URJ Heller High provides a unique and powerful Reform Jewish community on the campus of Alexandar Muss High School in Israel.
A New Partnership
URJ Heller High school has entered into a partnership with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (Muss). Beginning this fall, URJ Heller High will take place on the Muss campus in Hod Hashron.
Since 1961, the semester-long Heller High program has been a life changing experience for thousands of members of our Reform Jewish community. Over the last 50 years, the program has adapted and changed to meet the needs of our students and families in order to provide them with the best secular academic and Reform Jewish education. We are proud that all Heller students have had access to a high school accredited academic experience alongside dynamic Jewish education courses, trips and experiences relevant to the Reform Movement’s history and values.
Since 1972, Muss has connected thousands of Jewish teens from around the world to the land and people of Israel through its study abroad experience, teaching 4,000 years of Jewish history where it happened and providing tailor-made General Studies instruction for regular, honors, and AP classes. Like Heller High, Muss is fully accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
Beginning this fall, all secular academic programs and administration will be managed by Muss’ leadership and professionals. Within the Heller High track, students will be housed together in their own dorm and celebrate Shabbat and holidays that reflect the Reform Movement’s proud tradition and values. The URJ will continue to provide leadership and direction for Heller High’s flagship Jewish History course including special trips, experiences, and meetings with leaders of the Reform Movement throughout Israel. The URJ will continue to provide scholarships and the new Israel Organizing Fellowship for the Heller participants.
This partnership presents a significant opportunity for the URJ to hone in on our focus to provide students with an unparalleled Reform Jewish educational experience that will strengthen and deepen their understanding and relationship to Israel and Judaism through a Reform lens. By joining with Muss, our students will also enjoy additional access to in-person secular academic programs that will continue to allow them to maintain the curriculum from their schools at home.
For over 50 years, our Heller High program has safeguarded its mission to provide Reform youth an opportunity to strengthen, through learning and experience, their connection to Judaism, the Jewish people, and the Jewish state. This next chapter in Heller High’s history will allow us to continue to do this important work to ensure that our future students will have the same life changing experience that thousands of others, including hundreds of leaders of the Reform Movement, have enjoyed.
Our Unique Experience
A Reform Community
Shabbat and Holidays
Shabbat is a highlight of the week for the Heller High students. Each week we join together to celebrate with song, prayer, and a shabbat meal. During their semester students will enjoy a variety of Shabbat experiences including:
- Services led by our Heller High Director, Rabbi Orli Moss, accompanied by musicians from across Israel
- Worship led by Heller High students, creating a meaningful experience for one another
- Joining with Reform communities across Israel to get to them and their approach to Shabbat celebration
- Open Shabbats where students are invited to join with friends or family across the country
- Shabbat hikes, walks, and special programming
Students in URJ Heller High participate in their own Jewish studies course. This course exposes students to Israeli history and modern community through a Reform Jewish lens. The course includes classroom hours, and over 20 tiyulim (trips) across israel to learn from the people and land.
Throughout the semester our goal is to thoroughly acquaint our students with the history of the Jewish people, its culture, and its land. Israel as the birthplace and the center of that history throughout the ages is the ideal place to teach and demonstrate the development of the people, culture, and land. By combining classroom and field study, students witness in a “hands on” manner the flow of Jewish history.
The method employed for this course is an interdisciplinary core curriculum in which students study history during 70 class days, 25 of which are spent at sites which reflect the period of history under investigation. All classes and field trips are based on the reading of primary source material from the appropriate period and group discussions. Students are expected to take notes during hikes and are examined on the presented material.
A core curriculum teacher is appointed to guide students through all of Jewish history. The content of the class draws upon the following disciplines: Archeology, World Literature, Comparative Literature, English Composition, History, Sociology, Geography, Comparative Religion, Western Civilization, Political Science and Physical Education. As Israel: Land, Cultures and People covers many disciplines a student’s transcript may reflect the grades and credits earned in these subjects under either a reciprocal or specific course heading.
