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New Jersey - Big Debts Close Small Jewish School in Lakewood

Published on: April 3, 2010 10:07 PM
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Bais Yaakov Elementary. Photo: thelakewoodscoop.comBais Yaakov Elementary. Photo: thelakewoodscoop.com

Lakewood, NJ - By the winter of 2008, Bais Yaakov Elementary had all but crumbled. In debt to the Internal Revenue Service for nearly half a million dollars and delinquent on its mortgage, the girls’ school of about 65 students stood almost solely on the crutches of last-minute donations.

At its height, the school had both boys’ and girls’ elementary programs and a 160-student preschool. The building on downtown Fifth Street now is shuttered after more than 50 years, with a court-appointed trustee deciding how to liquidate $4.1 million in assets.

How it got to this point, according to at least one school official, was through toxic blend of economic woes and the hardship of operating a small, tuition-based school in a town packed with hundreds of larger ones. A private school leader said he knew of only one other school in the Orthodox Jewish community that was near closing recently, before its head rabbi resigned and new leadership took over. A call to the school, Nesivos Ohr, was not returned.

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“It’s very difficult to run a small school like this so that it’s economically feasible,” said Joseph Fried, Bais Yaakov’s former school board president. His two daughters now are being homeschooled as a search for placement elsewhere continues.

But there also were the politics, lawsuits and backbiting in pursuit of control.

Court papers reveal that, starting in February 2007 and stretching over two years, a power struggle emerged between two camps that played out in several lawsuits alleging, among other things, fraud, mismanagement and rigged elections. The lawsuits cast blame for the closure of the boys school and preschool and resulted in coups and restraining orders.

The “common thread,” the school stated in a bankruptcy action plan filed in November, “was a dispute between two competing visions of how to deal with the massive financial problems of the Debtor.”

The camps consisted of one led by Rabbi Shmuel Tendler — head of Congregation Sons of Israel, which has longstanding ties with Bais Yaakov — and the other by the school’s later investors, namely Frederic Todd, Menachem Kantor and Eliyahu Weinstein.

Isaac Braverman, a Tendler supporter, in early 2007 sought through a rabbinical tribunal and secular court to block a loan the school board was securing to pay off the IRS. This led to court scrutiny of the school’s finances and eventually new school board elections that brought Tendler’s people in. The Todd camp fired back in April 2008 by suing the board for back payments and asking the court to “terminate its (the school’s) operations.”

Another election was ordered. Power shifted once again. And the following months brought more court filings, including Tendler’s attempt to block the August 2008 Chapter 11 filing, followed by complaints accusing Tendler of fraud, election tampering, allowing a pregnant employee’s health insurance to lapse and refusing to return Torah scrolls worth $75,000.

Messages left with Tendler, Braverman, Todd, Kantor and Pollack were not returned.

Yet Tendler’s opponents are not without controversy. Weinstein, a 34-year-old real estate investor and major contributor to Bais Yaakov, has been accused in several lawsuits of bilking millions from investors across six states. Attorneys have alleged he is hiding his assets in charities.

Gary Ginsburg, Weinstein’s attorney, said there was “no truth” to the hidden asset claims, and said Weinstein denies the allegations in the pending lawsuits.

Amid the infighting, teachers and administrators pleaded with the judge to keep the school open.

“Our children will not be accepted to the various schools here, and will certainly not succeed if they do,” Principal Baila Stefansky wrote in a July 9, 2009, letter. “Many are from under-privileged homes, and/or poverty-stricken. They will be in the streets with the Dayschool.”

In November, as a last-ditch effort, the school told the court it would use an $800,000 refinanced mortgage loan to repay the bank and government.

But the loan fell through and creditors kept coming.

On Feb. 18, after 1 1/2 years in Chapter 11 and with more than $1 million in liabilities, the school was closed indefinitely. Some of those involved say it could reopen, if only someone with deep pockets would buy it.

