The Hebrew Academy of Morris County is being renamed “Gottesman RTW Academy,” in recognition of a $15 million challenge gift from its leading benefactors, Paula and Jerry Gottesman of Morristown, and in tribute to the school’s founding families: Rubenstein, Turner, and Wertheimer.
The naming gift is one of the largest for any Jewish day school in North America, and marks the second time a Jewish day school in Greater MetroWest has been named with a $15 million gift.
In a ground-breaking ceremony March 2, Jerry Gottesman announced the new name to a crowd of about 300 that included members of school families, alumni and alumni parents, grandparents, community leaders, and friends.
The ceremony marked the official launch of a $23 million capital and endowment campaign, known as “Our Future Together,” which will include a new building and expanded endowments dedicated to academic excellence and affordability.
The new school building, with construction scheduled to begin in the spring, will be constructed on five acres of land that the school recently purchased adjacent to its current property at 146 Dover Chester Rd. in Randolph. The current building will be razed.
The Gottesman gift includes $8 million in up-front support and $7 million in matching funds toward gifts from other donors. Propelled by the Gottesman gift, the campaign aims to raise a total of $18 million toward the new facility, and $5 million toward growing the school’s endowments.
“We are proud that two of our Jewish day schools have set a very high bar for our community and for the nation through truly extraordinary and transformative naming gifts,” said Max L. Kleinman, executive vice president/CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “Paula and Jerry Gottesman have shown unrelenting devotion to the Hebrew Academy for decades. They bring great honor to the school with their name, and the initials of the founding families.”
The school is a beneficiary agency of the GMW federation.
Jerry Gottesman noted that he and Paula wanted to ensure that the legacy of the founding families would not be forgotten. The “R” in RTW is for the late Michael Rubenstein, who steered the school throughout its early years despite the fact that his own children were too old to attend; the “T” is for the late Alvin Turner, and the “W” is for Morton and the late Beatsy Wertheimer. “Alvin and Morty had day jobs as dentists, but their true passion was Jewish education,” said Jerry Gottesman.
The school, now with about 200 students from preschool through grade eight, opened in 1967 with 18 students in basement classrooms at Morristown Jewish Center. In 2006 it changed its affiliation from the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter Day School Association to Ravsak, an umbrella organization for nondenominational community day schools.
“In 1975, when Paula and I moved to Morris County, we did not envision how important Jewish day schools would become to us and to the entire American-Jewish community,” Gottesman said. “We have been truly enriched by our involvement in and support of Jewish day school education in general, and our Hebrew Academy in particular.”
Steve Levy, who is chairing the Our Future Together campaign with his wife, Beena, noted that while the Gottesmans’ philanthropy has stretched across the Jewish community and beyond, the couple has rarely agreed to put their own name on a project or program. “We are deeply honored that, because of their depth of commitment to this school, Paula and Jerry agreed to let the school bear their name,” Levy said. “We will carry it well into the future.”
The new school building will include a permanent tribute to Nathan Bohrer and Abraham Kaufman, whose names are incorporated into the school’s current official name, and the Bohrer family. The Bohrers were the leading benefactors of the current structure, built in 1980. “We want to show respect and honor the contribution of the Bohrer family toward the school’s development as we move to a new chapter in our school’s history,” said board of trustees president Jonathan Ramsfelder.
The former Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in West Orange was renamed Golda Och Academy in 2010 through a $15 million challenge gift from the Jane and Daniel Och Family Foundation, made in memory of Daniel Och’s mother, Golda, a school founder.