By: Fern Sidman
Ask anyone in Brooklyn’s Sephardic Jewish community if they are familiar with Ahi Ezer Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway, and the response will undoubtedly be in the affirmative. The flagship yeshiva has reached iconic status for its well-earned reputation as a top-notch educational institution that has served generations of community children in this vibrant community.
Recently, the Jewish Voice had the distinct honor and privilege of speaking with the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Raymond Beyda. The “new” Ahi Ezer differs greatly from the school that previous generations remember. Today, Ahi Ezer serves girls from preschool through eighth grade and boys as well in their pre-school program.
“About five years ago, the administration decided that the time was long overdue for Ahi Ezer to rebuild and establish the glory it once held. The goal to establish a school with the highest level of academics in both Judaic studies and secular studies. Producing a well-rounded young lady was the image of the graduate we strive to produce. With so many new educational options open to parents, we dedicated ourselves to rebuilding and rebranding. Because the history of this school evokes such beautiful memories, we knew that this was the time to update to meet the challenges facing today’s children, “he said.
The Ahi Ezer community was established in New York over 100 years ago and the Yeshiva division in 1962. In the 1950s, Magen David was the only school geared for upholding Sephardic traditions, Two exceptional men, Ezra Nouri Dayan and David Bibi had devoted themselves tirelessly to building Ahi Ezer as they were firmly committed to the belief that the future growth of the Sephardic community was dependent on a quality Jewish education.
The vast majority of Syrian Jews who reached American shores hailed from such majestic cities as Aleppo and Damascus. The Aleppo contingent established the Magen David synagogue on 67th Street, and the Damascus contingent founded Ahi Ezer. Aleppo was a small town and Damascus was much more cosmopolitan. Decades ago, rabbis would go back and forth from city to city.
Today, Ahi Ezer has grown into a broad-based institution that includes housing for the elderly, a food program and mikveh for men and for dishes and utensils, Kollel as well as learning programs and much more. Ahi Ezer’s original logo was a graphic of two hands holding each other. That concept of helping everyone in the community and beyond is at the core of its existence. Ahi Ezer clings tenaciously to the Torah values of giving to others with joy.
In addition to the fact that the administration felt that the school building needed a significant physical overhaul, the goal was to make students and their parents very proud of Ahi Ezer. Attention was focused on making students feel that their school was on the same par as the other Sephardic schools that their friends were attending. The building required a lot of work to modernize it and funds were raised separately from scholarship appeals to leave Ahi Ezer’s educational standards unhampered by the modernization.
With palpable enthusiasm reverberating in his voice, Rabbi Beyda said that “we all got together and did the work on the building with our own workers to keep costs at a minimum. From the classrooms to the outdoor playground on the roof, to the state-of-the-art kitchen in our lunchroom, to the closets, we remodeled Ahi Ezer in ways that very few thought possible.”
There is no doubt that a learning environment that is well suited for children assists enormously in building a child’s confidence and creates a more educationally successful graduate.
Ahi Ezer strives to make their students excited about coming to school each day and want their experience at Ahi Ezer to be one that they will fondly remember for their entire lives.
Ahi Ezer’s goal was to significantly broaden the scope of their educational curriculum, so a life coach was engaged to help students navigate the often turbulent path of life. The coach offers them hands-on tools so that they can also become socially successful.
An experienced and highly qualified life coach is part and parcel of a broad-based program that helps the emotional growth of students. In addition to helping students with issues that naturally arise when growing into adulthood in terms of peer relationships, Ahi Ezer Yeshiva also offers students instruction regarding nutrition and fitness.
The objective is to produce young ladies with proper character who are also socially responsible and who will possess the skills and grades to gain admission to the high school of their choice.
Students currently enrolled in Ahi Ezer are learning computer skills and by the time they reach the fifth grade they have mastered the skill of touch typing. In subsequent grades they become proficient in the use of modern computer technology with courses given in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Moreover, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum is the “way to learn,” said Rabbi Beyda. In order to achieve a level of academic excellence in the secular studies department Ahi Ezer has joined 200 other Jewish day schools in the STEM program.
Because Ahi Ezer has wonderful teacher to student ratios, the small class sizes are absolutely essential for students to achieve high scores on the JSAT examinations. The function of the exams is to equalize the marks students get in their Judaic studies courses from one school to another in order that high schools can determine admission. Ahi Ezer students scored well above the average, enabling the graduates to attend whatever high school they selected.
As a result of their assiduous efforts, Ahi Ezer has begun to attract more people from the community they serve and currently there is a waiting list that extends well into 2022.
Ahi Ezer has now become the most desirable option for many of the young parents in the community as it has now become a school of choice. “If parents want their daughters to have a highly successful future, we provide them with the best educational tools. Our graduates have become teachers, doctors, real estate agents and even a judge, “ said Rabbi Beyda.
“Ahi Ezer boasts a realistic tuition rate and when interviewing students, the focus is on the student’s potential for learning success without regard to financial ability or lack thereof. Rather we look at the potential student. The tuition is either lower than other institutions or matches them. For those parents who cannot afford the tuition, funds are raised to cover the shortfall, “ Rabbi Beyda added.
Because the community has warmly embraced the goals of Ahi Ezer and has taken tremendous pride in its history, there is a highly optimistic tone about Ahu Ezer’s future.
“Although we are known as one of the oldest schools in our community, now that we have invested in the building and more importantly in the future of our students, we can say that “we are the newest, “old” school around,” added Rabbi Beyda.