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Jewish boys' school in Cottage Grove to close

Rabbi Moshe Weiss takes a final look at the now empty Yeshiva High School. Bulletin photo by Jon Avise

Rabbi Moshe Weiss spent much of Monday and Tuesday packing boxes with his colleagues, emptying the old Baptist church that the Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities has called home since it swung open its doors as the area's first school of its kind in 2006.

Instead of preparing for the arrival of around three-dozen Orthodox Jewish boys from across the country for the school's sixth academic year, school officials this week were preparing to shutter Yeshiva for the 2011-12 school year, unable to stave off a fate that has loomed over the financially unstable school over the past two years.

"It's not sustainable," Weiss, Yeshiva's director of development, said recently of the school's financial footing. "We did our best. We really did."

Unable to work out a long-term plan to purchase the school's building from the Minnesota Baptist Conference, and with tuition revenue falling due to the still-struggling economy, Yeshiva officials will suspend the school's academic programs for the coming school year.

Weiss said the school "would need an angel" to contribute in the neighborhood of $1 million to purchase the school's building on Indahl Avenue and set up a scholarship fund for students.

The move will leave roughly 40 teenaged Orthodox Jewish boys from around the country without a school -- a fact Weiss and the school's other three rabbis are working to fix by helping enroll students in other Yeshiva schools. And, it leaves the future of the Twin Cities' first Yeshiva in question.

Weiss said school officials will work to restructure the school and undertake a fundraising push with the aim of reopening somewhere in 2012.

"It's too important of a thing to just let go completely," he said. "That said, we've done some things these last five years, helped a lot of kids, and that can never be taken away."

For five years, the Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities managed to keep its doors open, through the threat of losing its Cottage Grove building to ballooning payments and the theft of the school's Torah.

Weiss credited an outpouring of support from the community during a fundraiser in late 2009 and early 2010 with helping the school avoid eviction. More recently, Weiss was cited by the city for minor property ordinance violations, which he and the school have challenged.

With many of the school's students from impoverished backgrounds, Weiss said parents are continuing to find it difficult to pay the roughly $19,000 in tuition to cover academics, room and board and food. Only one student paid full tuition last school year, he said.

Despite the disappointment, Weiss said he is trying to focus on the positives of Yeshiva's half-decade of existence.

"It was a combination of people, and programs and place -- including the people of Cottage Grove and the city of Cottage Grove -- that made [the school] a special place," Weiss said. "And it will be hard to replace and -- God willing -- will be again."