- About Sherry
- A letter to organ donor
- Sherry's writings
- Memorial lectures
Sherry Dimarsky, nee Berliner, daughter of Holocaust survivors Nate and Betty Berliner, was raised in Cleveland. After receiving a law degree from Northwestern University in Chicago, she worked to provide indigent clients with adequate legal representation. That career, however, was short-lived. The Jewish community always came first in Sherry's life. When she was approached to help a number of Jewish women experiencing domestic abuse, she responded by founding one of the first organizations in the Jewish community dedicated to helping such individuals. Shalva (Safe Home Advice and Legal Aid for Victims of Abuse) grew to offer counseling, emergency housing and assistance, and educational programs to help prevent domestic abuse. As Executive Director, Sherry was instrumental in ensuring broad-based support of Shalva's aims as well as the financial ability to carry out its mission.
After leaving Shalva for the health reasons, Sherry together with Rabbi Eliezer Dimarsky founded Heritage Russian Jewish Congregation and began serving the needs of Russian Jews in the Midwest. Sherry became a tireless educator, organizer, and listener to hundreds of Russian students and young professionals seeking more meaningful spiritual lives. She applied her many talents to helping reach Russian Jews through classes, outreach activities and personal contact. The telephone was never far from her ear as she made Shabbos arrangements, redd shidduchim, or comforted fellow Yidden in times of trouble. And her hachnosas orchim was limitless.
Sherry was able to bridge the cultural gap and connect with the Russian community. All acknowledge the social difficulties encountered by foreign immigrants as they try to adapt to the American lifestyle. But through her talent and devotion, she was able to succeed in the reverse. As a Midwestern American woman, Sherry developed the ability to truly relate to and empathize with local Russian immigrants on their terms, a difficult feat in today’s kiruv atmosphere. She could reach out to them and enjoy a reciprocal response in return.
During her illness, Sherry's energy seemed to actually increase. She involved herself with full heart and soul into event more community projects to increase her zechuyos. She volunteered her time for the Chicago Chesed Fund and Camp Nageela Midwest among numerous other projects. With oxygen tank in tow, she would shlep to the food distributions centers, picking up groceries and household staples for those in need. Her only request was to be accompanied "just in case I stop breathing."
Even once confined to home, Sherry used email to continue serving Klal Yisroel, whether to help raise money for a kallah, pass around a name for Tehilim, or simply to provide chizuk. Working with myriad organizations and resources, she served as a shadchan not only in the literal sense, but also by matching individual Jews with those who could help them - or whom they could help. Her energy level, if anything, seemed to grow, to the amazement of all with whom she came in contact.
And when Sherry's energy finally started to wane, her bitachon never did. When she was so weak that she could hardly take any food by the mouth, she still sat up - with great difficulty - and made her brochos so loudly and clearly, they could be heard in the next room.
On 29 of Teves, 5768 (Jan. 7, 2008) Sherry could hang no longer. She who had so valued every day of life ran out of days. She who had doggedly believed in hope ran out of hope. Yet she who had adamantly believed in gratitude even on her deathbed found something to be grateful for. She turned her face heavenwards and recited the blessing thanking G-d for creating her a Jew. Those were her last words. She was 46 years old.
December 23, 2007
Dear Jessica’s family, one and all,
It is now about three years ago since I had the privilege of meeting your beloved Jessica in story and picture, and it is only now that I am able to respond in kind.
I am Sherry, the very very blessed woman who has the honor of carrying Jessica’s left lung in a hug every day. Not a day goes by, not an hour, not a minute, not even a second wherein she fails to keep me alive, give me air, give me hope. I am blessed indeed.
When I got your incredibly moving and generous box all those many months ago, I cried and cried, showed it to my loved ones, and could not think of any appropriate way to respond. So, I kept to my pledge, trying to give meaning to my life, to give meaning to hers, to live honorably and joyfully and doing G-d’s will as best I could.
