The Newest Kids on Baltimore’s Elementary School Block

children playing

Once upon a time, long ago, all Baltimore children attended one of the Big Three: Talmudical Academy, Bais Yaakov, or Torah Institute. That situation persisted for a long time, but gradually, as the Orthodox population grew exponentially, many new schools were founded. Sometimes it was for ideological reasons and sometimes to cater to specific educational needs. And sometimes it was just to catch the overflow of children and provide them with a solid education in a smaller setting. Here are a few of them:

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A small start-up school eight years ago, Cheder Chabad of Baltimore continues to grow rapidly. It was founded by Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon, Rav of Chabad of Park Heights, together with Mrs. Chani Feldman, an administrator and teacher in the school since it opened.

“There is a great level of excitement and feeling that we are building something very special here,” said Rabbi Lisbon. “We started off with 13 children in a community member’s basement, and now we have 180 children. We had no idea where this was going to go and planned to continue on a year-by-year basis. We had all kinds of dreams and hopes, and it became what it is.”

Cheder Chabad’s facility in the former Beth Jacob Congregation building, across from the JCC-Park Heights, is large enough to house both a boys and a girls school in separate parts of the building. The preschool, beginning with a program for two-year-olds, is mixed boys and girls. The genders are separated in first grade. Presently, the school comprises grades one to six for boys, and one to three for girls.

What makes the Cheder unique is that it is the only Chabad elementary school in the Maryland region. “As the Chabad community here grew, we felt the need to expose our children to the highest ideals represented by the legacy of the Rebbe’s life,” explains Rabbi Lisbon. “The Cheder emphasizes Torah with yiras Shamayim. What is different is that we are exposing our children to the beauty of the chasidic teachings, as well. We stress that the Torah has two components – the revealed and the esoteric – that complement and inspire each other, and we show how they are part of one Torah. We try to inspire our children with the full beauty of the Torah – the inner and outer teachings.

“We teach the children to appreciate the general studies, as well,” continues Rabbi Lisbon. “We want them to be exposed to the full beauty of limudei kodesh – and limudei chol (secular studies) is not a contradiction to that; it is all part of Hashem’s world. We need to utilize the general studies to understand and appreciate the beauty of Hashem’s creation.”

Mrs Rivkah Bukiet, a Cheder parent and strong supporter of the school since it opened, commented on the massive parental support for the school: “The parents feel a sense of pride and responsibility. The numbers of busy volunteer parents are astounding. They help build the playgrounds, volunteer in large numbers during important fundraising campaigns, and even establish new resources within the elementary schools. We are currently involved in building a new library for both the girls and boys schools.

“The new Parent Teacher Association even sells waffles and coffee on several Thursday and Friday mornings at the drop-off outside the school. The money raised always helps, but the real accomplishment is the positive environment it creates among the Cheder Chabad community. Be’ezras Hashem, there are more exciting programs in the works right now. It’s a pleasure to put in the energy when one sees how dedicated the teachers and staff are towards our children.”

Mrs. Bukiet also points out the strong and respectful relationship with the staff. Rabbi Aharon Matusof is principal of the boys school; Chana Slavaticki is coordinator of the girls elementary division; and Chani Tennenbaum is coordinator of the general studies program for the boys and girls. New administrators are Rabbi Ephraim (Ephey) Rosenbloom and Mrs. Miriam Gittel Rosenblat, who arrived this year and are continuing the incredible work of Rabbi Lisbon.

The Cheder has received support from a cross-section of the community from its inception. Mr. Sam Handwerger and Dr. and Mrs. Todd Samuels are some of the Cheder’s original supporters, who provided the seed money to help get the school started. And Dr. Paul Volosov donated the building to the Cheder. “The most noticeable growth is the participation and enthusiasm of a supportive parent community,” concludes Rabbi Rosenbloom. “Dozens of new families have moved to the Baltimore area in a few short years. Yeshivas Lubavitch Baltimore is a strong presence in town, and the growth of the Cheder is drawing more families from other cities.” 

As Rabbi Lisbon notes, “Central to Chabad philosophy is not only the importance of personal Torah study and observance but also responsibility to the klal. The Rebbe taught us to not view any Jew as “other” but truly as part of ourselves. ‘We are one people,’ for the Rebbe, was not a slogan but a way of life that expresses itself in training our children to be ready to go to the ends of the globe to teach a child the alef-bais.”

