Rabbi Eliezer Shusterman had a problem.
School was about to begin and Schusterman, the menahel of the mesivta (principal of the Yeshiva Schools Boys High School), needed somewhere to house his students.
Yeshiva bought the St. Rosalia site in Greenfield in 2021, but the property’s rehab — turning its two buildings into both a school and dorm facility — wasn’t completed in time for the start of the 2023-‘24 school year.
Shusterman, who is also the associate rabbi at Shaare Torah, told his tale of woe to congregant and Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh CEO Daniel Kraut.
“[Kraut] mentioned, ‘Why don’t you reach out to the JAA and see what’s available — basically the building is empty besides their AHAVA unit,’” Shusterman said. “Thank God, it worked out.”
Jewish Association on Aging CEO Mary Anne Foley was happy to collaborate.
“I got a call one Sunday morning from Rabbi Shusterman, asking whether this was even a possibility,” Foley recalled. “We chatted about it, and I said it could be a possibility, but I needed to understand more.”
The two met the following day and discussed the fact that since the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center closed in January 2021, and residents had moved out, there were several vacant rooms. The students could be contained on a single floor where they would neither be interrupted nor cause interruptions.
“We began very quickly to work together to set the space as both a dormitory and classrooms,” Foley said.
The school occupies the JAA’s old Darlington Nursing Unit on the second floor of the old Charles Morris building. Two of the bedrooms were converted into classrooms.
There are approximately 40 students and dorm counselors staying at the facility, Foley said.
The school is also using a former inpatient rehab space on the first floor that was set up as a larger classroom as well as a shul.
Shusterman and Foley said the students are interacting with the seniors on site, as the AHAVA Memory Care Center still operates in the building. The seniors, Foley said, could, in effect, serve as “adopted grandparents” for the students.
For example, Foley said, a few days after the students arrived, she was making her way through the building and heard someone playing a piano.
“It was this incredible music,” she said. “I was walking down the hall and poked my head into the shul, and [a Yeshiva student] was sitting at the piano playing for his friends. His friends saw me, but I told them not to tell him. Afterward, he turned to me and said, ‘I’m sorry, was I playing too loud?’ I said, ‘That is so beautiful, it’s wonderful to hear. I would love for you to be able to go down to our memory care unit and play music for our residents.’”
Foley said another opportunity might be for the students to play games like chess with some of the residents.
The students have met with the JAA’s volunteer coordinator, Sharyn Rubin, to begin coordinating activities.
And while construction will start at some point on the JAA’s new senior development, Foley said it hasn’t begun and that this isn’t slowing the project.
“The building is vacant,” she said. “None of the construction slated has started at this point. It’s vacant space and was sitting idle. From a community perspective, it was a great way of partnering with a provider that needed the space. We were honored to do that.”
Both parties might have entered into the agreement with some skepticism, but Foley said the sound of shuffling desks and children’s voices have become a welcome addition.
“Our building has life again,” she said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.