Some of the highlights:
- The dream of my life: a full month trip last summer with my husband and all our kids to Israel, the land for which my heart always yearns while my body is stuck here. We went just after the war started, and returned just after it ended, and while it was bizarre and maybe even grotesque to be there as a tourist in wartime it was truly the best way to show my kids what Israel really is: a land where millions of strangers come together as family, offering their homes, bodies, souls and possessions to help another, just because. It was a trip from heaven.
- A three and a half week trip the year earlier in a junky old minivan with my four boys (then aged 14, 13, 12, 7) across the east coast (proof of both insanity and joie de vivre on my part!), experiencing the beauty and richness of this fine country and the joys and challenges of living in such close quarters!
- The Bar Mitzvah celebrations of sons #2 and #3, which I only used to dream of attending; instead I received the extraordinary present of seeing their growth manifest, their pride in their hard work, and the pride of all who love them;
- The births and weddings of many people I love and care for in my role as their “Rebbetzin” (the wife of their rabbi, a role in and of itself), with all the tears, laughter, and prayers that come with each;
- The deaths and births of people near and dear to me, reminding me again of the fragility of life, and its beauty;
- The inevitable aging of my elderly parents, painful and still surprising, but a gift nonetheless;
- The growth and intensification of some key relationships in my life, of indescribable value;
- Regular old life, with lunches to pack, and baseball games to attend, and dinners to think about (usually about 2 hours too late/where did today fly???), and tomatoes on sale, and dry cleaning to pick up and the Cubs losing yet another one.
And for ALL of this, and everything else, I thank you as G-d’s messenger to me.
About a year ago things started getting harder. My breathing was raggedy, I needed a few big medical procedures (the proverbial bumps in the road), and I just couldn’t get back on my feet. After lots of tests and worry I was diagnosed with BOS, Bronchiolitis Obliterans Syndrome, a nasty name for Chronic Rejection of the new lung. I was, frankly, in shock. I thought that between Jessica and me, we had a partnership that could last many years. Well, they basically told me I had two options: re-transplant or manage my (G-d forbid) demise. After getting myself functioning again, I decided to go for it, and I am now sitting atop the list for a new lung as soon as one comes in that fits, may it come in time. Just telling you that makes me feel like such a traitor to our cause. If only I could tell you that Jessica’s lung will live on till 120 within me, but I can’t! My heart breaks to tell you this. I know that you know it was not intentional by any means, but I need to tell you that it does not IN ANY WAY change the blessing she has given me. That you have given me.
I have tried hard to use these 3+ years to work on my character, raise good children, grow closer to G-d, help and bring joy to others. I’ve even tried to be nice to my poor husband most of the time, though certainly not enough, I’m sure! Please don’t feel that Jessica’s life has ended more if/when mine does. It continues with mine, and with all the people that EACH of us touch. It continues surely with you and all the people her own life touched. Please continue to encourage organ donation; we are all helped by it.
I have to keep this short here because crying makes it very hard to breathe, and I can’t take any chances. One of the ironies of all of this is that it has made it hard for me to talk. My pals probably considers that a benefit; surely my kids do! But, since I can’t speak sometimes, I’ve found myself writing more often. I am writing poetry of all things. Heck, I barely ever read poetry before, but it flows easily and I give it its way.
I want to send you some of the poetry I’ve written since the transplant. The first poem, Alma Mater, is © Binah Magazine, was published it some time this past fall. The second, More, © me and is scheduled to appear in an anthology due to come out in early 2008. The last piece, Solitaire, also © by me, might appear in that anthology if the editor can convince me that it’s worth it somehow between now and then. I cannot attest to their quality, only to the fact that the words come from my heart.
Again, there are no words sufficient.
I thank you with all I have. I bless you with all that is Good.
May G-d bless you and keep you.
