For the first time since the Chabad movement set up shop in Philadelphia decades ago, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is renting space to a Chabad-run institution.
Cheder Chabad Philadelphia, a religious school that primarily serves the children of Chabad emissaries in the region, is now operating on the Federation-owned Schwartz campus in Bryn Mawr.
In the fall, the school moved into Huebner Hall on the same 35-acre campus that currently houses the pluralistic Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. Starting next school year, the campus will also be home to the Robert Saligman Middle School, which was formerly run by the Perelman Jewish Day School and now will be part of Barrack.
Chabad’s day school, which officials say teaches Torah and approaches secular subjects from a Torah perspective, is not part of the Federation-supported day school network.
In the past, the Chabad movement has often been viewed as a competitor for members and donors by mainstream synagogues and Jewish organizations, including federations.
Federation and Chabad officials said the deal represents both a marriage of convenience — Chabad needed a home for its school and Federation had space to rent — and a recognition that the Chabad movement is now seen as an integral part of the Philadelphia Jewish landscape.
Both Federation CEO Ira M. Schwartz and Chabad officials declined to discuss specific details of the lease agreement, including the financial arrangements.
Schwartz did say that “it’s a Jewish community services campus and it suits the mission. They are part of the Jewish community. It is good that they are now in a decent facility so their kids can now get a quality education.”
Schwartz added that Federation allowed the school to move in on the condition that it “continue to improve the quality of its education programs.”
“That is the same criteria we have for Barrack. Barrack has an outstanding educational program, but it could be even better,” he said.
Federation purchased the former home of American College in Radnor Township, Delaware County, back in 2007. The goal was to create a vibrant, communal educational campus. But apart from Barrack, which moved from its Bala Cynwyd location in 2008, tenants have been slow in coming.
Now, however, the Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence (JCHAI), a Jewish organization that helps people with special needs, is set to move its administrative offices to the campus. Congregation Shireinu, an alternative-style community, has also been holding most of its events at Barrack.
Cheder, which means “room” in Hebrew, was the term used for the one-room primary schools in Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.
The decade-old Chabad school here has roughly 60 students. It began as a basement preschool, but soon grew as the number of Chabad rabbis in the Philadelphia area increased dramatically over the past several years. The school operated in rented space at the Kaiserman JCC and most recently at a Conservative synagogue in Broomall, Congregation Beth El-Ner Tamid.
Most, but not all, are children of Chabad rabbis. It has 10 teachers and goes from nursery school through eighth grade, though there are far more students in the lower grades and only a handful of seventh and eighth graders, said Rabbi Shraga Sherman, who sits on the school’s oversight committee.
The school’s growth is being driven by younger Chabad couples who are coming to the area, said Sherman, who has three children at the school.
“The families that have been coming to dedicate their lives and their families’ lives to the survival of the Jewish people are young families,” said the 48-year-old leader of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Main Line.
Of the new connection with Federation, Sherman said that a lot of joint interests “came together here.”