On March 8, a judge approved the appointment of a trustee. That night, the school’s leaders gathered to discuss where, in a private-school system already dealing with space issues, the girls could be placed. In the meantime, the families, students and teachers have been on their own, forming study groups or homeschools. But Fried remains optimistic.

“Being out for a few weeks is not something you can’t recover from,” he said. “It’s a big deal, but not the end of the world. It’ll work out in the end.”


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1

 Apr 03, 2010 at 10:27 PM Anonymous Says:

Sorry to hear this but in these hard economic times, its probably for the best. There are plenty of yiddeshe schools in Lakewood. There are simply too many yeshivot, beis yaakovs etc., each of which has separate administrators and buildings that consume enormous amounts of wasted overhead money which we cannot afford. There needs to be substantial consolidation among all these facilities and the dollar savings used to hire better trained teachers, better equip the classrooms and laboratories, and improve the facilities of the remaining schools. Every Rav is not entitled to be rosh yeshiva of his own mesivta nor are every group of parents entitled to have a school that follows that own unique minhagim. There is no reason that different chassidus cannot share the same school rather than reading each week about another group trying to start up a new school in a private home or getting some special zoning or building variance.

2

 Apr 03, 2010 at 11:12 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

Sorry to hear this but in these hard economic times, its probably for the best. There are plenty of yiddeshe schools in Lakewood. There are simply too many yeshivot, beis yaakovs etc., each of which has separate administrators and buildings that consume enormous amounts of wasted overhead money which we cannot afford. There needs to be substantial consolidation among all these facilities and the dollar savings used to hire better trained teachers, better equip the classrooms and laboratories, and improve the facilities of the remaining schools. Every Rav is not entitled to be rosh yeshiva of his own mesivta nor are every group of parents entitled to have a school that follows that own unique minhagim. There is no reason that different chassidus cannot share the same school rather than reading each week about another group trying to start up a new school in a private home or getting some special zoning or building variance.

Yeah and a bunch of egoism and elitists that will not allow people to send their children into their school if you dont fall into the exact yeshivishe parameters they set forth. Shame on Lakewood!

3

 Apr 03, 2010 at 11:23 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

Sorry to hear this but in these hard economic times, its probably for the best. There are plenty of yiddeshe schools in Lakewood. There are simply too many yeshivot, beis yaakovs etc., each of which has separate administrators and buildings that consume enormous amounts of wasted overhead money which we cannot afford. There needs to be substantial consolidation among all these facilities and the dollar savings used to hire better trained teachers, better equip the classrooms and laboratories, and improve the facilities of the remaining schools. Every Rav is not entitled to be rosh yeshiva of his own mesivta nor are every group of parents entitled to have a school that follows that own unique minhagim. There is no reason that different chassidus cannot share the same school rather than reading each week about another group trying to start up a new school in a private home or getting some special zoning or building variance.

not in lakewood. there you have a minimum of a quadruple in every school. to get your child in is harder than getting a root canal without Novocaine. there is simply not enough space to place the amount of children that need to be admitted into school every year, keep in mind there is an average of 20 children born in lakewood daily. they are simply not expanding the schools nearly fast enough

4

 Apr 03, 2010 at 11:23 PM Anonymous Says:

60 YEARS OF HISTORY - The entire picture that has been depicted as a failure is anything but that. The original and one time only proper Religious School in Lakewood provided the basis of living a Jewish life for thousands of boys and girls how are now grandparents if not more. The school benfitted so many and no doubt the debts will be cleared by a sale of the building and some other school with a need will come in and benefit from the efforts of the schools founders and supporters over the years. This school was a landmark for so many of us who were children and grandchildren of holocost survivors whose only hope of their children continuing their jewish life was this school. May the memory of it be a blessing for all those who supported it and it should be a further blessing for whoever takes over the building and the Torah that will be learned there. Enough of the talk and rhetoric that has no purpose except wasting time. Forums like this only invite loshen hora and should be very carefully edited before putting it out there for the world to see...

