Rodeph Shalom School Finds New Home Nearby


When Congregation Rodeph Shalom voted earlier this month to close its suburban satellite campus in Elkins Park, one of the questions left up in the air was what would happen to the preschool housed there.

The answer, reached shortly after the Jan. 12 vote that authorized the closure, is that it's moving about 1 mile away – to the new home of Kol Ami, which happens to be the first permanent home that Reform synagogue has ever had.

Officials from both congregations are characterizing the relocation of the 40-student school for students ages 2 through 5 as a win-win scenario.

"We are really making a statement that we have arrived, and are accommodating the needs of the community," said Jonathan Auerbach, the president of Kol Ami. "We have a lot of young families with young kids."

Sheri Cutler, who has directed Rodeph Shalom's preschool for 18 years, said that she agreed to continue her work at the new entity – to be called the Kol Ami Nursery School – beginning with camp this summer.

"We needed to find a place for our current parents. I'm very happy that the new location is also a synagogue, and that it's close by," she said. "We wanted to find a place in this neighborhood. We think it's a perfect fit."

Officials stressed that students will have plenty of room at the new site, which is located on a 5-acre campus right off Old York Road in Elkins Park, which currently houses the Wordsworth Academy, an organization that provides educational and mental-health services to children with special needs.

And in addition to classroom space inside the roughly 125-year-old mansion that sits on the property, the grounds also have playground facilities, a carriage house and an indoor gymnasium, according to Auerbach.

Kol Ami, a 210-family Reform congregation, received approval last March from Cheltenham Township to establish a synagogue and a religious school at the site on 509 Ashbourne Ave.

The synagogue is expected to be fully operational on the property in the fall.

For more than four decades, Rodeph Shalom maintained two campuses, one in Elkins Park, the other in downtown Philadelphia. The leadership recently concluded that the congregation could not continue to grow and remain a significant force in Center City if it continued to invest money and energy in the suburban campus.

On Jan. 14, Rodeph Shalom President Susan Klehr wrote a letter to congregants informing them of the creation of a real estate committee to sell the property on High School Road in Cheltenham Township.

"To continue to run the two campuses would result in Rodeph Shalom suffering operating deficits, and would ultimately threaten the long-term viability of the congregation," Klehr stated in writing. The inescapable conclusion, she then added, was to consolidate in Center City.



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