NJ Jewish family’s struggle for mobility goes viral

Herzfelds enter online contest to win wheelchair accessible van

TZVI AND RACHELI Herzfeld enjoy a day at the beach (photo credit: Courtesy)
TZVI AND RACHELI Herzfeld enjoy a day at the beach
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Herzfeld family hasn’t gone anywhere together for a year and a half. These days, it’s just too much of a challenge to get all of their children in and out of the car and around in public.
Over the past 10 years, all four of Esther and Arthur Herzfeld’s children have been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a degenerative muscle disease that has left one confined to a wheelchair full-time, two requiring a scooter or wheelchair whenever they’re not home, and one walking slowly and carefully.
The family from Teaneck, New Jersey, faces a myriad of challenges, but they’re trying to make life just a little bit easier by winning a handicapped-accessible van in an online contest run for National Mobility Awareness Month.
“These vehicles cost $70,000-$80,000, they’re astronomical,” Esther told The Jerusalem Post from her home on Thursday evening. “There’s no way that we can afford it.”
The contest is being run throughout the month of May, and anyone can vote up to once a day from the NMEDA’s “Local Heroes” site.
Ten years ago Tziporah, now 21, was the first to be diagnosed. Then came Tzvi, now 18, Racheli, 15, and Rivka, 23. The Herzfelds have no known family history of the disease, and each successive diagnosis over the years has rocked the family, and provided new challenges for them to face both at home and away.
“We have a stair lift that people chipped in to help us pay for,” said Esther, who is an English teacher at a local Orthodox high school. “We have a ramp in the back that was built for us by the United Way.” They had a whole-house generator installed after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to the home for days, leaving them unable to move the kids upstairs.
“We’ve put a band-aid on Niagara Falls” with each successive installation, she said, adding that their rabbi has been instrumental in pulling strings to get them funding, in particular for her son’s motorized scooter.
Until now the family has been very “hush-hush” about the entire ordeal.
“The disease is demoralizing enough,” Esther said. “To have to ask people for help is more demoralizing.”
Esther entered the competition at the urging of the kids’ physical therapist, but she didn’t quite understand its public nature.
“I thought I was submitting an application letter to see if they were going to accept me into the contest,” she said. But now that it’s gone public, “I’m in it to win it. I’m going to get the car.”
And public it is – in the first 48 hours after their entry was posted the family garnered close to 4,000 votes. As of late Saturday evening they were closing in on 8,000 votes, as the post is spreading quickly around the Jewish world.
“I had hoped that people would get the word out with their friends,” Esther said. “But it’s gone to Israel, it’s gone to Brazil, Florida, California, Cuba, Guatemala... it’s really kind of taken on this momentum.”