A Guten Moed

5

 Apr 03, 2010 at 11:35 PM Anonymous Says:

Tendler did not rig any elections. The people who claimed they were owed money are the ones who the judge caught not paying the irs the wages they were garnishing from the teachers pay checks. These are the same people who threatned teachers as well as dayanim from bmg who sided with rabbi tendler to keep the school as it always was- a jewish community day school.

The only one to blame is the board who caused the problems such as not paying the irs which is out right stupid, trying to get money back you gave the school by mortgage the building????

6

 Apr 03, 2010 at 11:47 PM Anonymous Says:

how does a non profit owe the irs so much money??

7

 Apr 04, 2010 at 12:17 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

how does a non profit owe the irs so much money??

Probably: (1) Did not pay employer's portion of FICA, (2) withheld income tax from employees but did not pay it over to government.

8

 Apr 04, 2010 at 12:24 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #5  
Anonymous Says:

Tendler did not rig any elections. The people who claimed they were owed money are the ones who the judge caught not paying the irs the wages they were garnishing from the teachers pay checks. These are the same people who threatned teachers as well as dayanim from bmg who sided with rabbi tendler to keep the school as it always was- a jewish community day school.

The only one to blame is the board who caused the problems such as not paying the irs which is out right stupid, trying to get money back you gave the school by mortgage the building????

You are referring to the board of many years ago. The most recent board had nothing to do with the IRS problems.

9

 Apr 04, 2010 at 12:44 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #4  
Anonymous Says:

60 YEARS OF HISTORY - The entire picture that has been depicted as a failure is anything but that. The original and one time only proper Religious School in Lakewood provided the basis of living a Jewish life for thousands of boys and girls how are now grandparents if not more. The school benfitted so many and no doubt the debts will be cleared by a sale of the building and some other school with a need will come in and benefit from the efforts of the schools founders and supporters over the years. This school was a landmark for so many of us who were children and grandchildren of holocost survivors whose only hope of their children continuing their jewish life was this school. May the memory of it be a blessing for all those who supported it and it should be a further blessing for whoever takes over the building and the Torah that will be learned there. Enough of the talk and rhetoric that has no purpose except wasting time. Forums like this only invite loshen hora and should be very carefully edited before putting it out there for the world to see...

A Guten Moed

rabbi malkiel kotler himself wen to this school as a kid!! what a shame !

10

 Apr 04, 2010 at 12:56 AM Anonymous Says:

What a shame a school needs to close. More schools, more competition.

11

 Apr 04, 2010 at 01:17 AM cool masmid Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

not in lakewood. there you have a minimum of a quadruple in every school. to get your child in is harder than getting a root canal without Novocaine. there is simply not enough space to place the amount of children that need to be admitted into school every year, keep in mind there is an average of 20 children born in lakewood daily. they are simply not expanding the schools nearly fast enough

'there is an average of 20 children born in lakewood daily' - I think you are a little carried away with those numbers. 20 children a day would mean over 7000 a year which means every family had a baby last year, and the year before and again the year before that. I don't think that is factually right that every year every family is having a nee baby - I know that is the case for me. I think its more like 20 children a week. And even that, is stretching...

12

 Apr 04, 2010 at 02:48 AM Anonymous Says:

20 a week sounds about right. go to Yeshiva any shabbos and count the kiddush and shalom zochor signs.

13

 Apr 04, 2010 at 03:46 AM Aron Says:

Reply to #11  
cool masmid Says:

'there is an average of 20 children born in lakewood daily' - I think you are a little carried away with those numbers. 20 children a day would mean over 7000 a year which means every family had a baby last year, and the year before and again the year before that. I don't think that is factually right that every year every family is having a nee baby - I know that is the case for me. I think its more like 20 children a week. And even that, is stretching...

