Photos: Shmuel Amit
Dearest members of the extended Lamplighters Family: Lamplighters parents and educators, the Crown Heights neighborhood and the broader community of educators and advocates who have become friends and supporters over the years,
Ten years ago, in my living room, a dream was born. That dream has blossomed to a wide community of students, educators, visionaries and advocates who heard the need and call of our children—a personalized model of education that nurtures the unique spark of every child. We should all be proud of our collective work over the years, our beautiful students, our committed, skilled teachers, our body of pioneering parents, the vision of Lamplighters. Though failure was always a possibility, we leaned into the risk. And it’s worth it.
It is with a heavy and sad heart that I share with you that currently, Lamplighters is financially insolvent. We are in an extremely dire state. In order to solve our current crisis, we need to raise significant funds to pay all debts and current costs of operations, as well as structural changes to the organization. In the absence of that, cs”v, we would be forced to plan for an ethical closure of Lamplighters Yeshivah by the end of the school year. Over the last several years, we planned for an expansion (in both student enrollment and charitable donations) that did not materialize in the way we hoped. Our expenses ballooned, and though our charitable donations and grant money went up to historically high levels (approximately $1.2 million last academic year), we didn’t cut costs fast or deep enough and we got hit with some shocks that we hadn’t planned for—e.g., the need to suddenly move our preschool last year due to risk of non-compliance with city code.
We hoped that the move from our three locations from last year (1337 President, 1345 President and 275 Kingston) to our new, consolidated campus at 196 Albany Avenue would provide a shot in the arm, lifting enrollment and donations materially. Alas, our total enrollment stayed roughly on par with last academic year, and our charitable donations have actually gone down year-over-year. At the same time, we continue to carry almost $700,000 of debt from our past (nearly half of which is back payroll owed to staff from the end of the previous academic year – the first time we were late in paying our teachers in nine years, and the remainder split between old landlords and other vendors to whom we owe money) and we continue to accumulate debt on a monthly basis due to a structural operating deficit in the vicinity of $60,000 per month. We have been able to stay current on our payroll since the new academic year started a couple of months ago only because of a lockbox structure, where all tuition payments have been earmarked for staff compensation.
This is not an impulsive letter of desperation, but rather, the transparent communication of the culmination of many efforts to preserve Lamplighters in its current form. We have been witness to many miracles and have experienced the Rebbe’s brachos time and time again. While we understand the need to be prepared for a worst case scenario, we continue to search for a solution that will maintain the integrity of our uplifting work for the sake of our children and the broader community. No matter what, we are committed to get to the end of this academic year (i.e., June 2020) before we would have to close our doors, G-d forbid. In order to address the current needs of this situation, we have decided the following:
1) I have tendered my resignation as CEO, effective no later than December 13th. Lamplighters needs a different type of executive leadership to navigate the difficult days ahead. I will remain on the board of Lamplighters, but taking away the CEO responsibilities will allow me to focus completely on the Charidy campaign and other development efforts;
2) An executive committee of our board of directors, comprised of Arthur Shmulevsky and Dov Tuzman, have been mandated to find a replacement CEO with the organizational and financial skills to navigate the current crisis. In the meantime, I am working closely with the board on the path of ethical closure of the school—while still committed to the fund-raising work that will IYH enable a recovery; 3) Our focus on the Charidy campaign this week (Tuesday-Wednesday, November 26th-27th) will be to provide the funds necessary to prepare for an ethical closure of the school—namely, to pay the remaining rental payments owed on 196 Albany Avenue next semester, payment of back payroll, and settlement of outstanding landlord and vendor payables. Even assuming discounted work-outs on our aged payables, we need to raise at least $600,000 from now through June 2020—including a Charidy campaign with a $350,000 gross raise.
This is very hard to swallow. We finally found a code-compliant building that could be a home for our school for decades to come—a needle in the haystack. We have a beautiful parent body from Crown Heights, greater Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Five Towns and Staten Island. We have 150 students from nursery through age 16 who are soulful, independent, confident and alive in their learning. We have a community of dedicated, inspired teachers, honed in a specialized craft of child-centered education. I believe there is still a pressing need, more than ever, for a school that serves unique learners with a holistic, Torah driven model of education. I pray we will continue to fulfill this critical need in our community.
For the sake of the Lamplighters children, their families, and the educators who support them, I hope you will do whatever you can to support our Charidy campaign. Though we would never put anything past the abilities of HaShem, to Whom we continue to hope and pray for guidance, and the Rebbe’s brachos, to pivot from this experience and create new possibilities, the financial gap right now is simply too large to promise additional services for next year and beyond. However, we still have a fighting chance. For the sake of all the beautiful learning that happens every day in our classrooms, our light-filled students, our teachers who give heart and soul every day, and our committed families, please be present and here and focused — Hineni! — to do the right thing, right now, and help Lamplighters remain open and vibrant until the end of the current academic year, pay our teachers their salaries for the incredible services and experiences they provide our children, and come to peaceful closure with other outstanding debts, please G-d. Please help us keep our school open so that our children can still have a stable, loving educational experience for the remainder of this school year– and beyond, with Hashem’s help.
Lamplighters will always be a deep expression of my soul and act of unconditional love for my children and greater community. I will stand by this family through every moment of this process—whatever might come ahead. Along the journey, friends, family and strangers joined together from far and near, to support the mission—personally, professionally, and financially. I thank you from the depths of my heart for making the last ten years possible. You held the torch high to shine the light on new perspectives in Jewish education, and inspired educators around the Jewish world and beyond. With Hashem’s help and the Rebbe’s brachos, Lamplighters put Crown Heights on the map as a destination for progressive Jewish education. May it be His will that our torch will still burn bright for this mission- and our children.
Hashem can make anything happen. Please be present and here and focused — Hineni! — to help us do the right thing.
Click here to join the campaign.
Please contact me with any questions, concerns or offers to help in any way possible.
Thank you and sincerely yours,
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