A new Orthodox high school for boys hoping to open next fall on the Main Line already has a site, a name and a principal. And when organizers hosted an open house to gauge interest last week, more than 150 people showed up.
The Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia would initially start with at least ninth grade — and perhaps 10th as well — next fall, according to school president David Stein, a Merion Station resident. He estimates there could be 12 to 15 students in the first class.
Organizers have already reached an agreement of sale to purchase property for the school, the site of the United Methodist Church of Bala Cynwyd. But the deal is not yet complete, and they must still receive approval to rezone a portion of the property for school use. They must also raise about $400,000 to get off the ground, Stein said. Developer and Jewish community leader Gary Erlbaum donated the money to purchase the building, according to several people involved with the project.
The school could serve some of the same Orthodox families who send their daughters to Kosloff Torah Academy Girls High School in Bala Cynwyd, said Abba Krieger, a Lower Merion resident who is on the planning committee of the school. But he also made a distinction, saying Mesivta doesn’t want to be perceived as “right wing” and that it is intended to be a “solid middle of the road” high school for those wanting an all-boys option. He said he expected there to be little overlap with Kohelet Yeshiva High School, a modern Orthodox institution in Merion Station that serves both boys and girls.
Prospective families are people “who want a classical yeshiva high school” where Talmud “is the centerpiece,” said Krieger, a professor of statistics and operations research at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who belongs to both Lower Merion and Young Israel of the Main Line. This school “will help the community grow.”
Many Orthodox families in the Philadelphia area currently choose for their high school-age sons among Kohelet, the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, which is very competitive and attracts students from across the country, or institutions such as Yeshiva University High School for Boys in New York, which two of Stein’s sons attend.
The growth of the Main Line Orthodox community has made having such a school “exceedingly important,” said Stein, a surgeon and professor at Drexel University College of Medicine.
“There are people who leave the community because there is no boys’ yeshiva high school. There are people who send their kids away, and there are people who won’t come to a community that doesn’t have this type of high school,” he said.
David Magerman, the philanthropist behind the Kohelet Foundation, an organization that supports Jewish day schools, and the principal backer of the Kohelet high school, acknowledged that Mesivta and the Kohelet high school could compete for some students but he said he supports the new initiative. “It’s great that parents have choice for their children and that they can get more of the education they want,” he wrote in an email.
Some of the staff for Mesivta are already hired, including Rabbi Avraham Steinberg of Young Israel of the Main Line, who would be head of school, and Ray DeSabato, a retired principal of Friends Central School in Wynnewood, who would serve as principal of secular studies.