New Jersey - VIN News Story Inspires Los Angeles Philanthropist Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz To Aid Teaneck Family With $63K Check
Teaneck, NJ - The plight of the Teaneck family whose four children are all afflicted by a chronic, degenerative muscular disease may not have moved the hearts of judges in a contest to win a free handicapped accessible minivan, but their story resonated deeply with a Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist who has agreed to donate a van in order to provide the family with appropriate transportation.
The Herzfelds speak to VIN news Shimon Gifter on July 2, 2015
As previously reported on VIN News, over the past ten years all four of the Herzfeld children have been diagnosed with unknown muscular condition, with one child completely unable to walk, two with extremely limited mobility and another who walks with difficulty.
Unable to afford a van that would accommodate all of their children’s needs, the Herzfelds cannot go anywhere as a family and loading the children, ages 14 to 23, into the family vehicle is a physically demanding task.
Esther Herzfeld shared her story in an annual contest run by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association and appealed to the public to vote for her in the hopes of winning the much needed van.
Touched by the story of the Herzfeld family’s difficult situation, prominent California philanthropist Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz founder and CEO of Brius Healthcare Service reached out to VIN News just hours after the story was originally posted in May. Rechnitz asked what he could to do help the Herzfelds and requested that VIN News notify him when the NMEDA contest winners were announced.
With over 90,000 votes, the Herzfelds found themselves with the highest number of votes and were named semifinalists in the contest, but ultimately, they were not chosen by judges to win one of the NMEDA vans. VIN News contacted Rechnitz to inform him of the contest results and he immediately offered to sponsor the full cost of a handicapped accessible van that would accommodate the entire Herzfeld family.
Rechnitz was shocked that the Herzfelds, with four disabled children and the largest number of votes by far, were not selected as contest winners.
“They may have lost the contest but in the end the Herzfelds still won,” Rechnitz told VIN News.
NMEDA awarded four customized wheelchair accessible vans: one to someone over 60 years of age, one to a caregiver, one that is exclusively battery powered and can only be used locally and one in a general category.
Marilyn Myers, an executive assistant at NMEDA explained the contest winners were chosen not by number of votes, but by how well semi-finalists matched their definition of “local hero,” either a caregiver or a handicapped individual whose story highlighted the positive and uplifting aspects of making the most of life with a disability.
“Everything is sent to a selection committee, who makes their decision based on criteria of the program and how close to the criteria they came,” said Myers.
Joe Balaban, general manager of Mobility Services in Astoria, Queens which manufactures para-transit vehicles, estimated that barring any unusual circumstances, it should take between five and six weeks for the Herzfeld’s van, totaling at just under $63,000, to be built.
A wheelchair accessible van is just one of many items needed by the family to make their house suitable for their children and Rechnitz, who overnighted a check for the full purchase price of the van, challenged members of the Jewish community to open their hearts and their wallets to better the lives of the Herzfeld family.
“Their needs are enormous and I am hoping that others will come through for the Herzfelds,” said Rechnitz.
Many in the Teaneck community were completely unaware of the Herzfeld’s situation until the contest began several weeks ago, according to the family’s rabbi, Rabbi Larry Rothwachs of Congregation Beth Aaron.
“People told me that they knew the family for years but never really knew just how much they needed,” said Rabbi Rothwachs. “Others who don’t know them at all have approached me and asked how they could help. There are so many things that need to be done in their home. Bathrooms need to be updated. The kitchen is really not accessible to the kids and even the light switches need to be lowered, all everyday things that most people don’t even think about. It is almost like trying to fight a forest fire with a water gun.”
A fund has been established through the Bergen County United Way to help the Herzfeld family deal with their current situation and every dollar contributed will go directly to the Herzfeld family. With many therapies and other essential items not covered by the Herzfeld’s insurance, the family still faces an uphill financial battle.
“Our needs are still very great and our debt is still very great,” said Mrs. Herzfeld, who added that her family is stunned by Rechnitz’s generosity.
“For us it is unfathomable,” said Mrs. Herzfeld. “It touches us so deeply. This is only something that could happen in the Jewish community, that someone would say ‘These people are cousins of mine even if I don’t know them and I have to help them.’ It is unbelievable.”
Mrs. Herzfeld expressed her profound gratitude to Rechnitz and to the thousands of people worldwide who voted for her in the NMEDA contest, all of whom were operating with the same sense of purpose: to do everything in their power to help the Herzfeld family.
“We are filled with appreciation and amazement,” said Mrs. Herzfeld. “Mi k’amcha yisroel. While the contest was still going on I said to my kids, ‘I don’t know what is going to happen with this van contest, but I have no doubt that Moshiach is going to come sooner because of the way people came out to help us.’”
Donations to the Herzfeld family should be made out to Bergen County’s United Way with the words “Herzfeld Family Fund” written in the memo line or on the face of the check. Checks can be mailed to Bergen United Way, 6 Forest Avenue, Paramus, New Jersey 07652 or to Congregation Beth Aaron, 950 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck, New Jersey 07666.
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