Today, the school is 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.