Wilfs’ gift to Och Academy boosts renovation plans

Wilfs’ gift to Och Academy boosts renovation plans

$2 million donation helping ‘transform’ Jewish day school

Mark and Jane Wilf, who said they are fortunate to support “such a unique and special school.”
Mark and Jane Wilf, who said they are fortunate to support “such a unique and special school.”

Philanthropists Jane and Mark Wilf of Livingston have donated $2 million to help finance renovation of the lower school at the Golda Och Academy, the Conservative Jewish day school in West Orange.

The school’s lower school campus on Gregory Road will be renamed the Wilf Lower School Campus in recognition of the gift. That campus serves youngsters in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, while the upper school, at the Eric F. Ross Campus on Pleasant Valley Way, serves students in grade six-12.

The contribution is part of a broader fund-raising initiative aimed at maximizing a $15 million challenge gift from the Jane and Daniel Och Family Foundation. It aims to raise a total of $30 million for the lower school renovation and to build an endowment for affordability and quality for the entire school.

The Och challenge, announced last October, led to the renaming of the former Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in memory of one of its founders.

“We believe strongly in the values of Jewish education and the Jewish future. The Golda Och Academy represents those values well,” Mark Wilf told NJ Jewish News in a Feb. 25 phone interview.

Wilf, the son of Holocaust survivors, is a principal in Garden Homes Development, his family’s real estate firm. The president and co-owner with family members of the Minnesota Vikings football team, he is a national figure in the Jewish federation movement.

“We are trying to teach by example,” he added in a press release. “We want our children to understand and appreciate their past. We hope that they will grow up knowing that it is every Jew’s responsibility to work for the betterment of their community.”

Jane Wilf is involved in numerous Jewish organizations including Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, March of the Living, and United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.

She and her husband are the parents of four children, Steven, Daniel, Rachel, and Andrew, all of whom attended the lower school at Golda Och Academy.

“We always feel such joy and pride when we walk through the doors and witness all the children begin their Jewish journey as eager learners,” said Jane Wilf. “We are fortunate to be able to help continue this feeling for generations by supporting a dynamic new learning environment at such a unique and special school.”

The renovation project calls for refurbishing existing spaces and expanding the building to “modernize and revitalize the lower school,” according to the Feb. 24 press release.

“We are extremely grateful to the Wilf family for this tremendous generosity, which will benefit current and future students at Golda Och Academy,” said head of school Joyce Raynor in the press release. “This gift will help transform our vibrant Lower School Campus into a model facility for early childhood and elementary Jewish day school education.”

Renovation plans include a science discovery lab, a specialty space for art and music, updated and fully wired classrooms, an upgraded gymnasium and new playground, refurbished office space, and a new beit knesset, or sanctuary.

“Mark and Jane have been among the most dedicated advocates of our school,” said lower school principal Gloria Kron. “Their commitment to both the programs and the facilities of our school highlights their keen understanding of what a Jewish day school education can be.”

The Golda Och Academy $30 million capital and endowment drive is part of a community-wide MetroWest Day School Campaign aimed at raising a total of $50 million in endowments for affordability and excellence in MetroWest’s three Jewish day schools, including Golda Och Academy.

The campaign is coordinated by the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest, the planned giving and endowment arm of UJC MetroWest, and has been led by Paula and Jerry Gottesman of Morristown, long-time local and national Jewish day school supporters.

“With this combined $30 million capital and endowment effort, the Golda Och Academy has created a highly sophisticated, visionary campaign that will forever transform one of our community’s flagship institutions,” said UJC MetroWest executive vice president Max Kleinman. “Golda Och Academy is already being closely watched by day schools, federations, and philanthropic leaders nationwide. It is already helping to spur similar efforts in other communities, and will no doubt have a lasting impact on the national day school movement.”

In 2005, Mark Wilf was campaign chair of national United Jewish Communities (now Jewish Federations of North America). He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey and chair of the UJA National Young Leadership Cabinet.

The academy will honor community parents and the Wilfs at its annual Tuition Assistance Dinner on May 26.

“Jane and Mark have been long-time friends and supporters of our school, and this generous gift reflects their unwavering commitment to furthering Jewish day school education,” said Eleanor Kramer, past chair of the school’s board of trustees “This extraordinary gift from the Wilf family not only underscores their position as community leaders, but will undoubtedly inspire others to support this ambitious project.”

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