In the early 1990s, Drs. Bernard and Melanie Gero began to look toward the future for their young children. Both the products of Jewish day schools in South Africa, the Geros wanted their own children to benefit from the daily exposure to Jewish life that comes with being a day school student. Though their children were barely of preschool age, the Geros began to search the area around their Conejo Valley home for an appropriate school. In Northridge, they found what they were looking for at the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School. However, rather than settle for shuttling their children the 30-plus miles each way to school, they made an appeal to the head of school, Shirley Levine. Initially, Levine rejected the idea of a second Heschel campus in the Conejo Valley, but after bringing it up to the Northridge board of directors, the idea became reality, and Heschel West was born.
With three other families, the Geros worked tirelessly on the establishment of Heschel West. Endless meetings, countless phone calls and stacks of flyers brought about the first kindergarten class of 14 students in 1994. Today the school has grown to more than 200 students in grades K-7, and the Geros continue in their dedication to the school.
"Nothing compares to the joy of your children being able to teach you, give you their insights on a Torah portion, or explore with you the finer points about celebrating a Jewish holiday," Melanie Gero said.
At a gala celebration held Jan. 27, the couple was honored for all they have done to make the school the increasing success it is. Named the Trail Blazers of Heschel West, the Geros received recognition for their contributions from such notables as Mayor Ed Corridori of Agoura Hills, Mayor Richard Riordan of Los Angeles, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Gov. Gray Davis.
Despite the success of Heschel West, the Geros do not feel their work is done. With their children approaching middle-school age, the Geros are thinking about the next step.
"I'm actively involved in the development of a Jewish high school located somewhere in the West Valley," Bernard Gero said. "The future is continuous Jewish education available for K-12 and to make it available to as many people as possible."
As to the often forbidding costs of a day school education, Gero responded, "Schools need to be endowed so that there is a fund for day school education throughout Los Angeles. To provide excellence with a Jewish curriculum requires an awful lot of money. Investing in the community mean investing in the children and providing for the future."