Golda Och, 74, a founder of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, died on Jan. 10 after a long illness.
Friends and associates all called Och a “presence” in the Jewish community who had the intellect, the will, and the ability to make a positive impact on every organization she was involved with. Her legacy continues beyond the local community and into the next generation through her children.
In 1965, she and her husband, Dr. Michael Och, joined with a group of parents to found a Jewish day school in the area. Their children were among the first enrolled at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in West Orange.
At Schechter, she not only served as president of the board of governors from 1979 through 1982, but also taught Jewish history and served as business manager from 1982 to 1994.
“She has pretty much done it all at SSDS,” said head of school Dr. Joyce Raynor. “Golda inspired both her students and colleagues to strive to reach their potential. Through her personal integrity, values, ethics, and wisdom, she served as a role model to all who knew her.” She was the only president to serve three years rather than the customary two.
Och, who lived in Maplewood for 44 years, was a longtime member of Congregation Beth El in South Orange, where she served on the board. A graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Albert A. List College Joint Program with Columbia University, she also had a master’s degree in Jewish history from JTS. In 2006, JTS honored her and her husband with the Erich Holzer Community Service Award.
Och’s peers recall her significant presence in the local Jewish community.
“She was always the smartest person in any room, and she was well educated. The combination of intellect and education made her really special, and she was unbelievably dedicated to day schools and the Jewish community,” said Skip Vichness, president of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and a longtime personal friend, fellow Schechter parent, and former Beth El member.
Her close personal friend Jimmy Schwarz called her “an awesome presence.” In addition to noting her sharp intellect, he praised her ability to do the right thing on every occasion. “She was my mara d’atra in the real world,” said the former Schechter president, fellow Beth El member, and former president of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Schechter presidents who succeeded Och were “dependent on her sage advice,” according to Schwarz. “She was the conscience of the school for so many years.” He recalled how she took on the position of business manager only after she trained someone who had been hired for the job but didn’t work out. “She said, ‘I know everything about this forwards and backwards and inside out. If you’ll have me, I’ll do the job.’”
At United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, Och chaired the Maxine Fischer Scholarship Committee for 2007 and 2008 and served on the Women’s Philanthropy board for many years until the time of her death. She and her husband were members of the Herskowitz Society of MetroWest.
“Golda Och was an inspirational leader for her family and her community,” said UJC MetroWest executive vice president Max Kleinman. “Her stalwart support for Solomon Schechter Day School and day schools in general, UJA, Congregation Beth El, and the Conservative movement is a legacy that will live on through her family, community, and the lives she touched. Her memory will surely be for a blessing.”
Her legacy extends beyond the local community and into the next generation. In honor of the Ochs’ 50th wedding anniversary, their son Daniel, chief executive officer and board chair of Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, made a $1 million gift along with a $1 million challenge grant to Schechter in 2008. He also serves as chair of the Birthright Israel Foundation and of UJA-Federation of New York’s investment management group.
Och was born in Montreal and moved to the United States 55 years ago. In addition to her husband, she is survived by her children, Jonathan and Rita Och, Daniel and Jane Och, and Susan and Brian Kalver; her brothers, Michael and Gordon Garmaise; and nine grandchildren.