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16 Tammuz 5760 - July 19, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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First Shuvu Girls' High School in Yerushalayim to be Named for Brochie Mermelstein, a"h

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

A Brief but Vibrant Flame will Continue to Glow

She dreamed of starting a high school of her own -- a different type of school. A school where there would be no judgmental or critical assessments -- where a girl's worth would be reckoned by who she was, not by what she scored. A place where every girl could feel she was an integral part of a greater whole.

Brocha Yitta Mermelstein, a"h, was taken from this world on the second day of Pesach, at the age of 16. She will never start a high school of her own. Shuvu's Board of Directors, however, in a moving gesture of support for the family, has announced that the first Shuvu girls' high school in Yerushalayim, opening this September, would bear the name of this extraordinary neshomo. "The opening of this high school is the hemshech of a much larger effort. We are gratified to be able to pay tribute to a young girl who, during her brief interlude in this world, created indelible reverberations in many lives," commented Avrohom Biderman, Shuvu Co-chairman. "We hope this will bring a nechoma to her choshuva parents."

The Shuvu school system, consisting of 29 schools with 9000 children enrolled, has up until now, in most areas, ended in the eighth grade. This fall, in an extraordinary new effort, new high schools will open in a number of cities including Yerushalayim. It will be part of a larger initiative to open high schools in cities across the country over the next several years. "The goal is to have at least 12 in operation by the year 2003," Mr. Biderman reports. "Children who are just starting on the road to Yiddishkeit need a continuum of their learning. The teen years are crucial. By providing a high school education in a yeshiva for these children, we can give them the tools they need to establish Torahdike lives as adults."

Preparations for the high school in Yerushalayim have swung into high gear. "We have already hired an outstanding principal. Rivka Kaminetzky, who has years of experience," says Brocha Weinberger, Shuvu Educational Director. "We realize that the standards must be very high as the competition from the secular high schools is stiff. They are well-equipped with huge campuses and laboratory facilities. That is why the opening of this school which has been needed for so long here, is such a challenge."

The idea of continuity in the education of Russian children in Eretz Yisroel has always been a dream of Shuvu supporters. "This whole campaign is very ambitious," says Mr. Biderman. "However, we feel we will see concentrated results as children coming from an irreligious environment are kept within a Torah environment during this formative time." Mr. Biderman also stressed that he felt it would be a tremendous zechus for the Mermelstein family, to have a high school named after Brochie that would exemplify the ideals she valued.

At the time of her petirah, Brochie was an 11th grader at Bais Yaakov High School. Brochie's parents, Rabbi and Mrs. Shmuel Noach Mermelstein (Rabbi Mermelstein has been the eminent and popular 10th grade maggid shiur in Yeshiva Novominsk for the past sixteen years) describe her as an extraordinary daughter, a nurturing sister, a vibrant and vital member of Klal Yisroel who used all her kochos -- and they were many -- to make the world a better place for everyone who crossed her path.

Brochie exhibited a maturity beyond her years. Her objective in life -- expressed early in word, writing and deed -- was to imbue every person she encountered with a positive sense of herself. Intuitively, she knew exactly how to do it. She expressed her ideals in poetry; she was 12 when she wrote:

"If any little words of ours, /Can make one's life brighter, /If any melody or song of ours, /Can make one's heart lighter, /If one small deed of ours, /Can make one feel so great, /If one slight smile of ours, /Can cheer up and elevate, /Then please help us speak, /Those kind words all day long, /And take that sweet melody, /Or perhaps that cheerful song, /Along with the good deed, /And cheerful smile, /Let those who need it feel, /Serene for a while.

As an illustration of this message, we were told by her parents that when arriving early enough at school, she would write "Good Morning" across the board so that everyone could start their day with a good feeling.

Her parents were given an album of letters written by her classmates and friends. All expressed the joy she brought into their lives and their feelings of loss that she was no longer there, to encourage them and to be a role model for what they aspired to become.

"I recently got back her siddur. For a while, her class kept it. They wanted to take turns davening from it. They told me they were inspired always by the way she davened . . . with tremendous intensity and kavannah. They felt it would be a special zechus for them to have it -- at least for a while."

