Unveiling a campaign to modernize

Aleph Bet Jewish school to mark 18th year with expansion

March 25, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

Tiny Aleph Bet Jewish Day School does not have a library, art room or science lab. School officials affectionately refer to the fifth-graders' classroom trailer as the "learning cottage."

But they know that the euphemism doesn't register well with parents scouting out the Annapolis private school.

"As loving, as wonderful [as this school is], look who you are competing against," said Cheryl Krushat, a trustee. "People are attracted to modern facilities."

As Anne Arundel County's sole Jewish school marks 18 years - a milestone number in the religion - the board of trustees has decided it's time to make Aleph Bet more modern.

At the school's annual dinner-dance today, the board is scheduled to unveil plans for a $1.8 million building next to its current home, Congregation Kneseth Israel on Spa Road, and to start a public fundraising campaign. So far, a quiet campaign has raised more than $1 million.

The building, really an addition onto the synagogue, would be 11,500 square feet and include a multipurpose room that could be used as a gym, cafeteria and prayer room. The new wing would also have six classrooms, an office suite for administration, a library, and an art and science room with running water. It would house 90 elementary school students, up from 50.

The board of trustees would like construction to begin by May 2009, said Barnett Rattner, chairman of the capital campaign and a co-founder of the school. Construction would take six months.

Aleph and Bet are the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. They also represent the first letters of Annapolis and Bowie, the homes of the school's five sponsoring temples. Students also come from Calvert, Howard, and Queen Anne's counties. About 10 percent of Aleph Bet's students are not Jewish, said Nan Jarashow, the head of the school.

Parents send their children to Aleph Bet to learn Hebrew, and soak up Jewish culture and tradition alongside regular coursework. Because children bring their lessons home, their families become more observant of their faith, said Krushat, whose two sons went to Aleph Bet.

"It's been very, very meaningful for us," she said.

Aleph Bet requires parents to do 40 hours of volunteer work at the school. They can help out at activities, tutor or serve on committees. Krushat was board president in the late 1990s and served as a tutor until last year. Her husband, Mark Krushat, is the school's treasurer.

Although the school serves children from kindergarten through fifth grade, the 3,600-square-foot wing has room for only five classrooms, Jarashow said. Students have gym class in the synagogue auditorium.

"I think it's the only school gym with chandeliers," said Jarashow, who shares an office with a part-time administrator, bookkeeper and social worker.

The 18th anniversary is significant in Judaism, which uses the number 18 to represent the word, chai, which means life. Jews traditionally donate to charity in multiples of 18, said Dore Lebowitz, a school trustee.

Although the Jewish community in Annapolis is small, it is well established. Kneseth Israel celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Synagogues are reporting increased enrollment at Hebrew schools, a sign that there is a growing constituency for Aleph Bet, Lebowitz said.

The Hebrew school at Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold has increased its enrollment by 7 percent each of the past three years, said Rabbi Ari Goldstein. The expansion at Aleph Bet is needed, he said.

"It certainly makes people feel good about the future of the Jewish community in this area," he said.

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