Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In Memory of Sherry Dimarsky z''l

As I write this post, I can't believe that it has been one year since the passing of someone very dear to so many of us. She was our friend, our teacher, our advocate, she was also simply our Sherry. For everyone who had been fortunate enough to know this amazing individual, whether personally, or through various types of on-line support groups, she was always a source of wisdom and strength. Many words have been said by many well-known people about Sherry, but I thought that you would like to get a glimpse of her through my eyes as well. Perhaps this article will bring a smile to your face as you picture some of the events described below.
I first met Sherry Dimarsky during one of the nights of Chanukah in 1992. I was a student in a self-contained Russian program at Hanna Sacks Bais Yakov in Chicago and Rabbi Dimarsky was one of our Limudei Kodesh (Holy Subjects) teachers. I was what they called "fresh off the boat" - no English, no sense of style (not that it has improved greatly:), and no friends. Rabbi Dimarsky posted an announcement that the whole class was invited to his home for a Chanukah party. I really didn't want to go for a variety of reasons, one of them being that in Russia nobody really went to their teachers' houses - that was just weird. My mother insisted that I go and make friends. Once I got to the Dimarskys home, the first person to greet me was Sherry. With a baby in her arms and a big smile on her face, she ushered me into the apartment and right away behaved as though we have known each other a lifetime. I don't remember much about the actual evening aside from two things: the Dimarskys' wedding album and Sherry's grand announcement as she was about to start baking latkes: "If you are a hard-working person, you would grate these potatoes by hand, but if you are lazy like me, you will use a food-processor". I remember thinking to myself: "Boy, this lady is really straight forward". Little did I know that snowy December evening, that this would by far not be the last time I visited the Dimarsky home or that I would be fortunate enough to find a great friend.
Over the course of high school I often saw Sherry along with the rest of the Dimarsky gang at various social functions and always marveled at her ability to look composed while juggling three small children, a job and a home.
Fast forward a few years... I graduated from high school and spent a year in Israel where for one reason or another, I made the decision to stop being religious. However, upon my return to the states, I had become a regular guest at the Dimarsky home for Shabbos and holidays and although I was not what you would call an observant Jew, that part of my life didn't matter to Sherry and if it did, she never showed it. Her conversations with me were never condescending or self-righteous, she was always so down to earth and open-hearted - it was as though she always knew exactly how much space and time I needed to make my own decisions and come to my own realizations. I had always valued her treatment tremendously because even my own father had grown impatient with my rebelliousness and I was glad to have someone in my life who could provide a link to Yiddishkeit, which I had craved no matter what, all the while not judging me for a moment.
When I got engaged in 2002, the first Mazel Tov I received was from Sherry. She was thrilled to be able to spread the good news and I received many a phone call from friends and acquaintances saying that they heard about the engagement through the Dimarskys. It was never a question that I would have an orthodox chuppah, kosher food, and separate dancing at my wedding mainly out of respect for my parents, however, I knew at the time, that my husband and I weren't really planning to take on too many mitzvot once we got married. Sherry knew that, but she still insisted that I take kallah classes before getting married. I was fortunate enough to learn with Mrs. Miriam Jaffe whom Sherry held in very high regard, and it was this experience that influenced me to embark on observing some of the basic and most important commandments such as family purity.
Sherry was there for me every step of the way with wedding planning, she even took us to meet the caterer whom she thought would do the best job considering our very Russian background. She had always prided herself in knowing Russians very well - what food we like, what things we think are funny. She always made it a point to pronounce all the strange Russian names correctly, which I had always appreciated. At the wedding, with the portable oxygen tank on her shoulder, she was the one who stayed by me the whole time, making sure I knew when to greet guests, when to daven and when to have a quiet moment to myself. She was already very sick, but people often forgot it because of her constant will to do everything herself and never show a sign of weakness. I remember though, that during dancing, I glanced over and saw her standing on the edge of the dance floor, smiling and clapping, but there was tremendous sadness in her eyes - she wanted so badly to be able to share this Simcha by joining in with everyone else but already couldn't.
