Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy is a coeducational, Modern Orthodox Jewish day school located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Known as SAR, the school’s name derives from the three Orthodox yeshiva day schools; Yeshivah Rabbi Israel Salanter - Ahavas Israel (named after Rabbi Yisrael Salanter), Akiba Hebrew Academy, and the Riverdale Hebrew Academy. The schools merged in 1968 and adopted the current name.
The school is located on the grounds of the former home of Italian operatic and symphonic conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957). In the early 1970s the land was purchased by three selfless individuals – Milo Kleinberg, Walter Sherman, and Abe Zion. There were many designs suggested for the building which were all very similar to the basic yeshiva structure. All of these were rejected in favor of the unique plan of the architectural firm Caudill Rowell Scott. The SAR Academy building has no walls and features an ultra modern floor plan that has received many awards for architecture, design and programming including the prestigious Bard award and has been featured in newspapers and magazines.
Initially, the carriage house of the Toscanini estate housed the junior high students and eventually became home to the Early Learning Center. To this day, it serves as the nurturing educational home of our youngest students. Through the years, the facility has expanded to meet the needs of the growing SAR family. On June 23, 1974 the new home of Salanter Akiba Riverdale was officially dedicated. In September 2000, the Academy was dedicated in memory of Mrs. Audrey Schurgin, a beloved teacher, administrator, mentor and friend whose caring and vibrant spirit lives on daily in the building.
Over the years the school has flourished and has gone from strength to strength. Although the students have changed and the interior has expanded and modernized, the open classroom and warm nurturing philosophy first introduced by its founders has remained. At first, the bewildered students did not know what to make of the wall-less areas and wide-open spaces that hardly seemed to constitute a school. Armed with “learning contracts”, plans for group activities and a richness of creativity and chutzpa, the educators went about their tasks of turning this vision into a reality. Even the daunting prospect of teaching amidst the constant noise from all the areas didn’t faze them, and the students quickly adjusted to the sounds of “learning music”.
For a high school to bear the SAR name, it had to be exciting, vibrant, warm and unique. After two years of intensive research and planning, SAR High School, the brainchild of Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, opened its doors in February 2004. Initially 68 pioneering students and their families took a leap of faith that the success of the Academy could be replicated (with just a few walls). Today, over 450 students attend SAR High School, filling our building with enthusiasm, motivation to learn and a love of Torah. Our outstanding academic program, rich co-curricular activities and strong sense of community provides students with an energetic and stimulating high school experience. Each member of our faculty is an integral part of the SAR experience, interacting with students in ways that reflect respect, collaboration and a shared love for Jewish living and learning, encouraging students to become true participants in the Grand Conversation between Torah and the world.
During the 1991–92 school year, Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy was recognized with the Blue Ribbon School Award of Excellence by the United States Department of Education, the highest award an American school can receive.
In 2011, SAR was awarded accreditation by the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS). The committee reported,
The Visiting Committee was impressed with the breadth and depth of SAR Academy and SAR High School. Throughout the open and inviting campuses, there is an energy built upon layers of academic, cultural, religious, and co-curricular opportunities that is infectious to a visitor. We saw many examples of the ‘divine spark’ in each student, and a dedication by each member of the faculty to respect individual uniqueness. The Grand Conversation is a true reality, as students are engaged at every level in learning and service between the Torah and the world. We cannot recall another school where the sense of mission is so vibrant and evident throughout all components of school life.
SAR’s Development: A Timeline
The timeline below features the crucial developments and milestone events that have firmly secured SAR’s position as the educational centerpiece of the Modern Orthodox Jewish community.
- 1909 The Rabbi Israel Salanter Talmud Torah opens.
- 1947 The Akiba Hebrew Academy opens.
- 1963 The Riverdale Hebrew Day School is chartered ― under the leadership of Rabbi Jack Sable and championed by philanthropists Ludwig Jesselson and Edmond J. Lang.
- 1968 Milo Kleinberg, Walter Sherman and Abe Zion purchase Arturo Toscanini’s estate for SAR.
- 1969 SAR Academy opens its doors ― under the leadership of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and the first principal, Rabbi Sheldon Chwat.
- 1974 SAR Academy moves into its new home ― an award-winning “open” building.
- 1978 Philanthropists Erica and Ludwig retire SAR Academy’s mortgage.
- 1983 Rabbi Yonah Fuld becomes principal.
- 1993 Rabbi Joel Cohen becomes principal.
- 2000 SAR Academy expands to accommodate its growing Junior High School.
- 2003 SAR High School opens, with Riverdale Jewish Center serving as its temporary home.
- 2004 The High School moves into its permanent home, with a total of 140 students in the freshman and sophomore classes.
- 2005 Rabbi Binyamin Krauss becomes the Academy principal.
- 2008 The High School adds a theater, hockey rink and running track.
- 2009 The High School adds a digital lab.
- 2010 The High School completes the Annex’s bridge, six classrooms and technology center.