Hanukkah began at sundown last Friday, and on Sunday the Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities held a quiet celebration marking the eight-day Jewish holiday.
It's the third Hanukkah the 36 students and handful of rabbis and teachers that comprise the Orthodox Jewish school have observed together at their 3-acre campus along Indahl Avenue.
Now, school officials hope and pray they'll get to celebrate a fourth.
Its budget squeezed by a sluggish economy, the nonprofit Minnesota Baptist Conference, which owns the building wants the school to buy it outright by Feb. 1. The conference had been financing the school's purchase of the property, allowing the school to make monthly payments.
For Yeshiva, it's a dire situation. Even with a $40,000 down payment made in September, the school -- which relies heavily on private donations, and where 90 percent of its students come from low-income backgrounds -- must raise another $650,000 in the next month-and-a-half.
If they can't close the sale, the agreement reads, Yeshiva High School will be forced to vacate the campus where 36 boys from across the country learn, eat and lay their heads at night.
Rabbi Moshe Weiss, the school's director of development in charge of fundraising, said the Baptist conference has been generous with Yeshiva High School. But the recession of the past year has made that difficult, he said.
"All nonprofits are going through tough times these days," Weiss said. The Minnesota Baptist Conference, "just didn't want to be the bank anymore."
Dan Carlson, executive minister at the Minnesota Baptist Conference, said this week it isn't feasible for the conference to continue financing Yeshiva High School's purchase of the building. The parties will have to evaluate the school's fundraising progress on Feb. 1, he said.
The Baptist conference's desire to sell the former Eagle Grove Baptist Church outright presents the Cottage Grove Jewish boys' school both an opportunity and a challenge.
School officials say attempts to secure private financing have been unsuccessful. Raising the needed funds looks to be a daunting task.
But, if the school can come up with the more than $600,000 by Feb. 1, it will allow Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities to firmly entrench itself in Cottage Grove, a place Rabbi Mottel Friedman, the school's executive director, called "our home."
"It's just not even an option that we're not going to be here," Weiss said, "because this is where we're meant to be."
Friedman and his brother Chayim -- the school's principal, with whom he founded the school in 2006 -- searched locations across the Twin Cities before finding Cottage Grove, a place where the Jewish school has been welcomed by neighbors and city officials alike, he said.
"It's a nice, quiet community," Weiss said. "We have nice interactions, whether it's at Cub or at the post office, with people. I'll go somewhere and someone will say, 'Where are your boys?' when they're gone over the summer."
Losing their building would be a blow to the school that Weiss calls "catastrophic." The chances of relocating within Cottage Grove look bleak, Rabbis Friedman and Weiss said last week.
Closing the school, the rabbis said, isn't an option.
"The school won't disappear," Friedman said. "We're not going to send 36 boys who need us, who have come to depend on us as well, home."
School officials haven't addressed students yet about the impending deadline, Friedman said, but will be forced to soon if no progress in fundraising is made.
Weiss, though, isn't worried yet. "Expect miracles," he said. "Never rely on miracles. But expect them."
To help Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities
Interested in helping Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities meet its $650,000 fundraising goal? Go to www.myyeshiva.org and click on "Donate." You can also call (651) 459-4599 to speak with Rabbi Mottel Friedman or Rabbi Moshe Weiss for more information.