NY fashionista adopts Bat Yam school

Jane Weitzman hopes $2 million investment in ailing facility will inspire others.

kids at school 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
kids at school 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The wife of a famous New York footwear designer has turned a Bat Yam elementary school into a cutting-edge educational institution in less than a year-and-a-half, The Jerusalem Post heard this week. Jane Weitzman - whose husband, Stuart, works with celebrities such as Jessica Simpson, Oprah Winfrey, Charlize Theron, Vanessa Williams and Courtney Cox Arquette in creating his exclusive designer shoes - told the Post Tuesday that her aim was to allow Israeli children from all socioeconomic, ethnic and immigrant backgrounds to "become great assets to this country." Weitzman, whose Weitzman-Albert Education Initiative has invested more than $2 million in Bat Yam's Harel Elementary School, was in Israel this week to celebrate Harel receiving a top Education Ministry award for academic achievement and immigrant integration. "This program is still only a pilot, but I hope that it will become an inspiration to other educational institutions," she said, emphasizing the role of her philanthropic partner Ruth Albert. "Nothing is impossible. Those who say such things are impossible should move aside and let others make the impossible happen." The project, which is about to wind up its second year of activities in the school, currently serves 176 children from pre-school through second grade. Until this additional investment, the state religious school, which has large numbers of Ethiopian-Israeli pupils, as well as students of Lebanese, Syrian, Bukharan and Indian backgrounds, suffered from a lack of resources. "It was very important to me that one-third of the students be from Ethiopia," said Weitzman, who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, back when its school system was divided into separate systems for blacks and whites. "My country paid dearly for this segregation and I do not want to see Israel make the same mistakes." Weitzman, whose works closely with her husband in the fashion industry and only wears his exclusive designs on her feet, said that she was propelled into establishing this initiative after learning three years ago "about the poor state of Israel's public education system." "I was shocked when I heard," she recalled. "I always thought Jews were the people of the book. In the US, it is a given that most Jewish children go on to college. When I heard about the situation in Israel I really wanted to help change it." Turning to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which runs a host of educational enrichment programs for children from weaker segments of society, Weitzman began looking for a school and municipality that would welcome her desire for investment and change. The Municipality of Bat Yam also contributed to the project, a JDC spokeswoman said. Seeing the results of her investment this week had inspired to continue her support for the project, Weitzman said. "Before making this trip here, I went to Costco [supermarket] and filled a suitcase full of candy for these children," she said. "I really feel like I have adopted this entire school."