May 30, 2024
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Golda Och Academy Meets $15 Million Fundraising Challenge

West Orange—The Och Challenge was born in December 2010—when a $15 million matching-gift campaign was created by Daniel and Jane Och in loving memory of Golda Och, Daniel’s mother and one of the school’s original founders. To commemorate her legacy and in honor of this transformational gift, the school changed its name from Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union to Golda Och Academy (GOA).

In just over four years, GOA has met its goal, raising a grand total of $32.5 million, including the $15 million match. The endowment and capital campaign launched to secure the donation, called Building on Tradition, focused on academic excellence, affordability, and a $7.6 million renovation and expansion of the Wilf Lower School Campus. As a result of the campaign, GOA’s endowment grew to $43 million at the end of 2014.

“We are thrilled that Golda Och Academy was able to reach this significant milestone,” said Daniel Och. “It is remarkable how the community rallied to ensure a bright future for GOA, where every Jewish child has the opportunity to receive an excellent day-school experience. It is a wonderful tribute to my mother’s memory. ”

Having known Golda Och personally, GOA’s head of school, Rabbi Joyce Raynor, PhD., knew how proud she would have been of the school’s accomplishment. “Golda’s commitment to our school was deep and ongoing; even after she retired, she would always engage me in conversation about the school, our students, and staff,” said Raynor. “I know she would be pleased to see we have secured the financial future of the school that she and husband Michael founded and that children will have access to a superior Jewish and secular education for many years to come.”

One of the main priorities of the campaign, academic excellence, has supported an expanded new STEM program. Recently, GOA announced plans for the new Dr. Lynne B Harrison STEM Center at the Eric F. Ross Upper School Campus. In addition, the Arie and Eva Halpern Fund for Jewish Heritage, started by Shelley and Josef Paradis, enriches students’ Judaic studies through concerts, speakers, and lectures. The Building on Tradition campaign also enabled GOA to create the Faculty Innovation and Excellence Fund that provides grants to teachers to undertake special projects to benefit students.

The Building on Tradition Campaign also made possible the completion of the newly renovated Wilf Lower School Campus, which opened in September 2013. Thanks to the lead gift of Mark and Jane Wilf and the Wilf family along with many other major donors, the lower school campus is now a state-of-the-art center for learning for Pre-K through fifth-grade students. As part of the Building on Tradition campaign, the school commissioned the writing of a new Torah in memory of Golda Och that is now housed in the Horace Bier Beit Knesset at the Wilf Lower School Campus.

The campaign also focused its efforts on expanding tuition assistance and affordability, which was extremely important to the Och family. “The Building on Tradition campaign has had a tremendous impact on affordability and financial sustainability,” said Julia Malaga, chief financial officer at GOA. “The income generated by the endowment provides substantial funding for tuition reduction programs that help make GOA affordable to a broader range of families. We have been able to increase the scope of our tuition reduction programs and successfully expand eligibility to attract middle income families.”

Behind the scenes, bringing the campaign to life was a team of dedicated volunteers and professionals who worked tirelessly to meet the Challenge. Eleanor Kramer, past GOA board chair, helped launch the campaign, while Liz Bier and Michele Landau, Building on Tradition campaign co-chairs, steered the committed campaign team to the finish line. According to Bier, sustainability for the school was one of the campaign’s greatest accomplishments. “With such a robust endowment, I know that GOA is going to be around for a very long time,” she said. “The founders could only hope that their great-grandchildren would be able to attend this school. Now that it’s a reality, we can feel confident that future generations will have the opportunity to be a part of this amazing school.”

“The Building on Tradition campaign was truly a community effort and a labor of love,” said Raynor. “Without the faith, enthusiasm, and direction of Eleanor Kramer we would have never gotten started. Without the dedication, leadership, and hard work of Michele Landau, Liz Bier, and Sheryl Pearlstein, we would never have persevered. Without the vision, encouragement, and influence of Stephanie Bash-Soudry, we would have never reached our goal. It has been an honor to work with these dedicated lay and professional leaders. I take pride in the fact that I will leave our school in June having helped to secure its future.”

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