She lives to serve

No job is too small for Yehudis Schamroth, who makes good deeds part of her daily life.

Representing Keren Yosef at a health fair (photo credit: COURTESY YEHUDIS SCHAMROTH)
Representing Keren Yosef at a health fair
Since hessed (acts of loving-kindness) is her trademark, it made perfect sense that, six minutes into a first interview with Yehudis Schamroth, she asked to reschedule so she could drive a lone soldier to the Beit Shemesh train station.
She has no staff and she isn’t running a nonprofit.
Yet, in the course of an average week, Schamroth, who made aliya from Baltimore to Ramat Beit Shemesh in 2001, single-handedly helps dozens of people.
Her hessed activities are incredibly wide-ranging.
Trained as an advanced practice nurse anesthetist, Schamroth has been volunteering for Beit Shemeshbased health and safety education nonprofit organization Keren Yosef for 15 years, teaching CPR to all kinds of people, including bat-mitzva girls and the elderly.
She teaches first aid to those who need the training to help others, including the leaders of a local bicycle riding club. And she coordinates fund-raising events for Keren Yosef, doing everything from booking speakers and hosting events in her home to hanging posters around town and setting up chairs.
She’ll stand in front of a grocery store for hours, collecting food for Lema’an Achai, a local social service organization, and when they need boxes to pack food distributions, she’ll drive to a neighbor to pick up cartons from a grocery store delivery and bring them to wherever Lema’an Achai needs them.
She’ll organize buses from Ramat Beit Shemesh to events all over Israel, so her neighbors will have an easier time attending. Several times a week, she’ll cook and deliver meals to people in her community who are sick or had a baby or are sitting shiva.
Along with Devora-Gila Berkowitz, she coordinates the Miriam Project, a worldwide call to get Jewish women to spread awareness of the imminent redemption of the Jewish people. And as part of her acupuncture practice, she’ll treat needy patients or women escaping from abusive marriages for free.
Without blinking an eye, she’ll sit at a neighbor’s and watch the children while the neighbor drives carpool.
Blessed with a huge extended family in Ramat Beit Shemesh, she’ll drive one of her 40 nieces and nephews to an appointment or serve as an extra pair of adult hands for her many dozens of great-nieces and great-nephews, feeding them lunch or taking them somewhere.
Perhaps her favorite hessed of all is the love she lavishes on IDF soldiers, especially lone soldiers who are serving without family in the country. On her way to Rachel’s Tomb every Wednesday, she stops at each checkpoint and delivers fresh, homemade, hot soup or cold drinks and snacks, depending on the time of year.
She raises funds from outside of Israel and works with Standing Together and the Michael Levine Lone Soldier Center, helping in whatever way she can, large or small.
In her understated way, Schamroth told In Jerusalem, “I feel like the soldiers are my children. I’ll make up a little care package. I’ll give them NIS 50. I’ll take a soldier’s backpack to have the zipper fixed. I’ll take soldiers to the train. If their mom were here, their mom would take them to the train. It’s a wonderful thing if I can do a little something for them.”
Mendel Gordon is a lone soldier who has been adopted by the entire Schamroth family. His mother Mindi Levine Gordon, lives in the US and had not seen her son for 18 months. Standing Together flew her in recently to greet him as he finished the 60-kilometer march all paratroopers complete before earning their red berets.
Schamroth hosted Mindi on her quick visit to Israel and woke at 4 a.m. to drive her to the ceremony.
Gordon spoke to IJ with overwhelming gratitude.
“Words alone cannot describe the true tzadeket (righteous woman) Yehudis is. I am on the other side of the ocean. Knowing that Yehudis is there and playing a major role in taking care of Mendel helps me rest better at night.
“I was in Israel for only five days. The 32 hours I spent with Yehudis were educational, spiritual and uplifting.
Never being there before and a first-time tourist, Yehudis immediately took me under her wing. A total stranger became a friend; I hope the connection will last forever.
“In just a few short days I saw acts of hessed I could not comprehend. She brought me to Rachel’s Tomb, but not before buying bags of food items for soldiers at every checkpoint. Her hessed cannot be measured.
“My son feels welcomed in her home. He told me, ‘Mom, being in the Schamroth home on Shabbat is wonderful. I feel so content there.’ I’m overcome by the Shamroths’ generosity and emotional kindness and support.”
