For 75 years, the Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh has educated Jewish children. The school was started in 1943 when Rabbi Sholom Posner moved to the city and opened the city’s first Jewish day school. According to the current dean of Yeshiva Schools, Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, “We were the first Jewish day school in Pittsburgh. Back then, there weren’t many Jewish day schools outside of New York. It was started with a very small group of children and it was a challenge because the concept was not something everyone was excited about.”
From its humble beginnings, the school has grown to educate thousands of students, including over 450 this year alone. “We have the boys’ school, the girls’ school and the preschool. It goes from 6 weeks old all the way through high school,” said Yisroel Rosenfeld.
“We have many students who are second-, third-, fourth-generation students. Their parents, grandparents, some great-grandparents attended the school,” added Chezky Rosenfeld, director of development. “Many, many of our students are children of alum, which is a testament to the school and what it has been for all these years.”
“Along the same note,” said Yisroel Rosenfeld, “many of the teachers that are here today were students themselves. Now they are teachers and their children are students. … It’s beautiful to see the continuity.”
One of the unique characteristics of the school is its focus on both secular and religious education.
“Our school, by design, tries to be the best we possibly can in both the secular and the Judaic departments,” said Yisroel Rosenfeld. “So, a child, ready to graduate, is prepared for whatever they would like to do. If they want to be a rabbi, they’re prepared for that; if they want to be a scientist, they’re prepared for that. They can go on and decide what they want to pursue. We feel it’s very important they have those options. Who knows, when they are in first grade, what they want to be? And who knows, when they graduate high school, what they want to be? At least they know whatever they want, they have the right background.”
Former Yeshiva Schools students have gone on to top medical schools and law schools as well as yeshivas and seminaries for women around the world. “They really do have those options open to them,” said Chezky Rosenfeld.
The school’s reputation is so good that it draws families from other states, who move to Pittsburgh so their children can attend. “A large part of our community is made up of families that have moved from different parts of the country because this is the type of education they want for their children, this is the type of school they want, where they can excel at both ends,” said Yisroel Rosenfeld. “We have students from Morgantown, West Virginia. They come in every day. Students from Altoona, from State College, they spend their week here and go back for Shabbos.”
As special as Yisroel Rosenfeld thinks the Yeshiva Schools is, he realizes it isn’t the right choice for everyone.
“Our goal is that every Jewish child in Pittsburgh should get a Jewish education.” Sometimes that might mean that students attend instead either Hillel Academy or Community Day School. “When we find a student that one of the other schools work better for then, by all means, that school is better for you. Let’s do the best we can so each student gets what they need.”
Now, Yeshiva Schools is working on developing a strategic plan for the next five years. “We’re involving the entire community. We are taking a look at the community and where the community wants to go with the school,” said Yisroel Rosenfeld. “What are the new thoughts and possibilities?”
The school has just received accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. And they recently purchased the former New Light building. “We don’t have concrete plans yet, but we’re going to figure out the best use for the building because we need more space,’” said Chezky Rosenfeld.
Whatever they decide, it will be implemented in conjunction with community partners. “The community partners we have, the Jewish Federation, etc., whenever one of the Jewish organizations are in need, or we are in need, there’s always someone there,” said Chezky Rosenfeld. “We’re all successful because of that. That’s the secret to success in Pittsburgh, when someone is in need, the organizations are there. There’s always an expert at the JCC or Federation or JFCS, whether it’s in finances or mental health or Jewish health. Each one, whenever we have an issue, before we reach out, they’re reaching out to us. The working relationship we have with every organization in town is unique. This year, we saw it more than ever, unfortunately with the Tree of Life, but the truth is, it’s always been there.” pjc
David Rullo can be reached at drullo@