Torah Academy Girls High School may be moving into the Bala Cynwyd home of Aish HaTorah starting next fall.
The school, which serves about 80 Orthodox girls, has entered into an agreement of sale to purchase the Aish Philadelphia building at 50 E. Montgomery Avenue, officials said. However, Aish would continue to hold programs and religious services at the center under a long-term lease.
The interior of the new Aish HaTorah sanctuary, with (from left) Rabbi Yakov Couzens and Rabbi Eli Kopel.
Photo by Jordan Cassway
Pending township approval, the school aims to renovate part of the campus and begin holding classes there in fall 2012. School president Naftali Perlberger declined to disclose the purchase price, adding that he had no idea how long it would take to go through any potential zoning changes or other township requirements.
"We felt it was a wonderful location for all the girls, and it's in the heart of the Orthodox Jewish community that's here," Perlberger said in a phone interview.
Moving from the school's current location at Torah Academy in Wynnewood would not only ease overcrowding, but make the commute a bit shorter for students coming from Cherry Hill, N.J., and Northeast Philadelphia, he added.
"We're trying to make this as exciting for the administrators and faculty and students as possible," he said.
Aish Rabbi Yakov Couzens said he was approached by high school representatives several months ago to see if both organizations could make use of the building.
"We were not, absolutely not, looking to sell; it wasn't on our minds," Couzens said, adding that Aish has no more financial issues "than any not-for-profit."
But, Couzens continued, as they discussed the idea, it seemed to make sense. Aish draws crowds for evening programs, weekly Shabbat services and up to 500 people for High Holiday services, but otherwise they rarely use the building during the day, he said.
"If you count 24 hours per day times seven, there's a lot of unused space," said Couzens, who has two daughters at Torah Academy's grade school, which serves pre-school through eighth grade, and a third in the high school.
"It's rare when it works to save both organizations money, and to share a space is an amazing thing," he said.
The sale seemed "like a true win-win situation for both groups," he wrote in an email to shul participants. Aish will be able to continue programming at the center, and "in a spirit of unity and a desire to enhance our local community," the email continued, high school leaders "can finally have a beautiful home for their students and school."
Couzens said they ended up selling the property rather than renting it because the high school plans to invest in significant renovations. That will include work on a detached house next to the main building, where Aish Rabbi Eli Kopel currently lives, Couzens said.
"It's certainly going to be a change," he said, but so far he's heard nothing but positive feedback from Aish congregants.
"Everybody felt like both organizations are different enough that there's no conflict of interest. Supporters and donors always talk about sharing and utilizing resources, so here we go."
Earlier this year, the school received a pledge of $4.5 million toward a move from its shared home with the Orthodox grade school to an independent facility. That, along with funds from the Kohelet Foundation announced earlier this spring, will go toward acquiring and renovating the building as well as programming and operations costs, officials have said.
Aish, an international organization founded in Israel in the early 1970s to bolster Jewish identity and observance, opened a branch in Philadelphia at least 14 years ago, Couzens said. The outreach group outgrew a small room at the Jewish Community Center, then moved to various rented spaces before purchasing the historic, 17,000-square-foot former Presbyterian church in Bala Cynwyd in fall 2008 for about $2 million, according to Exponent archives.