A "Start-Up" Education

In 1969, when SAR was created, I was a 5th Grade student at Akiba Hebrew Academy in the Bronx. It was not an easy time; the historic building (which was the original Hebrew Institute of University Heights, later to become the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR)), and the once thriving neighborhood of University Heights were crumbling. The following year, my parents transferred me to Riverdale Hebrew Day School whose middle school was just getting established. We had a total of 9 students in our 6th Grade class and had to meet at an ancillary location since there was no room in the Riverdale Jewish Center (RJC) building.

It was very exciting for me, when in 1971, the students of Salanter, Riverdale and Akiba were united under one roof in the newly renovated Carriage House on what had been Arturo Toscanini's estate. Our 7th Grade had a total of 32 students in the newly merged class, and I already knew two-thirds of them!

The next two years were a period of thrilling emotional, intellectual, spiritual and creative growth. It was "Start-Up Education" in the best possible way, and we had a sense that anything was possible. The spirit of joyful experimentation permeated every facet of the school:

 The Old Carriage House

The Old Carriage House

  • Art classes were held in the Toscanini mansion. For a bunch of kids from the Bronx, this was a place of astounding opulence, beauty and grandeur which held great mystery and fascination. Back staircases, greenhouses, dozens of bedrooms, grand ballrooms, terraces with panoramic views of the Hudson - it was our own private Downton Abbey!  

  • Under the creative direction of Rabbi Jack Spivak, our Jewish studies teacher (also the gifted music/choir teacher), we made a film about the Talmud tractate we were learning - HaMafkid. It was brilliant fun, and pedagogically groundbreaking for the time.

  • On snow days, the school provided us with toboggans. At recess, we would all change into snow pants and fly down that epic hill.  

  • Despite having a small class, we had an incredibly talented, beloved ( and somewhat irreverent) "rock-n-roll" band, their music inspired by Woodstock.

There is one story that for me encapsulates the "every student matters" philosophy that defined, and still defines, SAR. My brother, Harvey Bennett (graduate of Akiba and longtime SAR Board member), was planning to have his wedding on the same night as my 8th Grade graduation, and I was beside myself. When I explained this to our Principal, Rabbi Chwat, he didn't hesitate for a moment. "No problem," he said and he changed the date of the graduation!