May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Herzfeld Family Gets Their Van

Fund Set Up for Other Urgent Healthcare Needs

Teaneck—Four children, between the ages of 15 and 23: They are beautiful, determined, bright, dignified, brave and always, always pushing themselves to do more. They are also all fighting a chronic, degenerative disease; they are getting weaker and need surgeries and therapies. The diagnosis is an unknown subset of muscular dystrophy, though it is consistent with many of that disease’s standard symptoms; one of the children likes to say they have Herzfeld-itis. If that’s the case, this particular strain comes with humility, high intellect, a very wry sense of humor and an indomitable lust for life. Notably, it does not come with pity parties. “What they don’t have in muscle strength they have in perseverance,” said their mother, Esther Herzfeld.

Herzfeld, with her husband Arthur and children Rivka, Tzvi, Racheli and Tziporah, need our assistance in myriad ways, and they have just begun to find the voice to ask for it. Three months ago, many of us met this special family for the first time, when Esther Herzfeld inadvertently took the whole family public. Their physical therapist recommended she enter a contest to win a specially equipped mobility van that would allow the family to travel together, as several of the children consistently use wheelchairs, and none can walk any kind of distance without help. Herzfeld wrote a personal letter to establish eligibility, and, unbeknownst to her in advance, it was placed online, unedited, for the world to see. The cat was out of the bag. The Jewish Link published an article encouraging the community to vote on May 7th, and the Jerusalem Post picked up the story just three days later.

“I have already pulled the curtain away from the window, and there’s nothing left to hold back. It’s not comfortable, but it’s what we have to do, for our children,” Herzfeld told the Jewish Link. “I am open now because I have no other option,” she said.

During the entire month of May, the Teaneck community, led by the Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School community, where Herzfeld teaches English, took to voting to get the family their van. And vote they did. They voted every day, from Teaneck, Bergenfield and Englewood. (And sometime in this process, the “they” turned to “we.”) We voted from Frisch, TABC and MTA. We told our cleaning ladies who told their family in Brazil. We told an aunt in Cuba. We told Haredim in Brooklyn, in Yiddish, who asked how to find computers to vote. We told our friends and shared on Facebook. We voted from all over Israel, from Manchester, England, and even from Australia.

And yet. Even with the most votes of all the entrants, “we” didn’t win, because the votes were just one part of the contest, and a committee took over after that. This small committee was tasked with choosing winners who were disabled, who were doing heroic things; perhaps the Herzfelds didn’t fit that exact definition.

But our disappointment was short-lived, because the next day, we learned that the Herzfelds had actually won their van before the votes had even been tabulated.

A prominent philanthropist from Los Angeles, Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, heard of the Herzfeld family’s plight and privately contacted Sandy Eller, a reporter for He told her that if the Herzfelds didn’t win the contest, he would buy them the van. He asked her to help set it up.

The very day the Herzfelds “didn’t win,” they were overnighted a check for $63,000 by Mr. Rechnitz. The van is now bought and paid for, and the family is awaiting delivery.

Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, the family’s rav, had also shared with the family that a consortium of Teaneck residents had started organizing together to make the purchase also, so one way or another, the family knew they were going to start getting help.

Now that the secret is well and truly out, so to speak, the community has asked Herzfeld what else she needs. She used to say, “Just daven for my children,” and she still asks that. She also used to say, “It’s our business, it’s our problem. This is our fate, our destiny, these are our cards.” But now she also is acknowledging that the tefillot she asked for have also brought this publicity, which will, in turn, bring much needed relief.

She now knows she can lean on her community a little. She knows to say, out loud, that the family has taken out too many loans to count. They have a second mortgage to cover out-of-pocket expenses and mounting medical bills for specialists and specialized care. They need an aide in the house who keeps everyone healthy, whom they pay out of pocket. They need a lawyer to help them arrange things. More than one scooter (out-of-pocket price tag ranges from $2,500 to $5,000) has broken. The stairlift remotes don’t work. “What we do in the house is like putting a Band-Aid on Niagara Falls,” Herzfeld said.

The family needs so much, but most of all, they need the support and friendship of a community who now knows what to do. “The kids have wonderful friends,” she said, describing how strange it feels when her kids’ friends run up and down the stairs. “I always run out and ask ‘what happened,’ because to me, that’s not a normal sound, that’s the sound of children falling.”

“Why are four out of my four kids sick? I honestly don’t ask why. It’s a waste of time and energy.” The material point? Esther Herzfeld, in essence, is just our neighbor. She is certainly an Ayshes Chayil, an inspiration and a tower of strength, but, right now, she is a mother of four children who are ill, and they need our help. What else is there to know?

Donations to the Herzfeld family can be made at this link ( or checks made out to Bergen County’s United Way with the words “Herzfeld Family Fund” written in the memo line or on the face of the check can be mailed to Bergen United Way, 6 Forest Avenue, Paramus, New Jersey 07652 or to Congregation Beth Aaron, 950 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck, New Jersey 07666.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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