Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Senior Grade - Parents' Reflections

The final blog entry of the 2015-2016 school year is different from all of the preceding entries. True to its mission, SAR High School invited parents to be central participants in the SAR Grand Conversation. Rather than being a single essay written by an SAR faculty member, this blog entry is a compilation of letters written by parents of graduating seniors. Each of these letters reflects a unique journey of an SAR family and includes personal anecdotes and perspectives, inspiring moments, and memories to share. To submit a parent reflection, please email your letter to:

Mazal Tov to the students and families of the SAR High School Graduating Class of 2016!!

Posted: June 16, 2016

Dear Wonderful Members of the SAR High School,

Our youngest child is graduating. If it were a wedding, we would dance the mezinka. We are hopeful that you are not overjoyed as you “sweep us out the door.” For us, our last graduation is a bittersweet experience, sad because our children have “left the building,” sweet because SAR will always be with them.

Our children have been hard to remove from the school. Zoe would come back and learn with Ms. Schlaff every Friday during her freshman year. Chanan spent a few months interning at the high school when he left Yeshiva. They brought the values they learned from their experience to their respective college communities, whether it was heading up the learning program at Barnard, playing a leadership role in Israel activism and Torah learning at Cornell or supervising the EMT program at Columbia. The SAR values of Torah and the obligation to look out for one’s fellow man have been deeply instilled. Truthfully, I know that two of the children text their teachers that they feel especially connected to and refer to them as their mentors.

Teachers like Mr. Fleischer and Ms. Pepper have taught my children how to think, reevaluate their beliefs, defend their positions and respect others. My children are incredibly liberal and sensitive. In our house, a discussion about gender neutral bathrooms generates a 40 minute conversation that has their parents wishing that they were as passionate. Teachers like Dr. Michnick and Mr. Tokayer stretched my children beyond their comfortable limits. They taught them to struggle with problems, to be focused on the idea that problem solving is about solving problems and not about getting correct answers and 100s. It is a hard thing to teach, but an invaluable gift. The Judaic Studies staff taught my children to enjoy Gemara, to look at Tanakh analytically, and to love Torah.

We are not yet sure of what Matthew will come away with. We see the glimmerings, but a lot will come into focus after his year in Israel and his years in college. Two things are certain: he would not be the person he is without SAR High School, and that Ms. Pepper will probably know as soon or sooner than we, about who he will become.

Rivka and David Heisler

Posted: June 16, 2016

Let's start with the happy ending. We are blessed with two delightful, engaged, menschy, driven, self-sufficient young women as daughters -- but we're their parents, so that shouldn't surprise you. The somewhat more objective happy ending is that after four years at SAR, both girls have: (1) developed a higher level of self-confidence and self-expression than when they entered high school; (2) a close group of loyal friends without so much of the cattiness and bickering typically associated with high school relationships; (3) friends who are more and less religious, though are always respectful of the most observant in the group; (4) developed a love of learning and engagement in academics, beyond what they had when they entered SAR; (5) gone and returned home from school happy, most of the time, despite the long days, early starts, and no shortage of work facing them at the end of the day; and (6) last but not least, each gained admission to their first choice college early action or early decision, equally supported by SAR in both more and less traditional choices.

But the most surprising thing for us as parents was how great SAR served each of them, despite how opposite they were in almost every way. One attends a small liberal arts college on the west coast. The other will attend a Big 10 public university in the midwest. One thrives on history, politics, and writing. The other loves to solve calculus problems and learn about pendulums in physics. One had no interest in going to Israel, and was fully supported by the school in that decision. The other was equally supported by the school in her ultimately successful efforts to attend her first choice seminary program next year. Somehow SAR managed to be the best place for each of them to grow and be nurtured into the amazing young women they have become (i.e. "It's not just what you learn. It's who you become!").

And that is the miracle of SAR.