Asked what motivates her to do so much for so many, Schamroth said, “It’s a thing I was born with, I think. I was always a person who likes to help out and give. I always saw that I have a gift to notice when someone needed something; I could almost predict it. That’s what I thought made me a very good nurse.”
Schamroth also credits her upbringing.
“I learned about hessed from my parents. Our entire family were the type of people who would give you the shirt off their backs. I grew up in a family where this was very encouraged and accepted. We were the ones delivering Meals on Wheels, shoveling driveways, inviting people for Thanksgiving. It was the way I grew up.
“Where does my energy come from? Hashem [God]? I have no clue. I do drink a lot of coffee,” she jokes, “but that isn’t the reason. I have always been blessed with a lot of energy and good health. I just want to help. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it.
“It happens to be that I can do more than an average person. If I’ve made somebody’s life easier, if I can take in two loads of laundry or make them a meal, that’s what makes me a success in life.”
When her three children were little and she was working more hours as a nurse anesthetist, her hessed activities were appropriate for that stage of life.
“I was the kiddush lady in our shul in Baltimore for 10 years. I made cholent for 200 people. Since moving to Israel, I’m so much more aware of opportunities to help. There’s a lot more to do here on a daily basis. And I have more time.
“I do think being in Israel changed my ability to expand myself even more. I see the needs. I wish I could speak Hebrew fluently, because I’m aware of a whole group of Israeli soldiers who are from underprivileged homes. They might have sick parents, no food to eat, abusive situations.”
Just as micro-philanthropists give small donations every day, Schamroth is a one-woman micro-hessed organization.
“I like to stick with smaller acts, because I wouldn’t want to sit in an office trying to raise funds and push papers. I’m a really physical person and I am a really good doer. Sometimes I start a project and other people are better at taking it to the next level.”
An example of that is the Gush Katif “brides project.”
Over the past 10 years, the project, which Schamroth had a hand in launching, has given bridal showers for over 1,000 young couples from Gush Katif.
Sharon Katz, one of the project’s current coordinators and a master of hessed herself, spoke to IJ about Schamroth’s early contribution.
“Yehudis Schamroth is at the forefront of so many vital mitzvot for Am Yisrael [the Jewish people]. I remember how inspired I felt a few months after the expulsion from Gush Katif when Yehudis, Shoshana Schilit and other wonderful Beit Shemesh women held an evening of hachnasat kalla [providing for an impoverished bride]for a Gush Katif bride. What a beautiful act of hessed, exactly when the people of Gush Katif needed to feel loved. So Yehudis! “This event inspired women from all over to come together to support the young couples of Gush Katif through what became the brides project. Yehudis’ unending love and caring for her fellow Jews in their time of trouble and need is an example for all of us. People want to be appreciated. That’s why doing hessed feels so good.
It’s one of the byproducts of doing for others.”
Schamroth’s thousands of acts of loving-kindness inspire others who ask her how they can help, too.
“I have a reputation for knowing where the hessed needs to be. I get a lot of phone calls, people asking where they should give tzedaka [charity]. Which soldiers need money the most? Who needs a meal? Who needs a contribution? I hook people up to organizations where they can help others.
“I can have a day where I don’t do anything and a day where that’s all I do all day long. I spend 80 percent of my time taking care of others, including my family and my patients.
“We really need to educate people that we all need to be helping people on an ongoing basis. The world stands on three things and one of them is hessed. Hessed is my gateway. We’re so connected to each other.
It’s a win-win situation to do hessed for others. How can you lose?” Yehudis’s husband, Dr. Alvin Schamroth, reflected on his wife’s gift.
“Being married to Yehudis, I have seen firsthand the depth to which true hessed can be provided, a level that I, and I am sure virtually everyone else, never fully consider. She not only gives financially and of her own time, but she always goes the extra mile. She provides an additional ‘layer’ of hessed that no one else thinks of, going above and beyond to simply make things a little easier for the recipient. This is, I believe, borne of a phenomenal sensitivity to her fellow human being.
“Her world is viewed through a prism that not only asks ‘What is this person requesting,’ but goes further, as she asks herself, ‘What does this person really need?’ She obviously accommodates the initial request, but then goes further and does her utmost to provide what the individual actually needs. Seeing Yehudis in operation brings new meaning to the definition of hessed.”
Schamroth believes that doing small acts of kindness for others is a big part of her unique purpose in this world.
“I have no doubt in my mind that this is what I’m here for. I do a lot of intellectual stuff, but if I can be helpful in this world and it helps other people, I’m there.”