By Stacey Dresner
LONGMEADOW — For Esther Kosofsky, Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy (LYA) is truly home.
Her father, Rabbi Dovid Edelman, z”l, was the guiding force behind LYA for many years, and she and her siblings were practically raised in the school. Esther was an LYA student from preschool to middle school and has both taught and worked in the school’s administration over the years. All of her nine children have gone to LYA and now three of her grandchildren are LYA students. Her husband, Rabbi Noach Kosofsky, is the Head of School, and their son Lavy Kosfsky and his wife Mushkie both teach at the school, as do Rabbi Kosofsky’s Rabbi Chaim Kosofsky and his wife, Rochel Leah.
“To me it is as much a part of my life as my family is,” Esther said.
This is a milestone year for LYA. When school opened in August, the school began celebrating its 75th year of operation.
“To see it continuing and being strong, continuing the legacy of the Chabad movement and of my father is the most important thing to me.”
Besides celebratory events that are still in the planning stages, LYA has kicked its 75th year off going through its accreditation process with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
LYA received its accreditation from NEASC in 1999, becoming the first Jewish day school to be accredited by the organization.
“We wanted an outside authentic body to tell us whether we had a good program or not and we took the process very seriously,” said Rabbi Noach Kosofsky.
Back then, the school’s staff and board created a heart-felt mission statement – “to provide and promote the highest quality Judaic and secular education to a diverse community of Jewish children. Our aim is to cultivate students to reach personal excellence and to be responsible members of American society. Within a warm, safe and nurturing environment, our focus is to inspire a love of learning, develop academic and social skills and foster responsibility in each individual child.”
LYA then rewrote its entire curriculum, both Judaic and secular.
In March of 2000, after a visit from a team of NEASC educators, LYA received notice that it was an accredited member of NEASC.
In late October, another team of NEASC educators visited LYA for its third accreditation process.
During last month’s school visit, the teachers who came to do the school study examined LYA’s self-study, met and spoke to all of the teachers and staff, and observed classrooms.
“It’s a really great process,” Rabbi Kosofsky explained. “It’s not about them grading us, it’s about us writing what our strengths are, writing what our areas of weakness are, and what recommendations we have for ourselves. And it turned out to be a 100-page document with many appendices.
“The first audience is the school, and [the NEASC team] basically come here to validate that what we wrote is accurate. Maybe there are things that we forgot to put in on the negative side; maybe there are things we didn’t say on the positive side. It’s basically
self-improvement by peer review.”
LYA will get official notification of its accreditation next spring. But Rabbi Kosofsky says the process itself is a huge gift to the school.
“I really feel it is basically a step-by-step process in order to improve the school.
It makes us better…People are much more comfortable and have more trust and faith in the program we have here,” he said. “I think one of the important components of why we are here today, and thank G-d, thriving, is that we were accredited and continue the accreditation process.”
Rabbi Edelman’s legacy
LYA first opened its doors in 1945 on Sumner Avenue in Springfield.
Rabbi Edelman and his wife, Leah, came on board when the school was just four
“There had been several people trying to get the school off the ground,” Esther Kosofsky explained.
Rabbi Edelman was sent to head LYA by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1950.
“There had been three or four principals between 1945 and 1950,” Rabbi Kosofsky said. “Rabbi Edelman got a call from Chabad headquarters that the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe wanted him to come here. He was in Boston at the time. He was married, he had one little child and his wife was expecting. Her parents lived in Boston. He gets the call… ‘We need you to go to Springfield.’ He said, ‘Where’s Springfield?’ He said, ‘When should I go, tomorrow?’ and they said, ‘No we need you out there tonight.’”
It was in the days before the Mass Pike – it took Rabbi Edelman practically all night to get to Springfield.
He got there in the morning and he took over the school, which had many organizational challenges. “The story goes that he wanted to go in and give a personal report to the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe , Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, but it was a critical time and he felt he couldn’t leave,” Rabbi Kosofsky said. “He sent in a report by phone and the response he got back was that he had given the Rebbe great pleasure knowing that he was there and taking control.
“He worked slowly but surely to strengthen the school and to build it up,” Rabbi Kosofsky added.
The legacy of Rabbi Edelman’s influence during his 65 years at LYA can be seen in a 2014 video which was shown during the reception and dinner held for the NEASC educators last month.
“The teachers never knew my first name. It was so impersonal,” Rabbi Edelman recalled in the video. “I said, ‘No. If I make a school it is going to be personal. We will know the students, the students will know us.”
