June 24, 2024
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June 24, 2024
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SAR Dedicates Expanded Early Learning Center

From November 10-15, SAR Academy held four separate Chanukat Habayit celebrations for their new triple-sized Early Learning Center (ELC) building, dedicated in honor of Meyer Ouaknine z”l and Paul Neuwirth by their children, Nataly and Stephen Neuwirth.

“A week-long Chanukat Habayit, outside, socially distanced and in small groups was actually the perfect celebration,” said Alana Rifkin Gelnick, associate principal for the ELC. “It allowed for safe and intimate gatherings celebrating the old and new and how they intertwined to create this structure and continue SAR’s mission.”

Each celebration included a tour of the new facility, currently used daily by 330 students and 60 staff members. The ground floor, also known as Floor Zero, includes an imagination playground and stadium seating. Above are three stories, each color-labeled, housing 16 classrooms, office space, a lunch room, a teachers’ lounge, the nurse’s office, a library, conference rooms, a tinker space and therapy space. Each level has a fenced terrace: the Gan Ilan garden, one for riding toys and another with sensory tables and easels. The rooftop contains two playgrounds. After the COVID pandemic ends and first grade returns to the “Big Building,” the vacated space will be used for sensory and motor activities.

Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, SAR principal, told the Tuesday crowd, “Three years ago I called Nathan Kahn to come over and check something out with me. We spent seven minutes surveying the space and another seven minutes thinking about the old building, and we both agreed it was time. Our architect, Tom Winter, and Facilities Director Nick Fadda joined in. That’s how it happened. We took out a napkin, and 12,000 square-feet became 36,000 square-feet.”

At Sunday’s closing celebration, Rabbi Krauss noted, “The last day of Chanukah is called Zos Chanukah; I never personally experienced that until now. Today we celebrate true nissim, leaders of our community, at a dark time but for a powerful moment.” Krauss described the previous three events. Old-Timers Night honored third-generation families. Bronx Night honored the defunct Mosholu Jewish Center and Rabbi Herschel Schacter’s family. His wish was that proceeds from that shul be dedicated to the future. On another night, ELC faculty members who taught in the old “carriage house” were recognized.

Gelnick’s predecessor, Marcia Jacobowitz, noted, “My grandchildren who are in the Academy building have been keeping me up to date on the progress of the ELC. One day, they said the ELC should really be renamed the Big Building, it is so huge, and there will be so much space for all the little kids…I remember when the teachers’ room and the administrative office shared the same space and whenever the phone rang, the teachers had to be hushed; otherwise the secretaries could not hear a thing. When the kids went out to recess, the teachers had to remember that pitcher of water, because there was no water fountain.”

“There was a dream by the teachers, administrators and parents that someday there would be an ELC that would be spacious and well-equipped to serve as a role model for schools around the world.” Jacobowitz concluded. “My bracha to you is that you’ll be zoche to see thousands of children benefit from your dedicated efforts, and that SAR continues its educational leadership for the entire global Jewish community. I love SAR, and please God that I continue to shep nachas from its many successes to come.”

Rabbi Krauss introduced Stephen Neuwirth, noting, “I feel blessed to have gotten to know you as a parent, a friend, chair of the finance committee, and a baal chesed for over a decade.” The Neuwirths supported the music program, more recently the middle school construction, and then this project.

“The Early Learning Center had a tremendous impact on our children,” said Neuwirth. “It was not only the start of their Jewish education, but it laid the foundation for everything to come later. When Rabbi Krauss approached Nataly and me about the construction of a new ELC building, we were filled with a sense of gratitude for all that the ELC has meant to our children and so many hundreds of others. We were also filled with a sense of gratitude to our own fathers who, from the time they were very young, devoted themselves to our education.”

“The ELC starts children on the long path to adulthood, but perhaps more importantly, the ELC also teaches our children how to be children, something which we hope they will preserve, sparkling within themselves, even as they grow older,” he added.

Connecting to the historical carriage house and all of its students and faculty over almost half a century, Gelnick said that the windows from the old ELC would be hung as art in the new building.

By Judy Berger

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