Hebrew Academy plans expansion


Elizabeth Tietjen

The seventh and eighth grade students are housed in the former Oakwood Country Club building.

Mareike Tietjen, Guest Writer

Ohio’s largest Orthodox Jewish School, the Hebrew Academy, is building a new campus for the boys school.

Dr. Yoel Schwartz, the principal of the boys school, explained this has been a plan for a few years now. He said, “The leaders of the school decided years ago that they envisioned this coming, [so] they bought a property and they slowly tried raising the money to build the school. And now, hopefully we’re moving into the new building for all of the growth.”

Due to the pandemic, the school has already had to make temporary expansions on campus because there wasn’t enough space to socially distance. It has also made the need for a new campus more urgent.

Sixth grade teacher at the boys school, Elizabeth Tietjen, has been teaching in a modular unit at the South Taylor Campus. She said, “The school decided to build modular units because was creating protocols that we’re not really possible to meet in some of our classrooms with the number of students we had.”

Fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has not had a severe impact on the construction at the Warrensville campus. The nature of the job has made it possible for construction workers to continue in a safe way. Schwartz said, “I think the workers, the construction workers, I think they felt relatively safer than I know that I did being in school.”

Because the construction has been on schedule, Schwartz hopes it will be finished by the beginning or middle of August. He said, “The plan is to start school, this coming school year in the new property and the new building.”

The principal of the girls school, Tehillah Steltzer, explains that there have been some problems trying to keep the boys and girls separate due to the size and arrangement of the school, which have made it all the more necessary for this expansion. She said, “Boys […] had to be tripping through our hallways which had issues. The girls never had to go to the boys side for anything [because] there’s no shared areas over there.”

The new building is being built off an old Jewish country club. Schwartz said, “It was called the Oakwood Country Club. Unfortunately, the country club kind of died out, and so there was this large property that they were lucky enough to get at a very reasonable rate.”

The plan to move next year has created some mixed emotions for some, including Schwartz. He said, “There’s a lot of excitement. On the other hand, it’s like, you, you kind of get used to what you’re used to, and I’ve been, this is my second year in this school and I’ve been in the same office in the same building, the same people for the whole time. And so going to a new building is going to be a little bit, you know, it’s going to be a change.”

Schwartz also admits that he had some excitement and relief about repurposing an old country club for the school. He explained that by doing this, the damage to the environment is being minimized. He said, “You always have to be sensitive to the world, the environment, the natural world, while you’re trying to make your interesting things happen.”

Protecting the environment, more specifically trees, is an important part of their religious beliefs. “There’s actually a law in the old Testament that says that one isn’t supposed to cut down trees just for fun, that you’re supposed to be sensitive to the world that God has made for us. […] That’s like the guiding force in everything that the Orthodox Jewish people try to do is doing what’s right in God’s eyes, not just in what looks nice on paper,” said Schwartz.

Schwartz is not the only one who feels excited about the coming changes. According to Steltzer, there will also be changes and improvements at the South Taylor Campus, such as adding STEAM and art labs. She said, “We met with the mastermind behind the financing pieces of it about two weeks ago and he said you’re thinking way too small. Like for next year, you can talk about a little bit of a facelift but in two years, this has to be a state-of-the-art campus.”