Students celebrate the first day in the new building

Imagine feeling that “first day of school” sense of renewal twice in one year. That’s just what the students, staff and families of Farber Hebrew Day School experienced last week.

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, upon returning from mid-winter break, students of the Southfield school entered their new building for the first time. The 69,000-square-foot facility, built in 15 months by Rand Construction and designed by French & Associates, boasts separate wings for its Early Childhood Center, elementary, middle school and high school divisions and is crafted to foster students’ personal, educational and spiritual growth — ideal for a 21st-century learning environment.

After leaving behind 17.5 years of memories in the adjacent “old” building (previously Congregation Beth Achim) and four other previous buildings (Lathrup Village, United Hebrew School Building, Young Israel of Oak Woods and the Labor Zionist Building on Schaefer Highway), the Farber school family embraces its newly constructed home in its 54th year as Detroit’s Modern Orthodox Jewish day school.

Farber’s 282 students, from nursery through grade 12, entered the building with excitement, joy and purpose. The ECC children were escorted into their classrooms to become acclimated to their new spaces, while students in grades 1-12 gathered in the new multi-purpose room for the school’s first assembly under the guidance of Rabbi Scot Berman, acting head of school.

He explained to the students the importance of fashioning their new school into their own miniature sanctuary, just as the Israelites of the desert built their collective sanctuary. The students danced in honor of the new building and celebrated Rosh Chodesh Adar (beginning of the month of Adar).

Afterward, students were escorted back to their classrooms where teachers and students affixed classroom mezuzot. At Farber’s board meeting March 1, the executive board affixed a mezuzah on the school’s conference room door.

In Gratitude

Behind the improved features of the new building, including 21st-century technology enhancements, student collaboration hubs, multiple science labs and an extended art space, lies a collective sense of appreciation to the Audrey and William Farber family whose generosity has solidified the school as an irreplaceable staple in the city’s Jewish educational landscape.

At the groundbreaking last November, Nanci Farber, daughter-in-law of Audrey and William, explained that “this gift to a Modern Orthodox school from a Reform family demonstrates a commitment to embrace all Jews across denominations and the continuous need to support and strengthen all aspects of our community.”

The Farbers’ generosity not only built the school’s physical new home, but also has directly impacted its comprehensive academic improvement plan, guided and funded by the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education of the School of Education at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and the William Davidson Foundation, respectively. The Farbers’ gift inspired the school’s name change from Akiva Hebrew Day School to Farber Hebrew Day School-Yeshivat Akiva.

To achieve its academic and facility goals for the future, the school created its Unified Campaign that combines its building fund and academic improvement plan. It funds academic improvements, construction of the new facility and an endowment for maintenance of the new building. As of Jan. 7, pledges have been secured for 91 percent of the $16 million goal, leaving less than $1.5 million to be raised.

The new Farber HDS building would not be possible without the support of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, whose partnership steered this project from dream to reality. Jim Gustafson, director of Real Estate Services for Federation, along with Newmark Grubb Knight Frank as managing agents for the United Jewish Foundation, oversaw the planning and building of the new facility from start to finish.

The sense of gratitude has trickled down to our most important recipients, the students, who composed thank-you notes to school donors.

Second-grader Ami Feldman writes, “I cannot wait to learn in the new building. I am especially excited for the new computer lab, art room and ‘quiet room’ space where I plan to read during recess.”

Sixth-grader Dalia Wolper writes, “I am really excited for the new building because there are a lot of windows, which means there will be a lot of natural light. I can’t wait for the science labs, art room and separate hallways for each division.”

As the school’s physical space expands, its mission remains the same: to provide a “best of both worlds” education to its hundreds of graduates, who continue to succeed in personal, professional and religious endeavors.

“As the only Modern Orthodox institution in Detroit, Farber Hebrew Day School-Yeshivat Akiva attempts to blend contemporary sensibilities of academic excellence, developing the unique character of every child, and participation and engagement in our greater society, with allegiance to Torah and its values, and commitment to an observant lifestyle.

“With the transition into our new beautiful facility, we are poised to achieve our aspirations more fully,” Berman says.

Malkie Rosenbloom Special to the Jewish News
Photos by Brett Mountain

Farber Hebrew Day School invites the community to join its ribbon-cutting ceremony from 3-5 p.m. Sunday, May 21. Malkie Rosenbloom is the school’s director of marketing and communications.