Friday, February 26, 2021

(Courtesy of SAR) SAR’s Anniversary Dinner has for more than 50 years been the celebratory highlight of the year for the community. Traditionally, this event has attracted upward of 800 guests to pay tribute to volunteers and faculty honorees who have had a tremendous impact in and out of the classroom. The SAR dinner is also the school’s largest fundraising campaign of the year.

However this year’s anniversary dinner, SAR’s Celebration of Heroes on January 14, was a very different event. To start, there was no buffet (though treat boxes were mailed to homes), no mingling (except on social media) and no valet (thank goodness). Nevertheless, it was an uplifting and joyous evening filled with toasts, music and honoree videos and beautiful words of gratitude, with close to 1,200 devices tuned in to honor a school’s achievements in a most challenging year. All this made SAR’s first-ever virtual dinner a night to remember.

SAR was one of the first schools to feel the impact of the pandemic, shutting its doors nearly a year ago, on March 3, 2020, reopening virtually just two days later. While quick to pivot from a traditional in-class setting to online learning, as the academic year winded down the school’s administration faced the question of how to move forward in a COVID-19 world.

This year’s dinner honorees, SAR’s nine “heroes,” included medical, design and architectural professionals, as well as volunteers at the forefront of caring for the health and wellbeing of the school’s larger community. Tal Bouskila, Dr. Teena Lerner, Dr. Gita Lisker, Dr. Joshua Rocker, Esther Sperber Hila Stern, and school nurses Esther Bacharach, Russi Bohm and Maggie Listhaus were celebrated for their selfless commitment of time and professional expertise in helping SAR, and its larger community, navigate the crisis of COVID-19.

“When planning this year’s anniversary celebration, it was a clear choice to honor those who jumped in immediately to selflessly care for the broader community with leadership, service and compassion and help a school confront a challenge like no other, keeping its students—and larger community—safe, and learning in the most effective way possible amidst a pandemic,” said Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, principal, SAR Academy.

Multiple virtual town halls during the first six months of the pandemic offered a community real-time information about the virus while a hotline to SAR’s medical team was established so parents could get guidance from the doctors. At the same time, the team was working on safety protocols for reopening in the fall, creating and formalizing health and safety mechanisms, an algorithm for testing and quarantining, and screening and testing students as required.

“SAR’s voluntary task force of experts devoted hours of time and professional expertise to ensure the safety, health and basic needs of SAR’s students, faculty and staff with a goal to keep students safe, to keep them in school, in-person, and to have the best academic experience possible,” said Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, principal, SAR High School. “Our medical and design advisers have been there from the start, counseling us from the stressful earliest days of the pandemic through a safe reopening in the fall and throughout the school year. Throughout, our volunteers do what we do best as a community—come together to help one another when needed most.”

Utilizing smart, creative and efficient practices, the architectural and design experts helped SAR reinvent in-school learning, adhering to the school’s Medical Advisory Committee’s guidance on safety practices. They creatively re-imagined the architectural design of both the Academy and High School buildings, reconfiguring classrooms and community spaces on behalf of a school aspiring to bring back 100 percent of its students for in-person learning in the fall, all while considering the physical and emotional well-being of its students and faculty and staff.

The virtual dinner on January 14, SAR’s 77th day of consecutive in-person learning since September, was a blend of toasts, speeches and music videos. More than 250 people “stopped by” to three pre-show virtual receptions, which offered guests an opportunity to personally toast the honorees and offer well wishes. Parents, teachers, friends and family proudly shared their gratitude for the honorees whose patience, strength and guidance yielded a year of face-to-face learning.

Along with the honorees, this year’s dinner also celebrated the faculty and students who have embraced the changes and have discovered a new appreciation for in-person learning. Students created music videos hailing the honorees through music and dance.