During this portion of the program, a variety of themes are addressed in seminars and extensive field trip experiences. Students explore a range of critical issues facing Israel and the Jewish people. Students meet personalities representing a wide range of positions and are challenged to understand the complexities of these issues. Issues explored include the Arab Israel conflict (Jewish and Arab perspectives), peace plans and possibilities; Religion and State: the origin of modern Israel and its religious implications, the position of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism in Israel, the Muslim and Christian communities; the Ingathering of the Exiles: Israel as a Jewish homeland: Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Yemenite, Ethiopian and Russian Jewry; New directions in Zionism: what does the future hold? Israel Diaspora relations; the political nature of Israel and developments in the Middle East.
We are named after Isaac (z”l) and Helaine Heller (z”l).
For 60 years, high school students from across North America have had an extraordinary and transformative semester experience in Israel. In 1975, Isaac (Ike) and Helaine Heller (both of truly blessed memory) and their family made this journey possible for more than 1100 teens through their generous support in creating the Heller Family Scholarship Fund.
The idea grew out of their daughter Audrey’s extraordinary experience in 1972 on what was then called the NFTY EIE (Eisendrath International Exchange) High School Semester in Israel. She returned home feeling more confident and independent, with a deep connection to Israel, and a profound pride in her Jewish identity. Her cherished lifelong friends and community that emerged from that experience remained pivotal in Audrey’s life.
At the end of every semester, Ike, Helaine, and their family would enjoy hearing from returning students (and their parents) about their magical adventure in Israel. The Hellers took pride in how t many alumni chose to become dedicated and thoughtful leaders of the Jewish people.
A year after Ike passed away in 2015, Helaine, with the encouragement of her family, endowed the program with a generous gift so that many more students could experience the power of spending a significant amount of time during their formative years in Israel. It was also, in her words, “my way of honoring my husband, Ike, preserving his memory, and carrying on the love that we’ve both had for this program for 41 years. Since we saw its wonderful impact firsthand when our daughter Audrey came home, we have wanted to help even more students to have this important experience. The program and the URJ have been so meaningful to both of us, and I know Ike would be very pleased.” In appreciation, the semester-long, fully accredited program was renamed “URJ Heller High; the Isaac and Helaine Heller High School in Israel”
Ike and Helaine were married for 61 years. They had 4 daughters — Audrey, Laurie, Hollie, and Hillary–10 grandchildren, and 4 great grandchildren.
Ike was born in Brooklyn and raised on a farm in upstate New York during the Great Depression. Until the age of 12, he attended a one-room school house, where one teacher taught students from grades 1 to 6. After moving back to New York City, Ike attended Brooklyn Technical High School, worked as a radio technician in the Navy, and eventually attended night classes at Cooper Union, where he studied electrical engineering.
He achieved his first big entrepreneurial success, when he co-founded Remco Industries, which grew to be one of the most successful toy manufacturers in America. Based out of Newark, New Jersey, Remco produced walkie-talkies, board games, and plastic battleships and submarines. At their peak in the 1960s, the business employed 5,000 people, sponsored the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and signed exclusive deals with The Beatles, Star Trek, and Universal Monsters, among other pop icon partners.
By this time, Ike had married Helaine Hirsh, who was raised in Newark, where she had to share a bedroom with her grandmother – one of her major incentives to get married and move out. They eventually settled in Scotch Plains, NJ. At the age of 40, Ike made the decision to sell his stake in the toy business and become a builder and distributor of warehouses. Today, Heller Industrial Parks has over 16 million square feet of commercial real estate space throughout America, leasing buildings to FedEx, UPS, Lockheed Martin, Michelin Tires, and many other major companies.
Helaine and Ike shared the dream of providing a quality Jewish educational experience to generations of young people. Having witnessed how Ike struggled before he made it, Helaine wanted to offer young people educational opportunities to help them fulfill their dreams. In a way, Heller High reflects the lessons of Ike’s and Helaine’s lives.
Helaine Heller was a wonderfully kind, warm, intelligent, caring, and funny woman. When she passed away in 2020, Helaine left behind her beloved family and generations of Heller High participants who will always be grateful for the Hellers’ kindness, generosity, and enduring vision.