If you claim that 20 babies a day = each family having a baby every year, then 20 babies a week would mean every family having a baby every 7 years.
How is that "stretching it"?
BTW, I would guess that the "20 babies a day" estimate might include the entire Lakewood population (not just the Jewish residents).

14

 Apr 04, 2010 at 04:28 AM Anonymous Says:

Working is Ossur, Only Kollel is allowed, or you can't get into the Yeshiva. Well, what did they think will happen?

How could you run Yeshivos, when you ostracize the very people who you depend on to keep it open - people earning a Parnossoh?

This will keep on happening if the inhabitants of Lakewood continue to deny the "Zevulun" place in Judaisim.

I always quoted a Rashi in Vezos Habrocho, on "VeleZevulun Amar".

He answers the question, Why was Zevulun given the Brocho before Yissoschor? He answers that Zevulun supported Yissoschor in learning, and Yisosschor would not have been able to learn without the support. "Leficoch Hikdim Zevulun L'Menashe" - Therefore, Moshe Rabeinu put him BEFORE Yisosschor.

According to this, one who gives Kavod to one who learns, while that person relies on the donations of others, and doesn't give proper Kavod to those who support them financially is going against Rashi and Moshe Rabeinu - There is no other way to interpert the Rashi or the Posuk.

So much more, a community that doesn't allow children of working people into certain Yeshivos.

15

 Apr 04, 2010 at 06:10 AM Big Masmid Says:

i am not at all familiar with the school history, but we have to remember that Reb Elyah Lopian ZT"L said, He has never seen a Mosod of Torah close down due to financial reasons only due to Machlokos.

16

 Apr 04, 2010 at 09:07 AM old timer Says:

The school would have remained viable if Cong Sons of Israel had kept its financial committment to the school, and kept its nose out of the operation. There was a written agreement to provide the school with x amount of dollars annually. Every Yizkor appeal went to the school and whenever individuals were m'nader at an aliyah they would make two pledges - one for the shul and one for the school. Investigate when this procedure stopped. There's a lot more than meets the eys.

17

 Apr 04, 2010 at 10:00 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #14  
Anonymous Says:

Working is Ossur, Only Kollel is allowed, or you can't get into the Yeshiva. Well, what did they think will happen?

How could you run Yeshivos, when you ostracize the very people who you depend on to keep it open - people earning a Parnossoh?

This will keep on happening if the inhabitants of Lakewood continue to deny the "Zevulun" place in Judaisim.

I always quoted a Rashi in Vezos Habrocho, on "VeleZevulun Amar".

He answers the question, Why was Zevulun given the Brocho before Yissoschor? He answers that Zevulun supported Yissoschor in learning, and Yisosschor would not have been able to learn without the support. "Leficoch Hikdim Zevulun L'Menashe" - Therefore, Moshe Rabeinu put him BEFORE Yisosschor.

According to this, one who gives Kavod to one who learns, while that person relies on the donations of others, and doesn't give proper Kavod to those who support them financially is going against Rashi and Moshe Rabeinu - There is no other way to interpert the Rashi or the Posuk.

So much more, a community that doesn't allow children of working people into certain Yeshivos.

Not just Rashi; remember what the Rambam says in Hilchos Talmud Torah (3:9) on those who choose to learn without earning a parnosso.

כל המשים על ליבו שיעסוק בתורה ולא יעשה מלאכה, ויתפרנס מן הצדקה--הרי זה חילל את
השם, וביזה את התורה, וכיבה מאור הדת, וגרם רעה לעצמו, ונטל חייו מן העולם הבא

Roughly: those who choose in their heart to study Torah and not work, instead living off of tzedaka, are creating a chillul Hashem, desecrating the Torah, extinguishing the light of Judaism, doing harm to themselves, and forfeiting their place in Olam Haba.

