The skies were threatening on Friday morning, but that didn't dampen spirits at the upper school campus dedication of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Nassau County and High School of Long Island in Williston Park.
The dedication ceremony started with the singing of the Israeli national anthem, the Hatikva, by students, faculty and administrators in the gymnasium of the Schechter School, formerly the Mineola School District's Cross Street School.
Rabbi Joshua Rabin, Schechter rabbi-in-residence, delivered the invocation and told the students that their faith is present in the here and now - and they have a role in demonstrating it.
"The Torah is not in the heavens. The Torah is here," Rabin said. "Everything we do in this community can bring the Torah on earth."
Sixth grader Jeremy Kohler followed Rabin's remarks by playing the Tekiyat Shofar.
Cindy Dolgin, Schechter head of school, offered welcoming remarks to the guests at the dedication, who included Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar, St. Aidan School Principal Eileen Oliver and assistant principal M.E. Gelenskas.
"Welcome to a place where curiosity reigns," Dolgin said. "Welcome to a place where we learn to be patriotic and loyal to the state of Israel."
Former Schechter head of school Rabbi Lev Herrnson drew enthusiastic applause from the students when Dolgin acknowledged his presence at the ceremonies.
Herrnson had negotiated the deal that enabled the Schechter School to lease the Cross Street facility from the Mineola School Board, which had decided to close the school as part of a district consolidation.
Fouad Pouyafar, president of the Schechter School board of trustees, said the school's mission was a K-12 school affiliate with the Jewish conservative movement.
"We emphasize Limud, study of Torah; Mitzvot, Jewish observance, Gemilut Chasidim, deeds of kindness and Tefilah, worship of God," Pouyafar said. "We are deeply committed to enhancing the full intellectual and spiritual potential of each child regardless of gender."
Pouyafar thanked Herrnson for his effort in "making the board's vision a reality."
The Schechter School had formerly been located in Glen Cove, where it was maintaining temporary class space in trailers at a facility it had outgrown. There are approximately 200 students currently enrolled in the school.
The climactic moment of the morning's ceremony was to be affixing a mezuzah to the front doorway of the school. The mezuzah contains a Jewish prayer, Shema Israel, from the book of Deuteronomy.
Pouyafar accepted a mezuzah presented by Mineola resident Linda Ramos, a school district activist who said she thought it was appropriate after the controversy stirred by plans to lease Cross Street to the private Jewish school.
"I thought it was a nice gesture to welcome Solomon Schechter," said Ramos, a member of the activist People for Excellence and Affordability in Continuing Education. PEACE is a grassroots organization that actively supported the Mineola School Board's consolidation plans and the re-election of school board members Terence Hale and Will Hornberger, who both approved the lease, in the most recent election in May.
The Schechter Middle School choir sang spirited renditions of "Hallelujah" and "Be True to Your School" as a prelude to the procession of the student body from the gym to the front of the school.
Four students carried the scrolls of the Torah in leading the procession, as the middle school and high school banners were carried by other students.
Daniel Koas, president of the Schechter High School Student Council and Dean Abada, vice president of the middle school Knesset, affixed the mezuzah to the front doorway as a soft rain started falling.
Asked how he felt about the occasion, Rabbi Herrnson said, "I am so delighted to see Schechter at home in this wonderful location."
Along with the need for a larger facility than it occupied in Glen Cove, the Schechter School hopes to draw more students to the more central location of Williston Park.
The five-year lease of the school by the Mineola School Board to Solomon Schechter was the subject of heated debate in Williston Park. The Williston Park Village Board and area residents raised concerns about potential traffic problems resulting from bus traffic at the school, which is located across Willis Avenue from the St. Aidan School. Residents also expressed concerns about the loss of access to the school's ballfields, which the Cross Street School had provided St. Aidan and the Williston Park Little League.
Questions of anti-Semitism were raised when the Mineola School Board was on the verge of signing the lease and someone inserted a flyer in the Sunday morning mass bulletin at St. Aidan Church calling the school a yeshiva, a Jewish rabbinical school. The flyer called for people to attend a public meeting about the prospective lease.
The school board and the village board both retained traffic experts to analyze the situation before and after the opening of school.
Since opening last week, traffic has been a non-issue. Morning and afternoon bus traffic from Schechter has not produced the problems many predicted.
Ehrbar said the changeover from Cross Street to Schechter has been a "very smooth transition," and he praised the Schechter School's "proactive" stance in reaching out to the community, sending gift baskets to village board members and residents who live on the periphery of the school grounds.
"We welcome them to the neighborhood and we'll work hand-in-hand with them," Ehrbar said.