Every time I stepped foot into the hallways of that school, I wanted to know what they were pumping through the air vents to make everyone so happy, comfortable, and enthusiastic. They weren't concerned with the brands they wore or who drove what kind of car. They were respectful of one another, concerned for each other's feelings, and helped each other with school work and test prep. They supported one another in everything they did -- whether sporting events, school performances, or fundraising endeavors.

Each Rosh Chodesh Chagiga showed the school's ruach in its purest form -- seniors celebrating being seniors, students singing and dancing and shouting, making me thankful for the high school choices our girls had made, and which we had wholeheartedly supported. I can even understand their sense of ambivalence about leaving this school -- proud of all they accomplished, excited for the challenges to come, but sad to leave behind so many amazing memories.

This tribute would not be complete without a thanks to the dedication and passion of the teachers, rabbis, and administrators at the school. The first report card we received with pages of individualized anecdotals spoke volumes -- and that passion and enthusiasm didn't wane over the years they were there. The ultimate testament to that was in the respect our girls had for all their teachers, referred to respectively as "brilliant," "da bomb" and their "besties" over the years.

So if you can't tell by this point, we have been so impressed and blessed by all that SAR has offered our girls, and even more blessed that they have taken it to the limit and appreciate the gift they have been given.

Barbara Harris and Ben Woloshin

Posted: June 16, 2016

Dear SAR,

Jonathan is our youngest to graduate from SAR High School. It is bittersweet, exciting to see our children move on, yet sad and nostalgic to know that the school days have come to an end - we began in 1997. We know that SAR continues to be a part of our children’s lives every day. SAR is not just a school, it is a family. Jonathan has been an SAR student since he was 2 years old. He was one of the first children in the SAR daycare. He was also one of the first and only student to have an Upsherin in school, which we did with the 7th and 8th graders at the time and it became a lesson plan and celebration with our SAR family.

When our oldest, Amanda, started SAR in 4 year Nursery, I remember her saying one day, “I want to go to SAR my whole life for high school and college and forever.” At the time I told her there is no SAR High School, just an elementary school. She was quite upset, yet lo and behold she did get to go to SAR High School.

We have three children that attended SAR High School following the elementary school. SAR provided for each of my individual children an individual high school experience. The High School was able to cater to who they are as individuals and it was almost like being tailor made for each of them. I remember when Emily was once sick for almost an entire week of school. On erev Shabbat on his way home, Yoram Roschwalb, an advisor and fellow at the time, stopped by our home to perform the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim on his own just because he wanted Emily to know she was missed. When Jonathan wanted to create a Golf Club he was fortunate enough to have an advisor at the time that helped him organize a few tournaments and practices as a team when he was in the 10th grade.

John F. Kennedy said, “The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.” SAR partnered with us to help set the foundation for who Amanda (‘11) Emily (‘13) and Jonathan (‘16) are. Torah values and learning how to be a mensch were of utmost importance to us. SAR also provided them with a love for Israel. Amanda and Emily studied in Israel for a year and Jonathan will follow suit upon graduation. Most of all SAR helped shape them into proud young Jewish people in society with a clear understanding of how to contribute to the world. SAR is not only a school that helped educate our children, it is a part of who they are and it will always be in their heart.

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

― Aristotle

Thank you SAR and Mazal Tov to the Class of 2016.

Stephanie and Harvey Lederman

Posted: June 16, 2016

Sending our daughter, Shira, to SAR was the best decision we have ever made, bar none. She has never been so happy as she is at SAR. Shira loves to learn with the remarkable group of faculty that is so invested in her learning and development as a Jewish woman and a human being.

SAR provides an environment in which our children receive a strong Jewish education and are intellectually challenged. SAR faculty inspire a love of learning and academic excellence, while simultaneously solicitously caring for our children. SAR encourages students to develop a love for Israel and Jewish tradition. The school imbues students with a sense of Jewish pride as well as a strong sense of concern and commitment to the State of Israel, the American Jewish community, and Jews around the world.

Rabbi Harcsztark sets the example for the entire faculty. He personally knows each and every student in the high school and goes above and beyond to interact with all the students. Moreover, Rabbi Harcsztark encourages a dialogue and partnership with parents to ensure the safety of our children. His leadership, dedication, and commitment to our children have enriched the SAR community.

Our family has been privileged and honored to be members of the SAR mishpacha!

Candace and Mark Silver

Posted: June 16, 2016

I got ripped off!

I went to a progressive elementary school and a mediocre high school. I never realized how much I was missing both academically and religiously until now. You see, I am the only occupant in our home who has not been blessed with an SAR education. My dear wife Shoshana, Class of '78, was imbued with the love of learning and Yahadut through her grade school experience at SAR. She was taught the true value of striving through learning to achieve in secular and holy pursuits.

All three of our children, Sarah, Zachary and Adina, were doubly blessed to attend the Academy as well as the High School. The skills each acquired are priceless both in intellectual curiosity and interpersonal skills.

Where is my grand conversation? Where is my Morah Gaby? The scores of talented and nurturing teachers and administrators that allow growth at all levels is quite unique and humbling. Why can’t I attend the SAR shul/kollel or center for continuing education?

Thank God that I live with four SAR alums who are able to guide me through the challenges of life.

David Noble - SAR wannabe

Posted: June 16, 2016

Graduation is over. I cannot believe that after 21 years we are no longer SAR parents. I feel like it’s forced retirement! I still clearly remember meeting my first SAR friend while we were both waiting in the ELC playground for our oldest daughters’ meet-the-teacher interviews. She is still my friend and those 4-year olds are now young marrieds inviting each other for Shabbos meals. Bob and I have spent an entire generation as SAR parents and I cannot imagine not having SAR as part of our daily lives.

Each of our children went through the SAR ranks, from Morah Rena’s 4-year nursery class through the High School, and each had their own, happy, positive, different SAR experience. One thing they all shared, and to us a most special part of the school, is the relationship each of our children had with their teachers and administrators, relationships that have continued beyond their years as SAR students. Sara would object to any parent or student complaining to Rabbi Harcsztark because she did not want him to get upset - ever. She was so excited for Dr. Shinar to be her senior-ex mentor because they had already had many impromptu conversations about her passion for theater. How great was it to see Dr. Shinar, Ms. Schneider and Russi (and Rabbi Gevirtz!) in the audience at many of Sara’s Riverdale Children’s Theatre plays! Sara’s older siblings looked forward to attending her school events so they could see their former teachers, just as they might attend an alumni event as much to see their teachers and administrators as their former classmates. Teachers would always ask us during parent-teacher conferences how our older kids were doing – and they really wanted to know! Everyone in our family looks forward to running into Morah Rena, Morah Rita, Morah Gaby, Mrs. Schloss, or Ms. Schneider for a heartfelt bear hug.

At SAR, students are respected and their voices are heard. I think the positive relationship between SAR faculty and students is in large part due to the strong mutual respect that exists between them. The faculty and administration are approachable, are interested in being friends with and learning from students, and at the same time are able to maintain their authority and their role as teachers.

I am very fortunate to have had the time and opportunity to volunteer in various capacities at SAR. Being part of a team working together for the betterment of the school is incredibly fulfilling. I always looked forward to spending time in the Business Office while working on the dinner journal, because you can’t help but feel happy being inside the SAR Academy building! I developed new friendships and strengthened existing ones, among the parent body and the SAR staff (thank you Heidi, Heidi, Debra, Debra, Rachel, and Sally!).

We graduated from the ELC to the big building, the big building to the High School, and now from the High School to the world beyond SAR. We will cherish our years as SAR parents and who knows, maybe we’ll be SAR grandparents some day!

Judy & Bob Friedman

To submit a parent reflection, please email your letter to: