It was a three-year experiment that originally evolved from the notion that the Five Towns community was experiencing an overall shift to the religious right. Now, in retrospect, the feeling may be in some circles that the move is not as significant or dramatic as originally anticipated, so the HAFTR Board of Directors voted this week to roll the clock back, try to sever ties with Rabbi Zev Friedman of Rambam Mesivta, and begin to dismantle the all-encompassing educational partnership between Rambam and HAFTR, known heretofore as Machon HaTorah.As an immediate consequence of the board decision, HAFTR will not be funding the second year of Shalhevet High School, the all-girls yeshiva high school created by Machon HaTorah as an alternative to the existing HAFTR high school. The immediate fallout from the HAFTR decision is that some 30 or so young women who had been anticipating attending Shalhevet next year are at present not enrolled anywhere; those involved are seeking to have them placed for the coming school year as soon as possible.
The newly installed co-president of the HAFTR board, Mark Honigsfeld, told the Five Towns Jewish Times on Wednesday morning that the sudden change is primarily a result of the global economic downturn and the inability of HAFTR to continue the funding of Shalhevet as it seeks to establish itself as a viable school in the community. “The commitment was for Shalhevet to be 100 percent funded by HAFTR, with the academics and other aspects of the school to be run by Rabbi Friedman and Yotav Eliach,” said Mr. Honigsfeld. He said that with the economy in the shape that it’s in, the school has found itself with an increase in applications for scholarships, making it difficult to continue funding for Machon and Shalhevet.
For his part, Rabbi Friedman said that he felt that the decision on HAFTR’s part was “unfortunate, unnecessary, and painful” for all involved. Mr. Honigsfeld said that it was still premature to discuss the status of the Machon, because although HAFTR has made its own decision about the funding, the Machon is run by a separate board which has not yet had the opportunity to convene.
Others close to the situation said that another unstated issue was the matter of the disparity in the tuitions between the traditional HAFTR school, Rambam Mesivta, and Shalhevet. The full HAFTR high school tuition is $24,000 annually, while Shalhevet awarded a large number of partial and full scholarships, with some paying tuition in the $5,000 range for last year.
While it may take some time to iron out exactly what occurred here and where exactly the fault, if any, lies, for now all involved are concerned about making certain that the students who do not have a school at present are placed appropriately. To that end, Mr. Honigsfeld said that he is working closely with Joey Genachowski and Jay Gellman of HALB, and they are working diligently in the true spirit of achdus in the community to make certain that all the students are placed. Rabbi Moshe Zwick of the Shulamith school said that he was also contacted to discuss the possibility that some of the girls might attend Shulamith.
The genesis of the Machon HaTorah partnership was based on the idea that over the coming years the traditional constituency for HAFTR would erode somewhat, and that a retooling of the hashkafic approach would have to take place. While economic circumstances were not cooperative in continuing the new venture, at the same time it seems that the anticipated shift was not as extreme as once envisioned, and it was decided that the old pre-Machon HAFTR can succeed and flourish.
After the students are placed, the next matter of business is to try to disentangle the agreements that were entered into and determine what cost, if any, there will be to rearrange the corporate structure of Machon and allow the existing institutions to continue functioning independently of one another.