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After 40 Years Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School Closing (VIDEO)

Parents and staff called to meetings Tuesday; learned of “new entity”

Parents jammed the auditorium of the Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School for a special meeting called by the school’s administration on Tuesday night.  They heard something they did not want to – the Conservative Jewish day school was closing its doors after classes end in June.  Board President Virginia Feldman delivered the depressing news that dropping enrollment left the school in financial straits.

“There are simply not enough students for to remain financially sustainable,” she said.  “These are difficult times for Jewish day schools.”

Enrollment fell from its high of 350 students in 2002 to 250 students two years ago and then to an enrollment of 150 girls and boys for the 2011-2012 school year.  The school experienced a 20 percent attrition rate for each of the past three years.  The dropping enrollment at is not unique, as other Hebrew day schools across the country have shut their doors. 

Feldman told the parents the board explored every possible option to keep the school operating – downsizing, merging, fundraising. 

“We looked at merging. We looked at loans. We looked at renting half the building,” she said. “Ending 40 years of Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School was nothing any of us wanted to do.”

She said the board hopes to sell the building and with the proceeds, pay off debt and use any remaining funds to assist students who want to continue their Jewish education at other schools.

Emotions ran high during the meeting and more than a few parents wiped away tears and choked up as they took turns speaking and asking questions. 

One woman said she attended the New City school and had planned to enroll her child.

“It really makes me sad,” she said. “I really love this school.”

Other parents said they felt let down and that the board should have advised them more openly of the dire circumstances and tapped them as resources for new ideas for fundraising, enrollment, donations and endowments.  Feldman said there were meetings up to the very end and the board tried its best with capital and enrollment campaigns.

“There was no stone unturned, “said Feldman of Orange County.  “There really wasn’t.” 

Another parent said of the school, “It bred very special people. It was a very nurturing environment. “

The audience applauded when one speaker said, “Forgive the board everybody. It’s the community.  This education wasn’t a priority anymore.”

Irit Pinkus has one child who graduated from the school and another in second grade.  She felt the education her children received was well worth the trip from her Orange County home.

“(I’m) very sad, I feel like I’m at a funeral,” said Pinkus. “This school focuses not only on education, the education is superb, but on being part of the community. I think it’s a loss not only for us but for the community.  It will be very hard to find a school with the spirit this school had.”

She went along with many of the parents to the school’s multipurpose room to learn about a “new entity.”  Andrea Sherman introduced the Rockland Jewish Academy, proposed for pre-k through fifth grade students under the supervision of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester and its headmaster, Dr. Elliott Spiegel.

The school would be housed in available unused space at the Jewish Community Campus in West Nyack.

Sherman and Spiegel presented an overview of the school and encouraged parents to attend “informational parlor meetings” next week.  On Tuesday, Jan. 17 a parlor meeting for parents of students grade two through four will be held in Montebello and a similar session on Wednesday, Jan. 18 for parents with students in pre-k (three and four year olds) through first grade will take place in Suffern.

Spiegel said they need to determine how much commitment there is to retaining a Jewish day school in Rockland and asked parents to complete an indication of interest form by February 1.  He said an anticipated enrollment of approximately 100 students would help make the school a reality. 

“It’s very important for the Rockland Jewish community to have a non-Orthodox day school,” he said. “The Rockland Jewish Academy will continue in the tradition of outstanding general studies.” 

He went on to say the school would teach the whole child and include Judaic and general studies, physical play and athletics, which he viewed as a 21st century skill that teaches kids to work together.

When asked why the academy could succeed where Gittelman had not, Spiegel said he believes it is possible for a new school to grow.

“It’s a dream location (JCC) for another school,” he said.  “I have the experience and knowledge to make it work.”

Older students in sixth through 12th will have the option of being bused to the middle school campus of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester.

Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School was founded in 1971 as the Solomon Schechter School of Rockland County.  It began in the JCC of Spring Valley, a Conservative congregation located on Route 45 that has since closed. The school outgrew its location in 1992 and moved into the current building on New Hempstead Road.  It was renamed after Reuben Gittelman, the father of Irving and Milton Gittelman, to honor his ongoing love of learning.  Milton Gittelman still serves on the board of trustees. 