“Rabbi Edelman formed the culture of the school. He was a very warm person, a very nurturing person. He saw the good in everything. He was very positive. He made everyone feel special,” Rabbi Kosofsky said.
Peter Kurzberg attended LYA during the 1950s when it was located on Sumner Avenue. He grew up in Springfield where his family attended Kodimoh Synagogue.
He has many fond memories of LYA.
“It was always a warm and nurturing environment,” Kurzberg recalled.
“I do remember riding the bus every morning. Rabbi Edelman, of blessed memory, rode the bus with us. So I remember running up and getting on the bus and he would be sitting there…He smoked a pipe back then and I remember the smell.”
He adds that Rabbi Edelman would sometimes come outside during recess and play ball with the boys.
One of his very favorite memories of those days was when Rabbi Edelman took the students into New York to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe. “I remember standing on a chair, yelling, ‘L’Chaim!’ to the Rebbe.”
Today Kurzberg and he and his wife live in Braintree. He has been president of Congregation B’nai Sholom, a Conservative temple in town, for the past 10 years.
“Wherever we have lived we have always wanted to belong to a synagogue and I think a lot of that has to do with the Yeshiva,” Kurzberg said. “LYA definitely provided a strong foundation for me for Judaism, which is what my parents wanted,” he said. “That has stuck with me. I may not be the most observant person but I still have a strong foundation of Judaism and I understand what it means to be a Jew.”
Over the years, LYA has grown, but there have been some tough years.
“There were times when things were extremely difficult in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s,” Rabbi Kosofsky said.
This included an arson fire in the 1970s in the school’s second location, a four-classroom building on Oakland Street. After the fire, Rabbi Edelman contacted the 7th Rebbe. According to Rabbi Kosofsky, “He said, ‘One option is to rebuild from the fire. Or should we move to a new building in a new location?’ The rebbe’s response was — and he underlined the words — ‘New building, new area.’”
LYA purchased land at 1148 Converse Street in Longmeadow 40 years ago and the new school building was completed in 1979.
“Being in a new building and a new community, it started growing,” Rabbi Kosofsky said.
But another rough patch was during the 2007-2008 national fiscal crisis.
“A number of families moved away. The Jewish Federation’s support was cut, the Endowment Foundation – all endowments were way down. So it was a very challenging time. Enrollment dropped.”
Today, enrollment is up to more than 90 students.
“I think that appealing to a population that requires a day school in their life, we become a very viable option,” said Esther Kosofsky. “There’s a belief and a determination that we have — it’s a no-fail policy. So yes, we’ve had times 15 years ago or so when our enrollment seemed to be getting smaller, but closing is not an option. We are here. We have a mission. Our mission is to provide a Jewish day school education but the broader mission of LYA is to provide a place for Jews of all ages, all denominations, all levels of observance and education to find their place here.”
Joe Koltz graduated from LYA in 2005. A native of Longmeadow, his family belonged to Beth Israel Synagogue, now a part of Congregation B’nai Torah. Both he and his younger brother Ethan went to LYA from preschool to eighth grade.
“The loving nurturing environment of the teachers and staff members. That was really absorbed by the students,” said Koltz who fondly remembers the LYA Purim carnival, family Chanukah dinners and talent shows at LYA, as well as the bi-annual LYA Israel trip.
Koltz now lives in Westfield and is an electrical engineer working for ISO New England in Holyoke, a firm that operates the power grid of New England.
“Scholastically, LYA, prepared me well for high school,” Koltz said. “My freshman year was an absolute cakewalk as far as time management and motivation to complete the homework assignments because I was already used to having a heavier homework load in 7th and eighth grade.”
This dedication to educational excellence continues.
“First and foremost, our goal is to meet each individual child where they are and that is true whether they are on the playground, in the lunchroom, in the classroom, Judaic or secular,” said Heather Penn, LYA’s assistant education director. “I have worked in public school and now here at LYA and some people will say, ‘they can’t possibly be getting the same education that they get in public school.’ And I say, you know what? I think they are getting a better secular education. When our students go into a
high school they are in honors classes.
We follow the state frameworks to insure that our students are getting the best possible education.”
At the age of 28, Joe Koltz now sits on the board of LYA, like his mother and grandmother did before him.
And while he says his observance is more along the lines of the Conservative movement, he believes that “without the LYA private education and that exposure at such a young age I wouldn’t have the passion I have today to remain observant at my level.”