Helped by a pair of hefty donations, a Jewish elementary school in southern Orange County is folding its tents, so to speak, and reestablishing camp where a sizable proportion of the county's population - including its Jewish population - is settling.
Morasha Jewish Day School, currently located in Aliso Viejo, is finalizing the purchase of a new 4.3-acre site in Rancho Santa Margarita, about 12 miles east of the school's current location. The move will place the K-6 school of 75 children where many of its students live and where a large amount of new development is occurring.
The school, founded in 1986, is housed in portable buildings, which it will move to the new site in preparation for the new school year in September. Future plans include the addition of grades 7 and 8, permanent buildings on the new site, and, during the next 10 years, expansion of the student population to about 300 from its current 75.
"We feel we're going to be the day school for South County, where all the growth is," said Eve Fein, Morasha's director. An architect has already drawn up plans for permanent buildings, and, finances permitting, the school may break ground for the first of those buildings as early as June 2001, Fein said.Even without the demographic impetus to move, the school was on borrowed time at its current location. Its portables are on land owned by Temple Beth El, a Reform congregation, and the temple is in the process of selling the parcel.
Morasha's board of directors had already raised about $500,000 toward the new site when it received a pledge of $250,000 from the Community Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Orange County and a similar grant from the Samueli Family Foundation, which is based in Irvine. Both pledges will be fulfilled when escrow on the land closes, probably in early summer.
"This is the type of large community need program that we feel we should be giving grants to," said Anne Firestone, executive director of the Community Foundation. "We have a commitment to education, so this fits right into our priorities."
The Federation grant is the largest ever made by the Community Foundation. Morasha honored the foundation's president, Michael S. Gordon, at its annual luncheon on May 21. The Samueli Family Foundation is a philanthropic project of Henry Samueli, co-founder of Broadcom Corporation, an Irvine company that designs, develops and supplies devices to facilitate high-speed digital transmissions.
Morasha had been in talks for approximately a year with Congregation Eilat, a Conservative synagogue in Mission Viejo, about buying the land in Rancho Santa Margarita as a joint venture. The synagogue, currently housed in a building that its education director, Elliot Fein, called "too small and not well constructed," also wanted to move to the burgeoning and affluent southeast sector of Orange County. The synagogue raised about $700,000, but that wasn't enough to participate in the land purchase, said Fein, who is married to Morasha's Eve Fein. The congregation would have had to sell its Mission Viejo complex and meet in portable buildings on the new site, which was unacceptable to its members, Fein said, adding that Eilat will continue its capital campaign with an eye toward either upgrading its current facility or relocating elsewhere.
Like its larger counterpart in Irvine, Tarbut V'Torah, Morasha, whose name is Hebrew for "heritage," is a community day school that welcomes children from families across the Jewish spectrum of observance. The school's literature describes an emphasis on critical thinking skills and rigorous academic preparation in the general studies curriculum and an emphasis on relevance to daily life in the Jewish studies component. Most of its graduates go on to local public schools.
Although Morasha has a kosher kitchen and students participate in daily worship, Eve Fein said, "We promote liberal Judaism, and we promote egalitarianism." Morasha will take out loans and continue to raise funds to achieve its short- and long-term goals. "We've done an incredible amount of fundraising from the Jewish community," Fein said, calling Morasha "a small but mighty school that's really got the community behind it."
"We are strong supporters of Jewish education in Orange County, and Morasha serves a dual purpose: it serves the changing demographics of south Orange County, and it provides an alternative approach [to Jewish education]," said Mike Lefkowitz, executive director of the Samueli Family Foundation. "We believe they're doing it the right way."
For more information about Morasha Jewish Day School, call (949) 362-6500 or visit the school's Web site, www.morasha.org