In the following years, she had welcomed my husband and I in her home numerous times and I remember feeling tremendous longing in wanting to be part of the community that she was in, wanting to be closer to her. Even when she was too sick and lay in a hospital bed, she always had kind words for visitors if they needed some. She was also extremely passionate and strong-worded when she felt things were wrong. She would often get into heated arguments with people and tell them exactly what she thought of them or the situation, which is another trait that I have greatly admired. In 2004, when she finally received a new lung after years of waiting, we were all thrilled and excited, it was as if she had gotten a second chance at life and I felt confident that I would be able to share many more years of friendship with her. I remember her hosting a special breakfast in honor of her successful transplant, which was attended by many people who were all grateful for the chance she had been given because she had meant so much to so many.
I was always astounded at the amount of energy she possessed. She was Rabbi Dimarsky's right hand at running Heritage, a synagogue for young Russian students and professionals, where Sherry planned all of the holiday parties, assisted couples getting married, hosted Shabbos meals and served as the creative director of the congregation. She was the one that people called for advice, or when they just needed a shoulder to cry on...
When several years after my wedding had passed and I still didn't have a child, she was the only person I confided in, and it was her who encouraged me to seek treatment by whatever means necessary, both medically and spiritually. She would call me up and tell me which perakim of Tehillim I should recite, she organized numerous prayer groups on our behalf, she even convinced one of the biggest Heritage contributors to give us the gift of Kol HaNeorim on Simchat Torah (for those of you who don't know what that is, it is an Aaliyah which is given to someone as a merit to have children). When our friends, Irina and Vlad Tokarskiy had their son Natan, and gave us the honor of being the Kvaterim at his bris, which is another thing done in the merit of having children, it was Sherry who said to me: "You hold that baby and you look at his face, and you give him brachos as big as the world, that he should be a light unto his parents and that nothing but goodness should emanate from him". I remember looking at baby Natan, and repeating her words in my head over and over again, tears streaming down my face. She was always a source of inspiration and encouragement and I had always drawn tremendous strength from her.
When we finally had our first son, Eitan, Sherry was once again by my side, telling me what I need to do once I got home, how to organize the bris, the pidyon haben, how to nurse, how to change, etc. She was the one who told me that it was OK not to worry about anyone else but my baby and myself, that it was OK to take the baby out of the house and not to bundle him up in fifty blankets on top of fifty sweaters as Russians may typically do.
As much as I was grateful to have Sherry in my life, I always had a nagging feeling that we had a bit of a one-sided relationship - she was always the giver and I was always on the receiving end. When in March of 2007 Sherry called me and said that she and Rabbi Dimarsky wanted to come over to my house and talk, I knew right away that something was wrong. Once I saw her, I instantly knew what she was going to say - she was sick again. The lung, which had served her for the past three years was no longer working properly and she was looking for someone to assist her and Rabbi Dimarsky with some of the Heritage social events. After witnessing the amazing Bar Mitzvahs, which Sherry had planned for her three older sons, I was a bit intimidated but also very honored that she would entrust me with such a task. Over the course of the next several months I was privileged, with her support, to coordinate a number of events at Heritage, which I hope people have enjoyed.
And then she disappeared. At first it was the phone, which she couldn't answer any more, and then it was the emails. Then, at a Heritage bowling event in late November of 2007, Rabbi Dimarsky told me that Sherry was very ill. I refused to believe it and for weeks walked around in complete denial, thinking that she will get better again just like she did last time. Even when emails began arriving about Sherry's critical condition and conference calls were held with Tehillim recitations, I found it all very surreal, as if it wasn't really happening with her.
And then, last January, the long-dreaded email announcing her passing came. Reading it, I said to myself: "she was sick for so long, she is at peace now, she is in a better place". However, when I came to her funeral and saw the hundreds and hundreds of people who had come to pay their last respects, people whose lives she had touched in one way or another, I realized - she is truly gone and she will not be there to answer my questions, or to give me words of encouragement. She will not be there to see her boys graduate from high school and get married. I began to cry, selfishly thinking of how much I will miss her and I remember thinking that I almost wish I didn't know her, just so that I wouldn't feel the loss to such an extent. But then I realized that I have been so fortunate in knowing her, in sharing my life with her, in learning from her, that I would never trade these experiences for anything in the world. Although there are many people who were much closer to Sherry then I was, my friendship with her was very special and I will treasure it for the rest of my life.


  1. i agree.she was a very special person...

  2. i like the font and spacing now better, but the text side seems longer