November 20, 2018

New Jew name changes to de Toledo High School

New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) in West Hills soon will be changing its name to de Toledo High School in honor of what one official is calling a “transformative” gift.

The decision by the school’s board of trustees was made Oct. 22, following a recent donation — the size of which officials declined to disclose — by Philip and Alyce de Toledo of Sherman Oaks.

“It’s a gift given really from the heart, and hopefully it’s a gift that will inspire other philanthropists to consider providing more support for Jewish education, both locally and nationally,” said Bruce Powell, head of school. “It’s national news.”  

The couple’s younger son, Benjamin, is a 2014 NCJHS graduate now studying in a joint degree program at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York. He was class president in high school and was featured as a 2014 Jewish Journal Outstanding Graduate. His older brother, Aaron, is enrolled at Middlebury College in Vermont; he did not attend NCJHS.

The de Toledos, both on the high school’s board of trustees, are members of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Philip de Toledo is president of The Capital Group Cos.

NCJHS will use the donation to help pay off the mortgage on its home at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, which the school purchased in 2010 from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and moved into in 2013, according to officials.

“We are going to pay it back over an accelerated schedule,” NCJHS immediate past president Scott Zimmerman told the Journal in a phone interview. 

The money also will go toward practical improvements to the campus and the development of an endowment fund that will fund tuition assistance for NCJHS students. It will allow the school to take care of other, less-sexy expenses as well, according to Powell.

“We needed to replace some infrastructure that was very expensive, like mundane things such as air conditioning. This isn’t someone’s home where it’s a $5,000 air conditioner; this is a $300,000 air conditioner. So the gift does all kinds of things,” said Powell, who called the donation “transformative.” 

Established in 2002, NCJHS was envisioned originally as a Conservative school before its founders realized that a pluralistic, community school was needed. The school operated in rental units on the property of Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills before moving to the Bernard Milken campus. The school has nearly 400 students, with 106 in its freshman class, one of its largest ever, according to Powell. 

The de Toledos approached the school about their interest in giving the naming gift this past April. 

“We didn’t sit down and ask them for it. This came about because of their own experience with the school as part of their own personal Jewish journey,” said Elana Rimmon Zimmerman, NCJHS co-founder and board member.

“It’s an inspired gift, it’s an involved gift, and it’s an organic gift,” added Scott Zimmerman, her husband. 

The de Toledos said they felt uneasy about naming the school, for reasons having to with humility. 

“We’ve always been pretty low-key donors. The fact that we are putting our name on this surprised people,” Alyce de Toledo told the Journal.

After considering a number of possible names for the school, a friend of the family, Rabbi Uri Herscher of the Skirball Cultural Center, suggested that the de Toledos use their own name. It had history, translating to “from Toledo” and referring to a Spanish city that was the home to a thriving Jewish community before the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Philip de Toledo’s 85-year-old Sephardic father, Andre, was born in Istanbul, lived in Spain during World War II and served in the Israeli army during the Arab-Israeli War in 1948.

“[Herscher] felt because of the historical nature of our name and of Sephardic Jews, the journey of Sephardic Jews — in my husband’s family’s case, from Turkey to Spain, etc. — he felt it was a wonderful thing to think about that history and think about the Jewish philosophers who came from Spain,” Alyce de Toledo said. 

Benjamin de Toledo, for his part, believes the name is just right.

“Our name happens to have an important historical genesis to it, and we think it’s a great story to be woven into the already great and incredible narrative that the school has,” he said during a phone interview from New York.

Powell expects the name change to take effect by the 2015-2016 school year. Until then, the school will address practicalities large and small, from creating new signs and registering a new Web address to designing sweatshirts and printing new stationery.

The school has hired a marketing firm to help make the name de Toledo as familiar as New Jew. 

“The amount of work that’s going to go into this type of change is just enormous, so it will take time to roll through the system, and I think by midsummer we should have it all done,” Powell said. 

“My guess is it will take probably about four years for the de Toledo name to become the recognized name, because what happens is it takes four years for the kids who are here now to cycle through the school. They all consider themselves New Jew students. The new class coming in will be de Toledo students.”