Early in the morning of Oct. 30, as students stepped out of cars in front of Krieger Schechter Day School, nine former school administrators greeted them with warm smiles, enthusiastic greetings and lollipops.
It was clear that what many students thought would be a routine Monday morning was going to be something much sweeter.
“Usually on Mondays, we get to school, go to morning tefillah [prayer] and head to our regular classes,” said sixth grader Natan Golding. “On Monday when I got out of the car, I saw all the people wearing sashes and waving to everyone. … It was really fun.”
The change in routine was all part of the Jewish day school’s 36th – double chai — anniversary. Oct. 30 marked the 36th day of the academic year in the 36th year of the school’s existence. To celebrate the occasion, former heads of school, founding teachers and assistant administrators participated in morning carpool, attired not only in sashes but also crowns, tiaras and KSDS 36th Anniversary Tour T-Shirts.
“I knew everyone who was outside greeting the students,” said Yael Lowenberg, a 2009 alumna and current assistant kindergarten teacher/first grade math teacher. “It was nice to have those people who watched me grow up see me in a different role. It’s a way to show them they raised me in this school and now I’m back to help the next generation.”
At the end of carpool process, the administrators headed into the school lobby and introduced themselves to current students. Dr. Paul D. Schneider, head of school from 1983-2012, and Faye Pollack, a founding teacher and former lower school head who worked at KSDS from 1981 until 2013, held the American and Israeli flags while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing “Hatikvah.”
Then, lower and middle school students, teachers and current administrators suddenly broke out into a flash mob, dancing to the Hebrew song “Tefilla (Shmor Na Aleinu).”
“When I was standing next to my colleagues and saw the whole lower school and whole middle school dancing, there was so much energy,” said Dr. Schneider. “It was a confirmation of Od Avinu Chai [our father lives], that Schechter is still alive. It was the most magnificent feeling … a magic moment.”
Fourth grader Henni Baumwald agreed. “People at this school are usually pretty spirited,” she said. “But the flash mob made everyone way more happy.”
A Shining Star
KSDS was founded in 1981 by Chizuk Amuno Congregation as part of the Solomon Schechter Day School Association. It was named in honor of the Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund, one of the school’s main benefactors. When opening, the school had 17 students, nine in kindergarten and eight in first grade.
“Rabbi Joel Zaiman [Chizuk Amuno’s rabbi emeritus] said you had to be a school of excellence in Judaic and general studies,” recalled Margi Hoffman, a founding teacher and first middle school principal. “That was our mandate.”
In the early days, said Pollack, “We ate lunch in the classroom. Mrs. Hoffman and I used to take everyone’s lunches, put the lunches in the refrigerator and serve each student every day. We truly did everything — she and I had carte blanche to create and dream up the best school we could.”
Today, there are 290 KSDS students, from kindergarten through eighth grade, and 990 alumni.
“The students and teachers are what make it such a special place,” said Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, current head of school. “Every day, I see kindness, care and concern among our students. I also see empathy, collaboration, innovation and design. Our school is really a shining star in delivering on its mission.”
One main component of the school’s mission is tikkun olam, or repairing the world. As part of the anniversary, KSDS is adopting 36 families to sponsor for Chanukah.
“We are working with Jewish Volunteer Connection and families at CHANA to coordinate this sponsorship,” said Shelley Hendler, co-chair of the 36th Anniversary Celebration Committee. “To kick off the campaign, on Oct. 30th students were asked to bring tzedakah [charity] in some multiple of 36.”
In addition, teachers integrated the number 36 into their lesson plans. In science, students learned about the 36th element, in math they learned about multiples of 36 and they participated in a scavenger hunt collecting 36 items.
“Monday was all about fun,” said Hendler. “It was about celebrating Schechter in an exciting way and integrating it into the students’ day and year so they learn a little more about the history of the school and principles it was founded on.”
Vibrancy and History
A KSDS administrator from 2000-2014, Hendler is co-chairing the anniversary committee with KSDS parent Sonja Sugerman and Melanie Yasbin, an alumna and parent.
With the school’s Development Office, the committee is organizing the yearlong anniversary celebration, which will feature 36 events.
Hendler said the year is geared toward “connecting and reconnecting different facets of the community,” such as students, parents, grandparents, alumni and alumni parents.
“This is double chai, and we are celebrating the life, vibrancy and history of the school,” said Hendler. “It’s been beautiful to see how engaged the alumni parents and faculty have been in this anniversary celebration.”
Natan Golding calls KSDS “a home away from home. I really feel I am welcomed and respected, and that my opinions are heard and understood. It’s really nice being at a school where there is a general happiness in everyone.”
View Krieger Schecter’s Facebook Live video here:
For information about KSDS’s anniversary, visit ksds.edu.
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and a KSDS alumna.
Photos by Steve Ruark.
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