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Orlando Torah Academy Purchases New 1.5 Acre Campus

Friday, April 15, 2016

With a few strokes of the pen, Wednesday, April 6, the landscape of Orlando was profoundly altered as Orlando Torah Academy (OTA) closed on their building. OTA is now the proud owner of a 17,000 sq. ft. building on a 1.5 acre campus. This dramatic new chapter in its history was precipitated by phenomenal and sustained growth since its inception. Founded almost 6 years ago with an enrollment of a mere 12 children, OTA has grown to almost 60 students this year. With new families already registering for next year, OTA is anticipating over 20 percent growth to more than 70 students from 1-year-olds through seventh grade for this coming academic year.

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Orlando Torah Academy had been renting space for the past year and a half in a building off of Sand Lake Road and John Young Pkwy. A few months ago, the owner of the building, Larry Liner, a generous supporter of the school, approached the deans of OTA, Rabbi Yehuda Schepansky and Rabbi Avraham Wachsman, and told them that he had received a cash offer for $1.8mil to sell the building to a timeshare resale company. The school would have 60 days to find a new location. Knowing the difficulties inherent in finding a new school building on such short notice and, being the middle of the school year, the upheaval it would create in the continuity necessary for excellence in education, the rabbis said they would match the offer and buy the building. They were given until March 15 to raise all of the money.  

The school immediately launched an urgent local and national campaign to raise $1.8 million. This was a task that many thought was unrealistic and well nigh impossible. The rabbis and the Board of Directors knew that if this was the necessary course for the school to take and the right thing to do, G-d would surely help the school succeed. Personal solicitations began and a mailing went out. In the course of a month a little over $200,000 was raised. The rabbis also met with Howard Lefkowitz to arrange getting a loan from the Jewish Capital Alliance of Central Florida (JCA). It was a good start, but with time running out a more radical approach was needed.   

Ira Zlotowitz from Lakewood, N.J., and president and founder of Eastern Union Funding, was vacationing with his family in Orlando and spent Shabbos in the Jewish community in Dr. Phillips. Understanding the urgency and the critical need for a vibrant Jewish school in Orlando, Zlotowitz helped launch an international crowdfunding campaign. This campaign was particularly unique in its combination of interest free loans and donations.

As the rabbis continued to meet with people locally and across the country, the OTA story hit the national Jewish media. Donations and interest free loans began pouring in from all over the world. Jews, young and old were joining in. Even the young students of OTA were emptying their piggy banks to help the school. From $2 to $40,000, almost 1000 people from Orlando, around the country and around the world wanted to be a part of this historic and incredible campaign. Each day students and parents would watch the big screen in the OTA lobby as the numbers on the crowdfunding website continued to increase. The hand of G-d was clear to everyone and as the deadline arrived Orlando Torah Academy had raised $1,800,000.

For those that have not yet participated, there is still so much to be done. The children of Orlando Torah Academy offer a very bright future for Orlando."This is a tremendous step in the development and growth of Orlando's Jewish community," said Rabbi Wachsman. "Orlando Torah Academy is unique in its diverse student body. OTA offers a challenging dual curriculum program that attracts Jewish children from across the spectrum of religious affiliation and traditions. The professional and experienced staff at OTA are both warm and caring and the parents feel part of a large family all working together towards the same goals and aspirations." The purchase of the entire building will allow the school to continue expanding, broadening its impact and enhancing its ability to fill the vital role of molding today's boys and girls into tomorrow's principled leaders and passionate role models. By providing the necessary space to add more classrooms, a most conducive environment for effective education can be introduced. In addition, the school would like to add a new computer and STEM lab, a commercial kitchen and build a playground.   

For more details about how to get involved, to take a tour or see if OTA is right for your child please contact Rabbi Schepansky or Rabbi Wachsman at 407-270-4936.     

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