Baltimore, MD - February 28, 2017 - Excitement was in the air on Sunday, even as hundreds of men, women, and children boarded the buses at the Old Court-Baltimore Metro station, shuttling them to the vintage 1968 Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim-Talmudical Academy (T.A.) campus.

 It is hard to believe that a hundred years ago, in 1917, the Hebrew Parochial School opened with only six students in a second-floor apartment; it was tough, back then, to compete with the local public schools. By 1926, however, the school merged with Talmudical Seminary of Baltimore, outgrew two locations, and then relocated twice more to a 12-acre site on Cottage Avenue, in 1939. It continued to thrive, moving to its present Old Court Road campus, equipped to service 450 young men.

In the past 49 years, the school has more than doubled to over 1000 students, ka’h, outgrowing its present structure and  fourteen trailers. The time had come to break ground for the next 100 years, iy’H. I was thrilled to witness this very emotional event, along with several fellow community members—including prominent Rabbonim, Rebbeim, and government officials.

I arrived on campus in time to see classrooms of younger T.A. students, wearing yellow construction hats, excitedly rushing in a strong gust of wind, from their school building into a massive, heated white pole tent. Set up with enough chairs for 1500 attendees, just about all of them were filled by the 10:15 a.m. start time. Mr. Peretz Wertenteil, chairman of the T.A. board, welcomed the crowd, opening with Tehillim led by Mr. Chaim Wealcatch.

“Many believed this would never happen; many believed that day would never come,” noted Mr. Wertenteil. “February 26, 2017, will forever be etched in Baltimore history…The same mission we had 100 years ago, we still have today…”

Mr. Wertenteil announced that 80% of the funds needed for the building campaign have already been raised, however, help is still needed; pledge opportunities are still available. The project is expected to be completed in 15-18 months.

The new, expanded campus will encompass 11.5 acres of school buildings, play areas, expanded green space, and additional parking. It will include the new Rabbi Samuel and Zehava Friedman High School Building (dedicated by Mr. Emanuel J. Friedman and the Friedman family), and The Foxman Bais Medrash (for the z’chus of Isadore and Fannie Foxman, a’h, dedicated by Norton and Carol Foxman).

The existing buildings will be renovated and newly outfitted for the Elementary and Middle School students. Two new buildings will house the Early Childhood Program and the Mesivta Division.

Updated improvements also include: Spacious cafeteria and multipurpose rooms, technological aids in every classroom, expanded therapy and resource rooms, modern playgrounds and playing fields, and a new gymnasium.

Heartfelt Divrei Pesicha--opening with “Shehecheyanu, V'kiy'manu, V'higianu Laz'man Hazeh”--were delivered by T.A. President Rabbi Yehuda Lefkovitz, who has been with the school for 30 years.

The Divrei Bracha, presented by Rosh Hayeshiva of Ner Yisrael, HaRav Aharon Feldman, shlita, were particularly meaningful, coming from a proud alumnus of the T.A. Class of 1947. The Rosh Hayeshiva mentioned that his attachment to the yeshiva actually goes back further than his graduating date, to when he started attending it at age six.

Next, while a very moving rendition of “Vezakeini” played, the Haschalas Sefer Torah, took place. The writing of the new Sefer Torah, dedicated by the Krupp and Ray families, was launched when Baltimore sofer, Rabbi Binyamin Spiro, quilled the first letters. Following the ceremony, shouts of mazel tov preceded the T.A. seventh grade talmidim’s choir taking to the front of the stage, performing the touching song, “Bitchu”.

Mr. Emanuel J. Friedman’s remarks followed, which included hakaras hatov to his Rebbe, Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky, who had a strong impact on his life: “He touched thousands and thousands of people. He touched them in little ways, in hard ways…”. He concluded with, “We all know the day is short, the work is hard, we’re all tired, the reward is great and it is our job to start the task, not to finish it.”

Dynamic T.A. 8th Grade Rebbe and noted author, Rabbi Yechiel Spero, shared powerful Divrei Torah prior to the Groundbreaking Ceremony. What would the Chofetz Chaim say if he were alive today? ‘Kinderlach, pack your bags; Moshiach is coming! I have a little suitcase; go home and pack yours…’

As the historic event closed with singing and dancing to songs like “Siman Tov U’Mazel Tov” and “L’Shana Ha’Ba”, I was glad to meet up with Mrs. Reva Gold, the beloved T.A. High School office secretary for 50 years, who retired at the end of the last school year. She returned to T.A., this year, to volunteer in the pre-school. “This is wonderful; I never thought it would happen,” remarked Mrs. Gold. “I was here when we first opened up. I can’t say I’ll stay another 50 years, but if Hashem says, ‘Yes’, I will!”

Bernard and Marlene Kiewe also attended the event with their son, Roy, and daughter-in-law, Karen. “I lived here, in the Scotts Hill area, for many years, before moving to the Seven Mile area, but my heart is still in the beis medrash at T.A.,” says Mrs. Marlene Kiewe, whose children still reside in the area. “I know that Rabbi Lefkowitz worked very, very hard on this for many, many years, and I am very happy for him to be able to do this.”

Added Mrs. Karen Kiewe, who worked in the T.A. Administrative Office for 13 years, “We just witnessed history, and one day, I told my mother-in-law, she will have a great-grandson who is going to read from that Torah that they started today, iy’H.”

T.A. parent, Batsheva Backer, shared, “I’m just so thrilled; I’m honored to be part of this historic groundbreaking.”

Just some of the students I got to speak to included T.A. sixth grader, Dooby Rosensaft, who shared, “It’s exciting! I can’t wait for it to be built!”

T.A. seventh grader, Shlomo Shaw, moved to Baltimore from Manhattan ten years ago. He told me what he likes most about T.A. are the rebbeim and how they connect to you. Regarding the event, he mentioned, “I think this is a very monumental thing for the town and for the yeshiva.” His classmate, Moshe Langer concurred with Shlomo about the rebbeim (and teachers) being his favorite thing about the yeshiva, and added, “…and the gym—definitely the gym!”

Avraham Yaakov Lejtman, a T.A. eighth-grader, also shared his feelings about the day. “It’s very monumental. I’m proud; I feel a part of the school.” Indeed, T.A. is a real part of the Lejtman tradition; Avraham Yaakov is the eighth Lejtman son to attend T.A.

Six-year-old, first-grader, Yaakov Landa, son of T.A. Middle School Mashgiach, Rabbi Avi Landa, was working very intently shoveling a small patch of brown earth in the back of the tent when he agreed with his older schoolmates, saying that what he liked most about T.A. were his teachers and rebbeim.

Yaakov looked up from digging just long enough to say, “I’m happy that my school is starting to build two new buildings today, because there is going to be more Torah!” Rabbi Landa added, “I’m very proud to be here, and it is a special nachas to have my son be a part of it.”

T.A. High School Menahel, Rabbi Yisroel Fuchs, commented about the event: “It’s amazing; it should be here for another hundred years, at least.”

I was fortunate to catch up with HaRav Yaakov Hopfer, shlita, before leaving the tent: “It was an extremely inspiring event-- you just see the teachers of our people and how the Torah is so much a part of what makes us a people, and we should, iy’H, just continue and flourish.”