Visit For further information call Rabbi Ephey Rosenbloom: 410-585-1498 or email

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JEWELS, Jewish Education Where Every Level Succeeds, is a licensed preschool and therapy center located in the former Beth Jacob Congregation building on Park Heights Avenue, where it rents space from Cheder Chabad. The school was the brainstorm of Shevy Friedman, a physical therapist, who co-founded the school, in 2012, together with her husband Howard, as well as Rabbi Yisroel and Nechama Fuchs and Chanoch and Shuli Bamberger. JEWELS’ curriculum includes limudei kodesh and Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) approved limudei chol. Presently, the school accepts two- to seven-year-olds, and plans to grow with its students, filling a need for children who have developmental disabilities to be educated within our community.

“At the time we opened, there were at least 60 Jewish children in Baltimore with developmental disabilities or learning challenges whose needs could not be supported by our private day schools,” notes Mrs. Bamberger. “JEWELS has had tremendous hatzlacha in creating an environment where children can have an excellent special education, all their therapies and needs met, with the love, understanding and warmth that comes from being in a caring, Jewish environment. We believe very strongly in inclusion.” JEWELS is an accredited therapy center and accepts most insurances. Students can benefit from physical, occupational and speech therapies.

The two-, three-, and four-year-old classes are inclusive classes and have approximately 10 student per class. Each class is lead by a special educator and has at least three adults present at all times. Whether a student has special needs or is an inclusion student, he or she benefit from the expertise and individual attention. The Diamond class, five- to seven-year-olds (graduates of our preschool), is a self-contained class, consisting of four students, that is led by special educators. Most of the day, they are within their own class having their academic and therapy needs met, but for parts of each day they integrate with the Cheder Chabad kindergarten, which affords them many social opportunities. The Diamond class is partially funded by MSDE’s PEN Project. 

A staff of 24 (including therapists) meet the needs of 34 students. The basic school day is from Monday to Friday, from 9 to 3 (Friday until 1:00 or 2:00) Extended care, from 8:00 to 5:00 varies depending on interest.

JEWELS’ success can be measured in terms of its incredibly happy parents, very, very happy children, and unbelievable growth. Recently, its Charidy Day campaign raised over $350,000 within 24 hours.

“The Baltimore community and beyond has proven that they want us to exist, because they have shown us a tremendous amount of support,” says Mrs. Bamberger. “Our tuition covers about 30 percent of our budget, so the fact that we can exist is because of the community…. It is a tremendous thing that our community is supportive of these children, because it’s a life-changer for them. They are going to be different adults because of this…. That these children are being educated in their community and that there is inclusion in the classroom means that they benefit from excellent peer modeling, and makes for a much richer experience for them. But I think that it ripples much further than that. Because they are included and have an education within our community means that they fit in better in their families. When they come to the Shabbos table, they have also learned parsha. When Yom Tov comes, they have also learned about it for weeks. They come to shul on Yom Tov prepared and aware. They can be included in their family more, they can be included in their neighborhood more, and they can be included in the community more, because they just fit in better! Inclusion is a very special thing for the children with special needs, and is also is a big lesson for our typical children, who grow from the experience.”

As one parent shared, “Without JEWELS, my daughter would be struggling either in a mainstream school or a public school. I can’t describe the peace of mind this organization provides for my husband and me.”

Registration for 2016-2017 is open. Children who do not attend the preschool are also welcome to benefit from the comprehensive services offered at the JEWÉLS Pediatric Therapy Clinic.  For more information, please call 410-415-3515, email, or visit

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Ohr Chadash Academy (OCA) is an Orthodox day school located in the rear of Temple Oheb Shalom on Park Heights Avenue. Under the direction of its principal, Rabbi Moshe Margolese, and its president, Ken Gelula, it believes in the inherent kedusha of all learning. This core value inspires its commitment to excellence in Judaic and general studies alike. Torah learning and general studies are viewed as complementary areas of exploration, each of which requires top-notch skills to translate into exciting lifelong learning.

A wide range of supporters in the community have helped and continue to help Ohr Chadash grow and thrive. It has also greatly benefited from the generous support of the Associated, the Peter and Rosemary Warschawski endowment, and the Friedman Foundation. “The school has grown beautifully since its inception in 2011,” reports Rabbi Margolese. “Just over 100 students were enrolled last year and a little over 150, this year. We’re hoping to have over 200 students, ka”h, next year….We have been fortunate to see our students happy to come to school and excited to be an active part of the learning process – through the passion and excitement that the teachers bring into every class to the many different opportunities the school creates for the students to part take in, including electives, student government, the acclaimed Playworks recess program, book clubs, creative centers during class, school-wide chesed projects, and our school’s focus on the ‘midda of the month.”