A sociable, popular teenager, Brochie's friends were legion. They loved being with her. How could they not? She generously showered her sunny nature, wit, sense of fun and lots of compliments on whoever crossed her path. She was me'urav im habriyos, loved people, and was never ashamed to show it. She sought out the forgotten and forlorn and bolstered their sense of dignity.

She possessed a depth of understanding and insight into human nature beyond that of most adults.

One woman, a ba'alas teshuva she had befriended, came to the shiva and declared to everyone sitting there, "Brochie was never judgmental, she loved me for my Yiddishe neshomo. Brochie evoked respect in her peers, just by being herself and because she treated everyone with respect."

The mussar she gave was always accepted for what it was -- an expression of her caring. She admired and complimented her brothers and sisters unfailingly, unceasingly. To her brothers away in yeshiva she wrote paeans of praise for their accomplishments. When Brochie was the designated baby-sitter, she would wait up for her brothers to come home from learning, so they wouldn't come into an empty house. One of her favorite pastimes, was staying up until the wee hours of the morning discussing emunah and bitachon with an older brother.

She would say, even at a very young age, how important it was to praise her younger siblings. "It shouldn't be like Acharei Mos Kedoshim -- only after they are grown up they should know they are wonderful?" Her understanding of what a child needed (and she herself was just a child) was way beyond her years. It was often as if she was one step ahead of her parents.

Perhaps her most outstanding trait among a profusion of outstanding traits, was her acute sense of hakoras hatov. Verbally and on paper, she always expressed appreciation, to her parents, of course, but most notably to her teachers. She would write a note at the end of every test, thanking her teacher for the wonderful limudim. A recurrent theme was her fervent wish that the things she learned would be internalized. She once wrote at the bottom of her answer sheet:

"Perhaps the lema'aseh from these limudim should be stressed. Eventually, the mark will be longer matter -- but the limud lema'aseh must! It will help us be mashlim our matarah le'osid, where it really counts."

Indeed, her teachers were in many ways awed by her sincerity and temimus.

One of the her teachers told us that she had once tried convincing Brochie to take things more lightly -- not to be so serious, so aware at all times of her responsibilities. Then, she told us, as she was saying this to Brochie, she realized: "What am I saying? This is exactly what I should be aspiring to." It made my hashkofas hachaim change.

She made brochos out loud and encouraged others to do the same so people would have the zechus to answer omen . . .

An index card found in her pocket said, "I will try to be more careful about the diverse aspects of emes . . .

She took it upon herself to clean the shul for Shabbos in the family bungalow colony . . .

She was only around nine when she prepared her father's seforim at night so he would have them ready to learn from when he rose early in the morning . . .

When one of her teachers was hospitalized, he received one refuah shleima card from his students -- it was from Brochie . . .

Brochie undertook to be a counselor for one of the youngest and hardest bunks -- five-year-old boys. One year a little boy came to the camp whose mother had grown up in a religious home, but had gone off the derech. In fact, she was quite antagonistic to Yiddishkeit -- and to everyone except Brochie. They got along splendidly. When the summer was over Brochie kept up a correspondence with the mother. Eventually, she agreed to send her little boy to a yeshiva.

In 1988, when Brochie was only four, she underwent surgery to correct a problem she had been born with. As a segulah, her mother sent a $500 check to Bais Yaakov High School. It was to be considered a deposit on her registration for the graduating class of 5761. But on the first day of sefiroh, which is chesed shebechesed, 5760, Brochie Mermelstein -- whose every waking moment was filled with the pursuit of chesed -- left this world. The fullness of her contribution to this world is impossible to capture fully, just as it is impossible to convey completely the essence of Brocha Yitta bas Shmuel Noach.

When she received her usual 99 on a test, a few weeks after she had not done that well on another exam, the well-meaning teacher complimented her. "That's the real Brochie." She looked up at the teacher. "No, Morah," she interjected softly as she pointed at herself. "That's Brochie's mark. This is the real Brochie."

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