New Yeshiva Opening in Elkins Park on High School Road

The entrance to the new Yeshiva Gedolah at 8201 High School Road in Elkins Park. (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

Like many New Yorkers, Rabbi Yehoshua Rubanowitz felt surrounded by strangers. He felt like his community was scattered. And he felt like he could never own anything, just rent.

Except Rubanowitz was not just any New York City resident. He was the rosh yeshiva for the Yeshiva Gedolah in Washington Heights, a Manhattan neighborhood. So, if he moved, the 100-plus student institution would move with him.

By January of 2021, moving was not a matter of if, but when and where, according to the rabbi. He said he looked at 13 or 14 places in the tri-state area. But it was not until he got a tip about one in the Philadelphia suburbs that he figured out where he was going.

After getting that tip, Rubanowitz visited the former Congregation Kol Ami property at 8201 High School Road in Elkins Park, and he was sold on the spot. The rabbi loved the quiet, suburban location, the building that was already zoned for a school and the plot of land that was big enough to include a dormitory and was affordable enough to buy.

Over Labor Day weekend, the Yeshiva Gedolah received the necessary approvals from Cheltenham Township to open for the 2022-’23 school year, according to the rabbi. It will open with space for 108 students and 12 staff members. Students will live in the yeshiva’s second-floor dormitory on the same site as the school building.

Unlike in New York, they will not be scattered in different, rented-out apartment units. They will live together on a property that the yeshiva owns.

“They feel like one group. That’s the environment they’re used to,” Rubanowitz said. “They come to the school as a group.”

Rubanowitz started the school for 18- to 21-year-olds to study Talmud 13 years ago and grew it from eight students to more than 100. But then he capped enrollment. He said a relationship between a rosh yeshiva and a Talmudic scholar is “forever,” and that he wanted to be able to devote enough time and attention to each student.

Rubanowitz describes himself as the yeshiva’s dean, lecturer, teacher and rabbi. And to each scholar, he is a mentor and leader.

The rosh yeshiva said he discovered years ago that God granted him the ability to teach college kids. It is a skill he has confidence in. It’s also the one he wishes to focus upon.

His vision, he explained, is what you will see inside the doors at 8201 High School Road: students learning in community with one another.

“The yeshiva is done,” Rubanowitz said. “Whatever happens in the community, if it grows it grows.”

But the rabbi chose Elkins Park because he believed it could offer fertile ground for his students and their post-yeshiva pursuits. Rubanowitz estimates that only about 10% of them, if that, will become rabbis once they leave the 7.5-acre, 40,000-square-foot property.

The Yeshiva Gedolah property in Elkins Park is still under construction. (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

Many yeshiva scholars go on to medical school, law school and other professions. One of the rabbi’s former students works in the management operations field and helped him find the company that will provide janitorial staff to Yeshiva Gedolah.

A yeshiva aims to root its students in Torah to develop their moral character. Then, they will be more likely to find success in their chosen professions and become upstanding members of their communities.

Rubanowitz hopes that, in many cases for his current scholars, that community becomes Elkins Park.

“We all aim to be a beacon of light,” he said.

The community, for its part, seems happy to have them.

Cheltenham Township’s Board of Commissioners approved the yeshiva’s sewage facilities planning module with a 6-0 vote in August. And then in early September, over a holiday weekend, it helped the school gain the final approvals it needed to open.

The institution’s hired construction company, Regan Kline Cross Architects, is still renovating the site. But it is in stable-enough condition for the students and staff to move in and start the year.

“They weren’t looking for any zoning change,” said Daniel Norris, the board president. “They were looking for minor variances, so it wasn’t a significant decision as far as the type of organization.”

Norris, who is Jewish and belongs to the Conservative Beth Sholom Congregation on Old York Road, also believes that the Orthodox institution will add to the community in general.

“We have an Orthodox synagogue not far away: Young Israel of Elkins Park,” he said. “And Cheltenham is a very welcoming community to all religions.” JE


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