Organizations  /  Kadimah School

The Kadimah School of Buffalo was incorporated on August 17, 1959 and began its first school year with 15 students. Over the years it expanded to more than 200 students from K-8th, and rented homes at both Jewish Community Center sites, several synagogues and former city schools, as well as eventually its own fully renovated and expanded structure on Eggert Road. Changing demographics, however lead to a revisioning of its future, and an innovative relationship with the Park School as Kadimah Scholars, launched in 2019.

Overview

The Kadimah School of Buffalo was incorporated on August 17, 1959 and began its first school year with 15 students. Planning for the Jewish day school was the part of a confluence of local thinking around the desire for the option of a school that offered a rigorous secular curriculum alongside an equally rigorous Judaic education. With a modern Hebrew name, “Kadimah,” meaning “forward,” founders established an immersive, dynamic, future looking Jewish Day school.

Several groups combined their collective energies for this goal. Dr. Nathan and Toby Ticktin Back, Rabbi Alvin and Marilyn Marcus, Dr. and Mrs. Henry Hausdorf, Rabbi Isaac Klein and Henriette Klein joined with a small group of benefactors including Joseph Sapowitch, Max Yellen, and Joseph Palanker in the late 1950s. They were aided by national Jewish events. During this decade and the next, the Jewish religious day school movement grew incrementally around the United States but was often tied to a particular stream of Judaism. The founders and organizers, understood that as a Buffalo institution with a smaller Jewish population than in other metropolitan areas, needed to define itself from the outset as a non-denominational school. While led by Jewish leaders, rabbis and educators from within Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism that was reflected in its school culture, in the intervening years it drew its student cohort from these streams, and Reform Judaism as well as significant unaffiliated population.

Beginning small, Kadimah opened at the Jewish Community Center at 787, Delaware Avenue in the city of Buffalo, with a Kindergarten and two grades. Joseph Sapowitch, furniture dealer, (and President of the Bureau of Jewish Education) was appointed first President of Kadimah. Toby Back served as President of the PTA and Max Yellen contributed major financial support to launch the school and carry it through its early years.

Students were drawn from a mix of legacy Buffalo families and new Buffalo families who had moved to Buffalo for work in the growing knowledge and creative sectors. Kadimah moved campus locations, to Temple Emanu-El on Colvin Avenue and Ahavas Achim-Lubavitz on Tacoma Avenue. As grades were added, Kadimah offered Kindergarten through sixth grade. By the mid 1960s with a provision charter in hand through the work of University Professor Selig Adler, the Buffalo Jewish Federation began its subventions. Meanwhile the Kadimah PTA instituted Annual Dinners to raise money to support the school. The first testimonial dinner led with Dr. Clifford Furnas, Chancellor at the University of Buffalo, and at the end of the 1960s, Martin Meyerson, President of the new State University was the guest speaker. Beyond university leaders, the annual dinner developed into cultural event bringing in renowned Jewish authors most notably, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Chaim Potok and a wave of Israeli entertainers. Other dinner speakers featured a mix of Buffalo professionals and lay leaders including regular speaker Edward Kavinoky as well as clergy leaders across the US and the diaspora. Past Buffalo professionals featured as speakers, including Rabbi Judah Nadich, formerly rabbi of Temple Beth David.

By 1968, Kadimah moved into the suburbs into Temple Beth El at Eggert Road, as 70 percent of Kadimah students now lived in the suburbs. Moving school sites regularly was an emerging pattern brought about by the opposite poles of limited finances and growing numbers. By the end of the 1970s, Kadimah split sites again, adding to its space with rooms at Shaarey Zedek. In 1972 the school celebrated its “bar mitzvah year” and “Kadimah Day” was proclaimed as the first eighth grade class graduated. Kadimah teachers joined the New York State Teachers Federation, AFL-CIO and the school moved to 300 Fries Road. In 1975, Hannah Kaminker organized the nursery school.

By the beginning of the 1980s, Kadimah welcomed Russian émigré students sponsored by the Buffalo Jewish Federation. Relocation followed again to 250 Athens Boulevard in Tonawanda and 1, Cambridge Street in 1985. Rivke Klein Berkowitz, daughter of founders, Rabbi Isaac and Henriette Klein, was appointed Vice-Principal in 1995 and the later 1990s focused on long range planning for Kadimah.

In 2001, a major capital campaign led by Dr. Charles Niles and Richard Zakalik, launched a plan for a new unified home for the school aided by a significant donation by Dr. Sol Messinger, long associated with financial support of the school. In 2005, Kadimah moved into the Sam, Paul and Sol Messinger Building at 1085 Eggert Road. In the late 2010s, however, in reaction to severe economic turndown and changing demographics, the school rebranded as Kadimah Academy and entered a new partnership and shared building solution with the Center for Handicapped Children. Kadimah leadership and staff implemented a series of new programs and initiatives including robotics, and partnerships with area colleges and universities, as well as experiential learning projects with the Darwin Martin House and Silo City in Buffalo.

Despite intense investment by Kadimah supporters, the demographics of community affiliation, economics generally, and the aging profile of Buffalo Jewry, in 2019 an entirely new model for Kadimah’s mission was formulated. With supporters, parents, students, alumni and community leaders, the school was dissolved and the Kadimah Scholars program launched with an independent school, the Park School that allowed for a Judaic track. This entirely new initiative, is being tracked by other small to mid-sized Jewish communities across the United States as an innovative way to provide for a dual curriculum of secular and Jewish education.

Locations Over Time

Documents

Gallery

Kadimah Bus

Kadimah Bus

Kadimah Leaders

Kadimah Leaders

Sol Messinger

Sol Messinger

In the run up to WWII and the Holocaust, thousands of Jews fled Nazi Germany, Austria and Czech Sudetenland. Sol Messinger was born in Berlin in 1932. On May 27, 1939, Sol Messinger, fled with his parents onboard the SS St. Louis. The ship tried to dock in Havana,...

Articles

Discover More Collections

Collection at the University Archives, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY

Written Histories

These histories are reproduced and expanded in Kadimah, 60th Anniversary, 1959-2019, Kadimah, 2019.

  • Chana Revell Kotzin, Looking Back and Moving Forward: 50 Years, 1959-2009, Kadimah, 2009.
  • Chana Revell Kotzin, L’Dor, L’Dor: From Generation to Generation, Kadimah, 2010.

Contribute to this Page

Kadimah continues to collect alumni stories and materials including photographs, documents, film, mementos and written recollections relating to its history. If you have materials you’d like to make available for this purpose, please contact Kadimah directly. 

Thank You

Our thanks to Kadimah for its participation in the Jewish Buffalo Archives Project. More materials from the collection at the University at Buffalo, University Archives, will be made available on this site when the archives reopen.