From desert to oasis, Peninsula day school turns 30

When Marty and Naomi Klughaupt's daughter came home from elementary school clutching an Easter bunny and singing Easter songs, they wrote an angry letter — to everyone.

After sending out a mass-mailing to every Jew on the Peninsula they could track down, the Klughaupts and about half a dozen families decided to start their own school. Thirty years and many thousand students later, South Peninsula Hebrew Day School is trucking right along.

"Our children were sort of guinea pigs," remembered Klughaupt.

Three decades later, many of those guinea pigs and their teachers gathered at Klughaupt's home for a 30-year reunion.

"I saw people I haven't seen in 20 years," said Steve Krause, a member of SPHDS' pioneer class and now a 33-year-old lawyer and musician.

"Really, my fondest memories are what any kid's fondest memories are: my friends. We had a very close-knit community of friends there, some of whom are still my good friends to this day. I think my fondest memories are of kids, playground and recess. Those sorts of things. Silly things."

Longtime teachers have fond — and often silly — memories as well.

Barbara Goldstein, the school's preschool director, recalls the time a teacher was attempting to instill her class with the meanings of Passover and freedom.

"Does anyone know what it means to be free?" asked the teacher.

"I'm free," replied one precocious student. "One, two, free."

Yet, some not-so-silly things stick out in Krause's memory as well.

"Gosh, learning Hebrew as part of my day was a wonderful thing — and to not just study Hebrew, but to study Rashi. It was great to go to Israel when I was 10-years-old and be able to have a conversation," said Krause, whose mother, Sherri, was the SPDHS' first pre-school teacher and father, Allen, was the rabbi at Fremont's Reform Temple Beth Torah. The two have since relocated to Orange County.

"I became comfortable with the Orthodox liturgy, which, for a Reform Jew, I think is wonderful. I have a real appreciation for both Orthodox, Conservative and secular Judaism. I think it came from that kind of multi-sectarian approach."

In a few years, the student guinea pigs like Krause did just what guinea pigs tend to do — multiply. By the mid-'70s, the school had amassed enough students, and, inherently, community interest, that it entered into a leasing agreement with the Cupertino School District. SPHDS moved into its current Sunnyvale location room by room until fund-raising and a grant from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation allowed it to buy its home.

The school now boasts nearly 270 students in grades preschool through eighth, and multiple classes in each grade.

"We always wondered where the money was going to come from, especially in the beginning, but I don't think I ever had any doubts," recalled Judy Krongold, a founding parent.

Back in those early days "we were running up a budget of $10,000 and thinking, 'This is so much money, how are we ever going to raise it?'"

Needless to say, the money was raised. And, along the way, lifelong friendships were cemented.

"When my kids started in 1980, at that point there were so many transients [in the South Bay] who came from somewhere else. I was from Wisconsin and didn't have any family here. My husband is from Minneapolis. We had to make our extended family out here," recalled Goldstein, a SPHDS staff member for the past 23 years.

"At my daughter's wedding four years ago, my family met many of the people there in preschool."

When Kathy Pither was hired at SPDHS in the 1970s, Rabbi Eli Lazar, the school's dean, told her, "I can't offer a lot of money, but I can offer you a Jewish community and Jewish education."

Recalls Pither, who taught art and drama at the school for a decade, "I thought at the time, 'Yeah, I want the money!' But it was true. There was a deep feeling of connection to my people and I had never really understood what that meant. The first time I saw Simchat Torah, I never understood you could just really joyously celebrate Torah."

With the school's continued survival a worry of the past, Klughaupt is content to simply celebrate the school's first 30 years.

"I have to tell you, at this 30th anniversary party, it was just a pleasure to not be doing fund-raising and not worrying about the existence of the school. In the early years we were always worrying, 'Will we be open in September?'" he said with a laugh.

"It's sort of like having children and growing up and watching them succeed. Or planting trees and watching them grow up. We used to call [the South Peninsula] the midbar, the desert, when we were doing fund-raising. Well, it's not a desert anymore. It's a vibrant, growing integral community, and I think the school has a large share in that."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.