BenRound January 11, 2012 at 02:37 PM
The end of an era. Sad to see. Now I fear who, or what religious group, might be interested in buying a school building on the western boarder of new city. Yikes.
Mike Hirsch January 11, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I'm with you on this one, Mr BenRound.
Mike Hirsch January 11, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I know that the town was looking at building or renvoting the volunteer ambulance building about a year ago, but don't know where that's at now. I think the town should buy the building and figure out a use for it. There are some non-profits that are currently expanding or building, perhaps they could make a deal with one of them, or they could lease it to a privately held company. Alex, we need your help on this.
Mike Hirsch January 11, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Whatever I post are my own personal opinions and not necessarily the views of the Clarkstown Taxpayer group.
Time4Change January 11, 2012 at 04:48 PM
I agree with both, that this an end to an era and very sad! My grandfather was instrumental with regards to getting this school built way back when. The building will always be sentimental to me. @ Hirsch you seem to have some great ideas with regards to the building perhaps you can send a note or reminder to Alex G.
F*** January 11, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Conservatives being displaced by Ultra Orthodox due to exponential population growth. Time to stop the gravy train of government funded entitlement. Clarkstown needs to buy this building even if it just sits idle.
GWashington January 11, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Government intervention is NOT the answer to this; it is part of the problem. If the taxes, school and property, were not so high, more parents could and would opt to send their children to parochial institutions. Building parks, swimming pools, miniature golf, providing universal bus service, day-care in the school, all these "social services" have led us to this fork in the road. If, as many of you say, and fear, an Ultra-Orthodox society purchases this property, then you have only yourselves to thank. Socialism leads to the downfall of society as we knew it.
Miss January 11, 2012 at 06:57 PM
I am so shocked by all of these comments. My siblings and I all attended Reuben Gittelman as children and I am very surprised and sad to see it go, but what does the Orthodox community have to do with it? Once our school is closing, who cares if the Orthodox buy it? Wouldn't you rather have another Jewish institution move in?
F*** January 11, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Miss - your non understanding of what is going on in Rockland County (and in Israel for that matter) is amazing. New Square, Patrick Farm - check out failedmessiah.com
F*** January 11, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Pearl River was smart enough to snap up a lot of property when it went on the market. Why aren't we?
Jesss January 11, 2012 at 09:46 PM
A Rueben Gittelman student I am and A Rueben Gittelman student I will continuously be proudly be at heart. They make take the school away but they will never take the school away from the students. Every single person and every single day was an amazing experience. Although I may never be a Gittelman graduate I will always be Gittelman 2013 graduate at heart. My best friends have been made there and my education is incomparable. They may take the "Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School" sign away from the property but will never remove all the memories, morals, values and lessons from the blessed and proud students who attended. You will be missed RGHDS. -J.G
Mike Hirsch January 11, 2012 at 10:52 PM
I agree that Clarkstown should buy both properties. I know that many of the younger volunteer firemen could desperately use some affordable housing, rather than having to leave Clarkstown. Clarkstown currently buys vacant land (like Cropsey Farm), in their forever green program. Most people are pleased with that. I don't see why the town can't also buy some of the foreclosures, fix them up, and sell them. Even if they just break even, they'll be helping the different neighborhoods that they're in and help keep property values from falling further. Councilman George Hoehman has good business sense. If I were Alex, I'd put him in charge of an effort like this. I'm sure that he'll at least be able to break even on the school buildings if not turn a profit. All of this will protect our community and property values and benefit the taxpayers if done properly.
Rob January 12, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Mike....If the town buys this property, is it not logical to concluded that our taxes will go up ? I thought you were completely against increasing taxes and additional spending by the town ? I'm very surprised.
Mike Hirsch January 12, 2012 at 03:50 AM
If the town buys this property and finds a suitable use for it, taxes will not go up. The town will simply become the landlord and hopefully turn a profit (if they can manage it effectively), and taxes can actually come down. My personal opinion is that I am for good governance first. If we have responsible governance, there is no reason why taxes cannot be reduced. The town has a duty to protect it's citizens and promote their welfare. Besides, if the town were to take over this and other distressed properties and improve them, they would be promoting our local businesses and workforce, thereby increasing their tax revenues. The problem with Clarkstown is that it is run by political hacks, whose only regard is for their own, and their friends benefit. They control the political machinery of our town. As long as the citizenry remain in their comatose state, they have nothing to fear. New York State ranks either 47th or 48th in voter participation and is one of the only states in the union where a candidate's name can appear on the ballot multiple times. I think there is a direct correlation between those two facts.
William Demarest (Editor) January 12, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Jesss: Thanks for sharing you insight on the school and your experience there.
F*** January 12, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Rob - the price of these properties would be a drop in the bucket for Clarkstown. Property values are low, especially with the value ERSD placed on Hillcrest. The value is in the property, not the building, worth buying even if the building is demolished and the property converted to park land.
Mindy Rader January 12, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Young people are just not moving to Rockland County. That is a problem.
Jesss January 12, 2012 at 09:40 PM
William, I feel a huge connection to this school considering I have been a student here for 9 yrs. It has changed my families life, mine, my friends and everyone who has attended. I have 3 older siblings who went there from k-8. This school means the world to me and my family. Although I never graduated and won't ever... I will have it at heart. My friendships I made there won't ever be forgotten<3 -J.G
Rob January 12, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Rockland County could probably use some more Townhomes. The Hamlets are ok but I have seen much nicer Townhomes in Bergen County. How about a community of perhaps middle end Townhomes, with nice stone and higher quality materials...Perhaps a step up from the Hamets and not too high end as that certainly will not fit in with that location.
Tina Grossman January 13, 2012 at 03:02 AM
This is a wake up call!!! As a previous poster stated it is happening in Israel and here the very religious are gaining a lot of power- we sat by and let it happen- Christopher St. Lawrence and his cronies have us mainstrean Jews and others at their mercy- we woke up too late!!! Now we pay- You are correct- not enough mainstream Jews to support this type of school and others will not move here This is a dying county that is overuled by powers we have no control- it is out of hand- If you follow or have poeple in Israel this group is gettig larger and more political there- people are really worried
Marc Fromowitz January 13, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Jess - You are a fine example of the type of young woman RGHDS has produced for the past 40 years.

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