18

 Apr 04, 2010 at 10:08 AM Lakewooder Says:

I love Cong Sons of Israel. Such an accepting shul. I go there often for the Mincha maariv at Shkiah. Rabbi Tendler rocks!

19

 Apr 04, 2010 at 12:38 PM Lakewooder Says:

Did Attorney Inzelbauch attend the school.

20

 Apr 04, 2010 at 12:40 PM Insider Says:

This is all part of the back stabbing to R' Levovitz Shlit"a who built the Shul and School.

The buliding may go to neighbors Son's would not want to be next to.

21

 Apr 04, 2010 at 01:19 PM Anonymous Says:

Where do you want to find these better trained teachers? Teachers are paid pennies and are trashed by ungrateful parents and smart aleck couch potatoes who sit on the internet all day. I have never seen a school where anybody is raking in the money. You have no clue what you are talking about.

22

 Apr 07, 2010 at 09:53 AM TO Lakewooder Says:

Do you look for a Rov - a Rabbi or a Rocker "Sha-al aveicha v'yagedcha" There are still people in town who know the history of the school - the shul - and the nasty politics that prevailed causing the school's downfall

23

 Apr 07, 2010 at 10:50 AM MoreToTheStory Says:

There is one piece of scandalous behavior with regard to the school that the article for some reason omitted.

Fredrick Todd, who was a substantial benefactor of the school, testified that the principal of the school, Yehuda Pollack, pressured Todd into guaranteeing the loans of Eli Weinstein. Its in the court ruling dated October 27, 2009, in the action 1091 River Avenue, LLC v. Platinum Capital Partners, LLC, New York County, Index # 601228/09. Weinstein at one point was the president of the school.

As a result of Todd’s being pressured to guarantee Weinstein’s loans, when Weinstein defaulted, judgments of millions of dollars were entered against Todd. Afterwards, Todd was no longer able to fund the school to the same extent that he did. Basically, Weinstein used his position as president of the school’s board for his personal benefit. Pollack, the school’s principal, assisted Weinstein in doing so. After Weinstein caused financial harm to the school’s biggest benefactor, the school closed down.

24

 Apr 07, 2010 at 03:27 PM Anonymous Says:

About 20 years ago There was another case of a school on the verge of closing due to various problems (ahavas torah) when a group of the parents (fearfull that no other school would accept their girls because of the yeshivish elitism machla) got together and worked out a deal with the rabbis to take over the debt of the school and the operation, The school was renamed and is now one of the most sought after places to send your daughters to. It just goes to show you that there is a certain syata dishmaya if things are done l'shma, I wish all the kids good luck and hope you find a suitable school soon. As far as the other mosdos..... step up to the plate and welcome these yidishe kinderlach the way hashem would want you to. OTHERWISE I DO NOT ENVY YOUR FUTURE PLACES IN H_ _ _ .

25

 Apr 08, 2010 at 12:01 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #23  
MoreToTheStory Says:

There is one piece of scandalous behavior with regard to the school that the article for some reason omitted.

Fredrick Todd, who was a substantial benefactor of the school, testified that the principal of the school, Yehuda Pollack, pressured Todd into guaranteeing the loans of Eli Weinstein. Its in the court ruling dated October 27, 2009, in the action 1091 River Avenue, LLC v. Platinum Capital Partners, LLC, New York County, Index # 601228/09. Weinstein at one point was the president of the school.

As a result of Todd’s being pressured to guarantee Weinstein’s loans, when Weinstein defaulted, judgments of millions of dollars were entered against Todd. Afterwards, Todd was no longer able to fund the school to the same extent that he did. Basically, Weinstein used his position as president of the school’s board for his personal benefit. Pollack, the school’s principal, assisted Weinstein in doing so. After Weinstein caused financial harm to the school’s biggest benefactor, the school closed down.

Hopefully one day, you will actually find out all the information pertaining to this story instead of doing some perfunctory research and trying to sound intelligent. Good luck.

26

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