In yet another sign of the toll the economic downturn has exacted on the Jewish community, the trendy Tribeca Hebrew school — which helped re-energize Jewish life downtown after Sept. 11 — has closed its doors and merged with its neighbor, the Jewish Community Project.
"It’s sort of a perfect storm," said Tribeca Hebrew board chair, Karie Parker Davidson, who pointed to the financial crisis and real estate struggle as two motivating factors behind the decision. "We had a terrific strategic plan, but it was really hard to build momentum in this economic climate."
Only 96 students had signed up for this year’s after-school program — which had risen to 120 a couple years ago — and keeping the school open was impossible without the financial commitment of more families, according to Davidson. And unlike most traditional Hebrew school programs, Tribeca Hebrew, which launched five years ago, received no funds from a parental synagogue.
But Tribeca Hebrew families were determined to find a solution, and children like 5-year-old Sophia Dorf didn’t want to separate from their Hebrew school friends.
"Wouldn’t it be great if Tribeca Hebrew could be held at JCP, certainly for Sophia’s class?" said former Knitting Factory and now City Winery impressario Michael Dorf, who founded Tribeca Hebrew and also served on the founding board of JCP. "Then I started thinking, maybe this was a solution."
While Tribeca Hebrew had started mainly as an afternoon Hebrew school, JCP had begun primarily as a preschool — but at this point the programs offered at both had begun to overlap, so convergence seemed natural, Davidson said. Rather than seeking a home at a local traditional synagogue, Dorf, whose Hebrew school had a progressive, off-beat cast, approached Darren Levine, executive director at JCP.
"What coming together has shown is that the general interest and desire in seeing a vibrant community function together is much more important than any kind of personality differences," Dorf said, explaining that JCP has remained more financially viable due to its more lucrative preschool-based business model.
"I think it’s a great opportunity to combine the efforts of these two organizations," added Levine, who meets weekly with a transition team to discuss the smoothest possible ways to integrate the Tribeca Hebrew students into the JCP community. "For the students there can be some sort of language continuity," he said.
Within the updated JCP curriculum, there will be two academic tracks for students in kindergarten through seventh grade: a Boston-based Kesher program and a creative arts-oriented Mechina group. The Tribeca Hebrew brand will not be part of this model, Dorf acknowledges, but Tribeca Hebrew will still remain what he calls an "amorphous state of chavera" — a social organization for adults.
"As a parent and somebody who’s been on both sides of this equation, I’m very excited with Tribeca Hebrew connecting with JCP," Dorf said. "I truly think this is a one plus one equals three."