After five years of building enrollment and educating Jewish students from around the United States and the world, Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities has closed. The Orthodox boarding school in Cottage Grove — which is known as MyYeshiva — had renegotiated the terms of a contract for deed with the Minnesota Baptist Conference (MBC) last year, and failed to meet the June 3 deadline on a $60,000 balloon payment.
The “original problem” was the loss of bank financing last year, Rabbi Moshe Weiss, the school’s development director, told the Jewish World last week. “We were forced to go into another contract with the Baptists.”
The yeshiva took over the former Eagle Grove Baptist Church five years ago. The original deal involved a contract for deed from MBC; however, in 2009, the Baptist group decided that it wanted to cash out its interest in the Cottage Grove property.
The deal with MBC relied on more than $470,000 in donations and one- to five-year pledges as proof and promise of repayment. A good portion of donations and pledges came from the yeshiva’s Cottage Grove neighbors.
A condition of the renegotiated contract for deed was a $60,000 balloon payment due in June. Weiss said he tried to push back the date for payment during the negotiations in February 2010, but the Minnesota Baptist Conference officials were firm on the date.
“We didn’t have any other choice at that point,” Weiss recalled. “And, sure enough, we didn’t have [the $60,000], and June 3, they gave us a cancellation” on the contract for deed.
Rabbi Moshe Weiss (left) said that he and Rabbi Mottel Friedman, the school’s executive director, and other staff members sacrificed their salary payments in an attempt to keep MyYeshiva afloat. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)
Weiss said that he tried in late May to negotiate for more time, to no avail.
“We’re out of the building, as of last Friday [Aug. 5], right before Shabbos; we had until 6 p.m. to get out,” said the weary-sounding rabbi.
MyYeshiva gave MBC “close to $400,000” in monthly contract for deed payments, said Weiss; and the school also spent more than $200,000 renovating the Cottage Grove campus.
“And now [MBC has] the building,” Weiss commented.
Parents of the teenage yeshiva students have been notified that the school will not open this fall. “They’re very upset, they’re very sad,” said Weiss, regarding the reaction of MyYeshiva students. “They were not happy to hear the news.”
School enrollment had risen from 18 to 36 students over the past five years. MyYeshiva was a haven for boys who were not getting the educational experience they needed. Students came from across North America to attend the school — some had learning disabilities and couldn’t function in conventional classroom environments; others were from broken homes or low-income families who were headed down a dangerous path.
“In MyYeshiva, its main goal is you,” a ninth grade student wrote in a financial appeal letter last year. “If it ends up closing down, I have no idea where I’ll go.”
The rabbis at the yeshiva essentially worked as volunteers over the past two years, forgoing their paychecks, as the school scrambled to keep up financially. “I put myself in financial debt, personally,” Weiss noted. “The rabbis of the yeshiva took the brunt of the lack of funds.”
Weiss allowed that MyYeshiva could be back in the education business for the 2012-2013 school year. He remarked that a reopening would depend on getting a new space for the yeshiva, and not entering into another precarious real estate transaction.
“I’m still working pretty hard to try to take care of some of the debt that we acquired, some bills to be paid, that we just can’t walk away from,” he said.
Residents of Cottage Grove will miss the anomalous Orthodox Jewish school in their midst.
Rabbi Weiss said a neighbor called and “was literally in tears, said that he was really going miss seeing the kids out there, and he said that he’d be sad to see an empty building.”
Also, Weiss mentioned that he recently got an e-mail from a Jewish woman who used to work out in Cottage Grove. “She drove by the school every day, and every time she would drive by the school and see the sign and see the boys outside, it would remind her of her Jewish heritage,” Weiss related about the e-mail message.
“I know that we did a lot of good there; and I’m sure that we know very little of the good that we did. I’m sure that there’s a lot that we don’t even know.”
(Erin Elliott Bryan contributed to this story)