaneck-based yeshiva high school for boys, is celebrating its 10th anniversary in the coming days, with 100 hours of giving beginning May 3, to raise $1 million for scholarships, and culminating with a special Lag B’Omer event on May 8 at Dream Live Space at American Dream Mall. Rosh Yeshiva and Dean Rabbi Aryeh Stechler spoke to The Jewish Link about how the school, supporters, alumni and 10 special “heroes” will mark the auspicious occasion, and also discussed the school’s growth and unique set of educational offerings created over the last decade.

The high school now has 220 talmidim, 192 alumni, 22 rebbeim, 18 general studies teachers,
54 employees and more than 3,000 donors. Rabbi Stechler noted that while he is the founding Rosh Yeshiva of Heichal, he insisted that he alone is not the reason for its success and important impact on the greater Jewish community. “Yes, every institution needs a leader, but Heichal is a success because so many people are invested in it, with their heart and soul. They are talented and dedicated. That is why we are honoring 10 people through our Heichal Heroes video presentation at the anniversary dinner and concert.” The concert will also feature a kumzitz with Baruch Levine.

The four-year school, based at the Jewish Center of Teaneck building on Cedar Lane at Sterling Place, has four tracks for both limudei kodesh and general studies to accommodate all levels of learners, and also a Tikvah Fund classics program directed by David Roher (also a beloved Jewish Link contributor), which combines the study of the world’s greatest works of literature with Jewish and world history. “With four different tracks and this model, you have different types of kids, different types of learners, all doing well. You can have the kids who are academically minded feel like heroes of Heichal; We are not only recognizing the sports kids, but if you are a beis midrash kid, if you are excelling at chesed, you can be recognized for that as well,” he said.

“What characterizes a Heichal talmid is really good middot (character),” said Rabbi Stechler. “That’s what we look for in elementary school boys; someone who wants to grow, because Heichal is a place that will challenge and inspire children to take their avodas Hashem, Torah learning and general studies education to places they are not yet dreaming of.

“The key to connecting every child in a really meaningful way with their Judaism is our wonderful staff. We have rebbeim who concentrate on pounding daf after daf, we have rabbeim who are sharing heartfelt concepts of chassidus with the boys and we have rabbeim taking them out of the building to do chesed in the community. Every talmid at Heichal feels like a star.

“The same is true on the general studies side. Some teachers are getting the boys excited about life sciences and some teachers are opening their eyes to the more hands on computer sciences and robotics. Each child can find an area of academics to fall in love with and perhaps pursue one day in higher education or their career. Everyone benefits from the special environment at Heichal.”

When launching Heichal in 2013, Rabbi Stechler combined a business and entrepreneurial background with his work as a rabbi in Englewood and Linden. He was also a longtime gemara teacher at The Ramaz School in Manhattan. “As a yeshiva, we are always asking what can we do better and how can we grow? How we can help each and every talmid fulfill their dreams. How can we partner more with our parents to make their dreams for their children come true? How can we impact more people?”

Rabbi Stechler added that the school has rebbeim from Teaneck, Passaic and Monsey, and this gives the school a very special flavor. “I don’t think people realize how special the location of Teaneck is. We are 30 minutes from both Passaic and Monsey. Monsey to Passaic and Passaic to Monsey is a long drive, but we all coalesce here. The rebbeim [who live in] all three communities enable us to have Shabbos programs for the boys in all three communities.”

Heichal’s general studies program has four tracked classes per grade and students can take up to nine AP classes at their own place. The school’s classics program was initially piloted by The Tikvah Fund at Heichal, and is now in place in other institutions. Because of Heichal’s development of the Tivkah program, Heichal was recognized as an innovative educational institution in an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2019. “Most of the English literature programs in America do not teach what are considered to be the hundred most important works of all time. So it’s a double period of history and English and its goal is to highlight great literature over the course of the history of the world. As they learn history, they read the greatest works of all time, and they write about those. This classic approach to history is so that when they leave high school, they are more sophisticated; also as we teach these classic works, they [the students] are thinking about how the Jewish people impact history and impact these works. They are also carefully assessing which of these works work with Yiddishkeit, and which do not.”

Rabbi Stechler said that the magic of Heichal certainly didn’t happen right away, and acknowledged many ideas and projects over the years that either did not work or had to be rejiggered or reimagined. “But I would say there are two separate miracles that happened in our process. Firstly, it’s very hard to start up a high school, because the needs physically are very demanding. If you’re a tiny high school, say you have 20 students as an opening class that would be amazing. But you have to find a place that has classrooms, a beis midrash, a lunchroom, not to mention a lab and a gym … When we went [to the Jewish Center] to see the space, the layout was perfect for a high school. We were able to find a rental in year one. That was miracle number one.

“Second, the leadership of the Jewish Center came to us in year two of the yeshiva. They said, ‘We want to let you know that we might sell the building to Holy Name Hospital.’ But they were willing to hear proposals from other institutions. At that time, Chabad of Teaneck and Heichal made a proposal; Chabad was going to turn it into a Chabad House and we had a proposal where we would buy the building from them at a discounted price and they could continue to use the building exactly the way they had before. That being said, we won the vote only by 15-14. The fact that they chose us to be guardians of the building: that was the second miracle.”

Today, Rabbi Stechler expressed pride that his school draws from many local schools and in fact is the number one high school for boys from YBH (Yeshivas Beis Hillel) in Passaic. “We also never thought more RYNJ (Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey) graduates would attend Heichal than any other high school. The fact that from those two schools, most of the boys are going to go to Heichal, that is a huge accomplishment of our 10 years.”

RSVP for the dinner on Lag B’Omer on May 8, and donate at www.heichal10.org.

By Elizabeth Kratz

 

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