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entries tagged with: Minna Heilpern


UJA-NNJ to host national day-school fundraising confab

Raising money for day schools isn’t just a calling; it’s a profession. Six area day school development professionals will be getting a boost next week, as the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education holds a two-day seminar at the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey offices in Paramus.

Entitled “Beyond the Gala,” the seminar wants to help day schools move from a traditional approach of fundraising through an annual dinner journal toward the more strategic methods of cultivating donors used by universities and other major non-profit organizations.

PEJE, which is based in Boston, expects a total of 53 professionals from 44 day schools across the country to attend the seminar, which is aimed at fundraisers with five years or less experience. A second seminar targeting more experienced fundraisers will be held in Westchester in July.

“This is another way our federation is helping to support our day schools,” said Minna Heilpern of the federation’s Jewish Educational Service’s division.

The federation will be unveiling a new strategic plan next month, and one of the four priorities under the plan is “to enhance the affordability and accessibility of Jewish cultural and learning experiences.”

With day schools in Bergen County and elsewhere seeking to make themselves more affordable by increasing fundraising, they need to change their approach to donors, says Jennifer Weinstock, strategy manager at PEJE and coordinator of the conference.

“How can we move the schools to thinking in a more strategic way about their annual campaign? Instead of simply asking people for money, we need to be talking about the values our day schools care about and how to connect to people who share those values. If you’re The Moriah School in Englewood — to take a local example — and one of your values is a deep connection to Israel, there are other donors who share those values.,” she said.

Weinstock said school board members may need to adopt new attitudes toward fundraising.

“If you’re going to be on the board of a day school, you should be supporting the school philanthropically.” she said.

“Another expectation is that all board members carry some financial development portfolios. There are so many roles board members can play, from serving as ambassadors to talking about the school in a positive way at the Shabbat table, and all of these roles are part of development. It’s not just about solicitation,” she said.

According to Heilpern, UJA-NNJ will take advantage of the presence of PEJE leadership to hold a special meeting with its leadership and Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of PEJE. Elkin will share what he has learned from communities across the country about how their federations and day schools collaborate and will lead a discussion about the strategies that might be applicable locally.


Not just horsin’ around

Local woman urges ponying up for Israel therapy program

Children start a therapy session at the Israel National Therapeutic Riding Association near Netanya.

A young Israeli woman was suffering from severe anxiety attacks, rapidly losing weight and hair. Then her husband brought her to the Israel National Therapeutic Riding Association (INTRA) near the coastal city of Netanya.

A month later, after riding therapy horse Pocahantas (Pokey for short) twice a week, she has regained a bit of weight and, most important, a smile.

This was exactly the kind of situation for which Teaneck resident Minna Heilpern donated Pokey to INTRA about 10 years ago. Now head of the fundraising arm Friends of INTRA (, Heilpern is among organizers of a benefit scheduled for Nov. 16, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Spanish Benevolent Society in Manhattan.

For $75, supporters of INTRA will be treated to a flamenco performance and a silent auction, with prizes including two El Al tickets to Israel, four Islanders tickets, and a two-night stay at the Fern Hall Inn in Pennsylvania.

“Our goal is to raise $50,000 to sponsor five of INTRA’s 20 magnificent therapy horses for a year,” said Heilpern. The animals need special care and training to provide therapeutic riding for individuals with varying degrees of challenges, ranging from autism and post-traumatic stress disorders to youth at risk, wounded soldiers, and survivors of terrorist attacks.

INTRA Director Anita Shkedi explained that each horse has about a 10-year working life, during which it typically gives 25 rides per week.

There is much to show for these costly efforts. Since Shkedi and her husband Giora founded INTRA in 2000, they have helped hundreds of individuals with a wide variety of physical, neurological, and emotional difficulties.

A native of England with degrees in education, preventive medicine, nursing, and therapeutic horseback riding, Anita Shkedi introduced therapeutic riding to Israel in 1985 and founded a course in therapeutic riding at Israel’s Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports. She has worked with TROT (Therapeutic Rehabilitation of Tucson) to start its Horses for Heroes program for veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“For small children age 3 and up with severe physical disabilities or autism, it helps with development and communication skills, mobility, and movement,” she said. “Israel’s national health maintenance organizations refer children with emotional problems, learning problems, ADHD, or anxiety disorders. Here they build self-confidence and become motivated. We can teach them to perform tasks with the horse that they can carry over into other environments, including life skills that help them overcome behavioral or communication problems.”

INTRA worked with the Israeli Ministry of Education to establish a matriculation course in equine studies for students, including teens with a background of domestic violence. “This program has to be supported by donations because a few of the students don’t pay anything and others pay a tiny part of the actual cost,” she said.

Last year, INTRA began working with army veterans suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“They came to us in a very distressed state; some hadn’t left their house in 10 years,” Shkedi said. “They discover that the horse is a good ‘listener’ and gives unconditional love, so they communicate well with the horse, and you see the tension being released. Huge changes take place. Of 11 veterans, two are back at work. For the others, we’ve reduced symptoms of hyper-alertness ... and the amount of medications they take, and have also helped with chronic sleep problems. But we desperately need support for this project, as well.”

INTRA also helps adults with physical disabilities and conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury. “Riding stimulates the mind,” she said. “We seem to help them find new pathways in the brain over the course of a few years of therapy.”

Her newest project is “surf and ride,” where patients ride a therapy horse in the morning and take lessons at a nearby surfing club in the afternoon. “It’s been amazing, and I want to get our autistic children involved,” she said.

Heilpern has long been intrigued by the animal-human connection and visited INTRA the first of many times in 2001. She was so impressed that she asked friends and family to chip in for a therapy horse in honor of her 50th birthday. That is how Pokey came to INTRA.

“In 2006, I went to volunteer in the arena with the horses, so I saw personally what it’s all about,” said Heilpern. In 2008, she and her friend Barbara Goldberg in Ossining, N.Y., started Friends of INTRA. Their efforts have until now been limited to bar/bat mitzvah projects, mailings, and parlor meetings.

“This is the first time we’re doing an event,” she said of the flamenco night. Anita and Giora Shkedi are scheduled to fly over for the occasion, which will feature kosher hors d’oeuvres and wine purchased from Ma’adan in Teaneck. Beth Brunson of Manhattan is chairing the evening.

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