Chanukah was extra bright at Yeshiva Schools last week, as the Pittsburgh-based Lubavitch educational center added a new light to its stable of properties.
Apart from its Forbes Avenue and Wightman Street spaces, Yeshiva Schools now owns the former home of New Light Congregation at 1700 Beechwood Blvd. in Squirrel Hill. The transaction, which was completed on Dec. 15, allows the Orthodox Jewish day school to “expand on our tight spaces,” said Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, Yeshiva Schools’ dean.
Given increased enrollments and projected growth, the move was necessary, added Rabbi Chezky Rosenfeld, the schools’ director of development. Despite the price becoming public information at the end of the month, Rosenfeld declined to say how much the school paid for the property.
“We have waiting lists for our Early Learning Center and girls high school,” he said. “We needed space for the short term and the long term.”
“Every inch” has been maximized at Yeshiva Schools, agreed Chezky Rosenfeld. “We took our library and made it into two classrooms. We took office space and made it into classrooms. What this acquisition does is give us a breather all around the place.”
Although last week’s closing marked the end of a two-month negotiation, the deal began more than a year ago.
“The very first time we had a conversation was February 2016. At that point, the building was not for sale,” said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light Congregation.
“We were doing our due diligence around town. We knew that New Light was struggling with membership and approached them and told them that if and when it was available, we’d be interested,” said Chezky Rosenfeld. More than a year passed, but “about six months ago they called and said that they were ready to talk.”
At one point, Yeshiva Schools considered renting space throughout the neighborhood or even building on its Forbes Avenue campus to satisfy its growing needs; however, after running the numbers, neither option was as financially reasonable as buying New Light, said Chezky Rosenfeld, who estimated that the property plus renovations will ultimately cost “around $2 million to $3 million.”
A capital campaign will begin shortly, said Yisroel Rosenfeld, who said that the opportunity to expand would have been impossible without the assistance of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Although neither Rosenfeld anticipates formally moving classrooms to the Beechwood Boulevard space until next year, both rabbis expect Chabad of Pittsburgh to begin using the site shortly. The Chabad entity, which is led by Rabbi Yisroel and Chani Altein and functions largely from the Forbes Avenue property, offers classes, programs and weekly services.
“We are excited to begin using the space,” said Yisroel Altein.
While the parties are thrilled about the possibilities that lie ahead, the transition process is also something to be cheered, said those involved.
“We are very glad that it’s staying within the community,” said Cohen, who along with members of New Light Congregation dedicated their new home at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha several weeks ago.
“We are so happy to see that it’s remaining in Jewish hands and will be used as both a synagogue and a school,” said Yisroel Rosenfeld. “That’s the future, the children.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz