The Fantastic Four at SAR
Hearing the word ‘Founder’ often evokes the image of long ago funders, captains of industry, supporters who would often leave the foundation work to others. At SAR, this could not be further from the model of our Founders. For this very special group of people, creating this school was a labor of love, of heart and soul, with the shared goal that reflected their own religious, spiritual and intellectual values as a community. Consequently, no task was too small or unimportant to them.
There are many stories to be told, and many founders to extol, but the story below truly exemplifies the unique model of our Founders. Erica and Ludwig Jessselson, and Edmond Lang, zichronam livracha, and Lucy Lang, tehi briyah, were founding members of the Riverdale community. The women were sisters, and as Lucy noted, the brothers-in-law, Ludwig and Edmond, were like “real brothers, and best friends.” They were our ‘Fantastic Four,’ partners in everything they did. Leading our Founders, they modeled for everyone what it meant to invest and to labor in building something important together. Their financial support was crucial, but their involvement in every aspect of the creation of this school from the original conception, to the educational plan, to the actual physical development of the new building for SAR was indispensable. They brought their many talents to the process, and SAR would not be what it is today without them.
Lucy described many meetings that occurred in their homes, “sitting on our couches, late into the night, people were excited, they did not want to go home!” They enlisted many friends and community members to get involved, to partner with them, and this remained their model through the decades, with Lucy and their children, and grandchildren continuing their efforts to this day.
This is a story of devotion, of tremendous creativity, and of hard work. What does it mean when ‘no task is too small?’ What does it mean to put your heart and soul into a school? After founding, and melding the three schools--Salanter, Akiva and Riverdale Academy--into one, the Jesselsons and Langs worked together with their communal cohorts on the physical and architectural elements of the new construction. They pored over plans, visited the construction site, and met with architects, builders, designers and artists, until finally the building was ready for the opening ceremony. On Sunday, June 23, 1974, the dedication and the mezuzah affixing ceremony was to take place. The grand event would celebrate the culmination of the community’s hard work, the dream realized. The excitement was palpable. More than 300 people were to attend, including many dignitaries, community members, parents and supporters.
The night before the dedication ceremony, Erica, Ludwig, Edmond and Lucy went to view the building for last-minute details, only to discover that the contractor, in his drive to finish on time, had not cleaned up properly. The building was indeed beautiful, but full of builder’s dust and other debris. Undeterred, the ‘fantastic four’ went into action. They went home to collect brooms and cleaning materials, and returned to the building. Together they swept and dusted all around the dedication hall and entrance, readying the beautiful new building to be worthy of the celebration that was to take place in the morning. They stayed late, and left close to morning when they felt the building was clean to their satisfaction. They were not going to allow the dust of construction to cloud this celebration. They returned only a few hours later to celebrate with their community, their work of the previous night not known to friends and celebrants. They did everything quietly, and with understated modesty and humility; it is how they approached every task and challenge. Erica, Ludwig, Lucy and Edmond continued to support SAR all these many years, with heart and soul, with modesty, and always with the goal of bringing everyone together.
The Jesselson and Lang families and SAR are simply synonymous with one another, and cannot be separated. We are a blessed community to have had their leadership and support all of these many years; they have infused our school with their values and spirit, and they represent an unparalleled model of what it means to be part of this extraordinary community and school.