All my best,
RABBI SHMUEL FUERST
Dayan of Aguda Midwest
We are gathered here today to speak about Sarah Chana bas Naftali, otherwise known as Sherry. Today is Rosh Chodesh, and only the mourners themselves are allowed to say hespedim.
It says “Yehi Yaakov B’Eretz Mitzraim…” The Meshech Hochma explains that some people live their whole lives for themselves, some people live for themselves and their family only, some people live for themselves, family, and community, but others live their whole life for their family, community, and their whole country. All of Mitzraim benefited from having Yaakov there. This is how it was with Sherry – she gave selflessly to the community and has given the last 10 years to running Heritage, an organization to help people from the former Soviet Union reunite with Torah. There are countless individuals and families that became mitzvah observant or became closer to Yiddishkeit because of her and Rabbi Dimarsky.
She was a walking talking kiddush Hashem. She was always optimistic and never complained. Even with the oxygen tank, she continued to help everyone. She had emuna till the very end.
I want to tell her sons, Yehoshua Berel, Avraham Yaakov, Shmuel Leib, and Meir Yehuda. You will say kaddish for your mother for the next year. Do you know why? To fill the void and bring a kiddush Hashem. You should grow up to be Bnei Torah, like she hoped. This is a great loss for the community – and an even bigger loss for Eliezer, her partner of 17 years. Hashem should give you strength.
Since it’s Rosh Chodesh, a proper eulogy can’t be given. We can’t give a hesped on Sherry – on her sterling character and her devotion to family. She was a layer by profession – but instead of choosing a lucrative job, she worked for Shalva to help the community – we can’t say a hesped on that.
Ein isha meisa ela l’baala (A woman dies only to her husband…)
Eliezer is the partner who she shared everything with. He feels the loss the most. She always said how sensitive and caring he was and that he never complained and accepted everything b’simcha.
I can’t say a hesped to Sherry’s parents and brother. They came to America after WWII and built a family with devotion and dedication. …
But we can say a hesped on Sherry’s work for the Jewish people. For 70 years the only religion allowed in the former Soviet Union was atheism and so many lost our heritage. It is the next generation that is more open to learning about their Jewdaism and Sherry and Eliezer rose to the challenge and devoted their life to transmitting the heritage to those who were missing it.
Eliezer and Sherry frequently asked me questions, and they fell into the following 2 categories:
1) Can we do this? Is this mutar or assur?
2) How should we do it?
Sherry is on oxygen, we have a Purim party coming up. I thought it’s something small at the house. No, we rented a hall and have 500 people coming. The question was never should we do it, but how to do it. 15 people coming to each meal on Shabbos and only home-cooked food, because people like it better.
Though out our history we had many challenges – Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and Crusaders – yet the Torah remained. The community must make sure that Heritage goes on. Dovid Schnell said that he has never heard of Rabbi Dimarsky, but he sent more kids that anyone else to Camp Negila. We must help them and keep it going…
A week and a half ago we visited Sherry. Her question was – How does one keep going and be positive for the next 5 minutes?
Children will grow and Heritage will grow and it all will be a legacy to Sherry.
Im habonim samecha – Sherry sees her children with pride – she sees what Heritage did and hope it will expand.
Umacha Hashem Kol Bechi… (Hashem will wipe all tears…).
It is a challenge to speak and a challenge not to speak. For those of you who knew Sherry – there are no words. For those of you who did not know her – there are no words.
If all the trees in the worlds were a pen, and all the oceans in the world were ink, and the whole sky was the scroll, it is not enough to describe what Sherry was for me, and our sons, and our community.
We almost made it to “HAI”, we were married for 17 years and a few months. She taught me lessons about life. The taught me what true chesed is, what true friendship is, what honesty is, what love of Eretz Yisroel is, and what true emuna is.
Chesed starts at home. She was born in Cleveland to Holocaust survivors. Her mother was the center of the block. The kitchen was filled with people that her mother was feeding and counseling, and the little girl Sherry was getting lessons on kindness. Her mother took her to nursing homes – she at the time didn’t know why. Her mother had conversations with people for hours and Sherry sat on the stairs and listened. Not just listened, but learned.
