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