OCA includes preschool (starting with a two-year-old class) through fifth grade. Sixth grade will be added next year, and the school will continue to add a grade each year until eighth grade. The school prides itself on stimulating each student’s interests through the use of differentiated learning modalities and modern educational technology, so that the pursuit of learning naturally becomes a life-long passion. Yirat Shamayim and a focus on refining personal middot are taught and made into a school-wide focus. Additionally, it provides its students with the requisite skills to find his or her individual passion and place in life. There is a focus on fostering a close relationship with am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, and Medinat Yisrael as part of its education and programming. To support those students who have varying learning needs, teachers use a differentiated learning model in the classroom for varying levels of student ability. A staff special educator goes into the classroom to support students during class instruction time and also pulls students out to give one-on-one instruction if needed. OCA partners with Shemesh for other support services where needed as well.

Ohr Chadash has mixed-gender classes. Starting in fifth grade, girls and boys are separated for limudei kodesh studies; once there are two classes for each grade, the school plans on separating them for all classes starting in fifth grade. As its website states: “Out of our commitment to excellence, Ohr Chadash provides equality in learning to boys and girls so each benefits from the learning strengths of the other in a religiously appropriate way. In mixed classes, learning equality is demonstrated, mutual skills are enhanced, social skills are developed, and respect for gender and individual differences are learned. At the appropriate age, we regard co-ed learning as an enrichment strategy.”

OCA offers an extended day/extracurricular. OCA Stay and Play has options for one or two hour stays until 5:30 p.m. The first hour is engaging, fun, and creative activities that are different each day of the week. The second hour, children are supervised in the homework clinic, where they can work on their Judaic and general studies homework in a conducive environment under teacher supervision and/or use computers or play outdoors. Parents may enroll their children for one or two hours, one, two, three, or four days each week.

Ohr Chadash awards tuition assistance on a needs and funds-available basis, as determined by a small, confidential committee, which reviews all tuition assistance applications.

These testimonials for OCA parents say it all: “Ohr Chadash Academy is one of a kind. It is one of the reasons we decided to make Baltimore our home three-and-a-half years ago. While catering to all different learning styles, it succeeds in combining Torah u’madah while also instilling a true love for Israel in its students. There is no place like it!” Elliot and Yael Schwarzenberger.

“We’re impressed with the collaborative approach of the school. They seek input from the parent body on a regular basis, and it’s obvious that our opinions are valued.” Joe and Tzippy Weisbord

Visit For more information, email       or call 410-999-2200.

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Yeshivas Toras Simcha (YTS) will open its doors to boys in nursery, pre-1A, and first grade, this coming September. The yeshiva year will begin approximately September 1 (depending on the Yom Tov schedule) and end approximately the third week in July. The school day in July will include camp-like afternoons with the rebbeim, including trips, projects, and activities. School hours are 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with transition to secular studies roughly at 12:30. In the older grades, limudei kodesh and limudei chol will end at a later hour.

Yeshivas Toras Simcha founders include R’ Moshe Yitzchak Markowitz, R’ Menachem Pinck, R’ Jason Reitberger, R’ Moshe Meir Rubin, and R’ Nechemia Weinreb.  

“We are committed to a strong limudei kodesh program, enabling our talmidim to attend the best yeshivos,” noted Yeshivas Toras Simcha menahel Rabbi Eli Itzkowitz. “Each talmid will attend a yeshiva that is best suited for him. We believe it is possible to have a strong limudei kodesh and a strong limudei chol program. Our highly qualified teachers will work together with the rebbeim as a team, creating a respectful attitude among the boys towards limudei chol and teaching that derech eretz at all times is fundamental in Yiddishkeit.”

According to Rabbi Itzkowitz, YTS will be a place with a high level of learning combined with a simchas hachaim and love of Torah, mitzvos, and Yiddishkeit. It will focus on each individual talmid, helping him develop academically, socially, and emotionally. Close relationships between the rebbeim and the talmidim, along with small class sizes, will help its talmidim thrive. In addition, the administration will count on a strong team partnership with the students’ parents as a critical resource in the chinuch process – since they know their children’s personalities, strengths, and weaknesses best –to help them grow and thrive.

“We will maximize the potential of every boy, tapping into his strengths and improving weaknesses with genuine concern,” said Rabbi Itzkowitz. “We will try to understand each child and what can be done to help him achieve success.”

Many families are already registering. Space is limited, because YTS is committed to maintaining small class sizes. For more information or to register your son, call 443-961-6780, email, or visit:


 Margie Pensak-2016



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