She was a lawyer by profession, and before Shalva she worked on the South Side, once again helping others.
She loved to make home made food. She would hand write recipes – she knew how important it was to have good food. I don’t think there is an Artscroll or a Feldheim book that she did not read. But she also loved to read recipe books. I would asks her why. She told me that she can taste the recipe by reading it. She collected the recipes and hand wrote them for kallahs as a gift, to help them build a foundation for their new homes. She was involved with shidduchim.
She was so smart. She understood Russians even better than we knew ourselves. She really understood people. Very often people would start speaking to her in Russian – she just seemed like she must be Russian herself if she understood them so well. She counseled many.
She knew everyone’s phone number, all the dates and events by heart. I kept offering to get her a palm pilot and she was reluctant. She was right. After she transferred some of her brain into the palm pilot, it got over-scheduled and crashed. Even after she passed away, the cell phone kept ringing. 10:00 am – Marina. Then the bell rings and Marina walks in. Another ring for car pool, another ring for Shmulik’s appointment. She did so much scheduling. She always tried to spare me from all the details. Toward the very end, when she was in and out of conciseness, I realized that I better know what is going on. I asked her what bank we use, etc. She recited by heart the account numbers and all the information.
She was very honest and she always pushed herself and others. A few months ago the Dr. said that he did not want to do the transplant and she presented a convincing argument and he had to agree. She was very honest and smart and so were her friends. Only the toughest survived the honestly, and those are the friends that she kept.
It was love at first sight. It was a love I was jealous of.
Libi bamizrach veAni bsof ma'arav
(My heart is in the East but I am far in the West)
Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (Jewish medieval philosopher)
Her homepage was the Kottel and that is how she started her day. She would often show me how many people were there. Her background was the Kineret.
It was never a question of “should we, or should we not?”
Of course, to do. What’s the shaila? To go to the Bar Mitzvah, to send that donation…
Her emuna was exceptional and unshakable. Sometimes there was a difference between emunah and feelings. We would hear “Help, help!” from her room and run in. And she was say, “No, not you. I was talking to Hashem!”
She taught be what loyalty is. I don’t mean the loyalty that they talk about on the street. She was always at my side, next to me, supporting me. If you think that I accomplished anything, is because I felt strong because of her.
Sheli v’shelachem shela hi.
Whatever is mine and yours is really hers (Talmud)
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba) says that Hashem checks only the vessels that He knows ahead of time will not break. We can’t do this, but Hashem can. Sherry was the right Kankan (vessel)….
Some things are beyond our control. Can’t feel bad or feel proud of things that are beyond our control. Our health, our bodies are beyond our control. But our choices are within our control. Hashem checked her soul and it was strong till the very end. She was a right Kankan (vessel)…
As to a wife and mother, I can’t say it better than:
Kamu bonacha v’ashrua, baala vahalela…
Rabos Banos Asu Chayil, ve’at alis al kulana
Her children rise and praise her, her husband lauds her.
Many women have done worthily, but you surpass them all.
(From Mishley of King Solomon, 31, 10-31)
So many tears are being shed for her. I always wondered why people don’t cry during shiva. Now I know it is because all the tears are spent by then. My son asked me – “Tatti, when will Mashiach come?” There is a cup in Shamaim by the throne collecting all the tears and Mashiach will come when that cup is filled. May all the tears that we are shedding now make the cup overflow and Mashiach should come.
|Rabbi Dr. Jerry Lob|
|Mrs. Rivka Levitansky|
|Mrs. Aliza Bulow|
|Mrs. Julie Freydin|
|Mrs. Shana Schuman|
|Mrs. Esti Deutsch|
|Mrs. Esti Deutsch 2|
|Dr. Esther Shkop|
|Rabbi Mordechai Yaoslawitz|