Members of Congregation Beth El in South Orange gathered June 5 to dedicate its campus in memory of Golda Och, who passed away in 2010 after a long illness, and her husband, Dr. Michael Och.
The tribute to the Ochs, longtime champions of Jewish education and other causes, was made possible by a $2.5 million gift from their children, Daniel, Sue, and Jonathan, who grew up at Beth El, and their respective spouses, Jane Och, Brian Kalver, and Rita Och.
The Conservative congregation’s campus will now be known as the Golda and Michael Och Campus of Congregation Beth El.
The gift was part of the congregation’s capital campaign for a renovation that is nearing completion. A portion of the gift, $750,000, was set up as a dollar-for-dollar matching challenge for other donors.
The renovated building will be dedicated in December.
The congregation joins the nearby Golda Och Academy in West Orange, formerly Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, in honoring her memory. The school was renamed last December after a $15 million challenge gift to the school from The Jane and Daniel Och Family Foundation.
About 275 Beth El congregants and guests gathered in the sanctuary Sunday for the dedication ceremony.
Daniel Och, who is chair and chief executive officer of Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, spoke for the siblings and their spouses at the event.
“For the 40-ish years I’ve been involved, Beth El has been a very special place, ” he said. “You can see the strong leadership, the strong congregation, and the bright future.”
He praised the new building as not just a renovation, but a “transformation.”
“My mother would have loved this beautiful building,” he said. “But what she really would have cared about is how many people come not just on the High Holy Days but to the Hebrew school, and to the educational seminars, and anytime people come and volunteer to do anything — whether they drive a carpool or fix up the playground or cook a meal for someone who needs help during a holiday — that’s what my mother and my father would do. That contribution would mean more to her than anything.”
Golda and Michael Och joined Beth El in 1971, shortly after Rabbi Jehiel Orenstein, now rabbi emeritus, took the helm of the synagogue. Golda and Orenstein had been friends first at Camp Ramah and later at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she earned a degree in education and he earned rabbinical ordination.
Golda spent much of her volunteer time founding, teaching at, and administering the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union. She was known at Beth El for routinely inviting every new congregant for Shabbat dinner.
Joan Bucholtz, a longtime friend and former Beth El sisterhood president, remembered those invitations and more in her remarks at the dedication.
“Golda’s passion was Jewish education, and her volunteer work communicated this goal,” she said. “Come Shabbat, she was always here.”
“Just by being around Golda,” said Beth El’s Rabbi Francine Roston, “we were all encouraged to learn something new, to grow in our Judaism and our love for Israel, and to be better people.” She said Golda and Michael are role models “for the kind of parents and grandparents, community members, and Jewish souls that we hope to be.”
“Golda, of blessed memory, and Michael centered their lives around an unwavering commitment to Jewish family and Jewish community, and with this naming, we will forever be guided by their example,” said Beth El’s immediate past president, Mark Brownstein, who has been a member of the renovation committee from the project’s inception. “Through their generous gift, the Och family is investing in the future of Beth El, enabling us to have the facilities necessary to continue to nurture Jewish families and strengthen the Jewish community for generations to come.”
Orenstein helped Michael Och, who lives in Maplewood, install a mezuza at the new doorway to the synagogue building, before ribbon-cutting by the extended Och family. Connecting the dedication to the themes in the week’s parsha, Naso, in which the Torah relieves the people’s burden, Och said, “I hope my family’s support relieves our burden together.”