New year, new home for Block Yeshiva boys school

A class at Block Yeshiva High School’s Boys Division, which started the school year in the Covenant CHAI complex on the I.E. Millstone Jewish Community Campus.

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Block Yeshiva High School’s boys division has found a home.

Last week, the educational institution moved into its new offices on the first floor of the Chai Building on the Millstone Campus. The deal was sealed as part of a one-year lease with the Jewish Federation of St. Louis but Rabbi Gabriel Munk, principal of the school, said he is hopeful about a longer term arrangement developing.

“It’s the first location where I’ve walked in and said, ‘This is the place I want to put stakes down for 10 years,” he said.

This is the school’s fifth location in the past decade and a half. Last year, the classes ran at Congregation Shaare Emeth, where Block relocated after leaving Nusach Hari B’nai Zion in 2009. NHBZ filed a lawsuit against Block Yeshiva for $38,000 in back rent in September 2009. The case was settled out of court last April.

Munk said the school was treated well at Shaare Emeth but that the temple eventually required Block’s space to expand its own afternoon school.

The girls division of Block has been housed in a dedicated facility on the H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy campus for several years.

The school’s new space features seven rooms including three classrooms for Block’s 18 students, a faculty area, and offices for the principal and secretary. The rooms are arranged along a main hallway, which Block Yeshiva will not be renting.

Munk said he is excited about the improvements the move will bring. “We’ve not had a faculty room in a long time, not at Shaare Emeth, not at Nusach Hari, not at the Olivette Community Center,” he said.

Alex Peskin, 15, said he didn’t think the new facilities would have much effect on his day-to-day life as a student but he did note that they were bigger than the school’s previous location.

“You can see that we have a lounge with a ping pong table,” said Peskin, 15. “We didn’t have a lounge last year.”

The nearly 4,000 square feet of space in the Chai Building was vacated earlier this year when Adult Day Services relocated to the Jewish Community Center’s new Staenberg Family Complex. Munk said the school’s previous home had about 3,200 square feet.

“It became available right whenever I was told by Shaare Emeth that their building was no longer available,” Munk said. “It was almost a divine inspiration.”

Location was another factor in the move. The campus is only minutes away from the companion girls school on Warson Road., an important point since the boys and the school’s teachers are dependent on lab facilities there. It’s also closer to University City where many of the students reside.

Munk hopes that in the future, the relocation may bring other benefits as well.

“A parent coming here can be impressed,” he said. “From a recruiting perspective, I thought this site was a great shot to help the school grow. It has the resources on this campus that can compare to very nice school campuses if the synergy works right.”

The principal eventually envisions a series of partnerships with other organizations on campus, particularly the JCC where about 40 percent of the student body are already members. Munk would like to see if the rest can’t eventually join them, perhaps being able to use the ballfields and basketball courts. The restaurant at the J will be convenient for student use as well, he said.

Meanwhile, Munk sees potential opportunities for internships or learning experiences with nearby organizations such as the Jewish Light, the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center and the Brodsky Library.

He said the school plans to hold prayers, open to anyone on campus, at a quarter to eight in the morning and a quarter to four in the afternoon.

Lynn Wittels, president and CEO of the JCC, said her agency had had some contact with Block but no formal arrangements had been made.

“We love the concept of partnering with anybody in the Jewish community,” she said. “We think it’s a great way to make our resources extend further. We’re looking forward to looking into those. At this point I don’t know that we have anything confirmed but we’re happy to talk to them about all possibilities.”

Janet Weinberg, executive director of Covenant House/Chai Apartments, said she looks forward to any opportunities for partnerships as well.

“We welcome the school,” she said. “One of my staff gave the students high praise saying he’d never seen such polite and considerate children.”