A large crowd gathered for a moving and inspiring event to announce the winners of the Yocheved Gourarie Kindness Award, an award established to recognize teachers, classmates or friends who have impacted others with their kindness.
The Yocheved Gourarie Kindness Award came to life on what would have been Yocheved Gourarie’s 25th birthday, as a way to honor her beautiful, generous and loving spirit and life. A project of The Meaningful Life Center, the award was initiated to celebrate the acts of kindness that create a culture of empathy and support within the Crown Heights community.
The event at the Garden House in Crown Heights gathered family and friends of Yocheved Gourarie as well as winners of the award, who received a much deserved monetary prize, thanks to the funding of generous sponsors.
“Over the past few months, nominations poured in for incredible teachers, classmates and childhood friends who had great impact and life-changing kindness toward their students and friends; educators who were thoughtful and present in the moments of silence, pain, transition and growth, friends who recognized a crying soul and reached out,” said Yocheved Sidoff, one of the organizers of the initiative. “We were humbled and touched by these amazing individuals and their stories.”
At the moving event, speaker Nechamie Rabin spoke about the Hayom Yom that teaches that everyone must have mesiras nefesh for ahavas yisroel – even someone they have never met.
“There are three main characteristics that Jewish people possess – we are bashful, merciful, and kind,” she said. “Of our three main characteristics, 2 are about kindness,” she said, which emphasizes “how integral it is to reach out to others…let them know they are connected, let them know that they are important,” she said.
“The moments and people which make us, are more powerful than the moments and people which break us,” began businessman Eli Nash, in a heartfelt speech. Nash, a sponsor of the initiative, spoke about his experience after being rejected from one Yeshiva, and calling an educator of another Yeshiva to ask for help. “He said, ‘I guarantee you a place in our Yeshiva,’” Nash said, relating that he recalls truly having “the sense of belonging.”
Yocheved Sidoff told of what Yocheved Gourarie’s friends related about her kind and giving spirit and care for others.
While learning about Yocheved Gourarie, Sidoff said she learned that “she was not just incredibly intelligent with a cutting sense of humor, but that she was kind…she was kind without any agenda and in tune to the need of the recipient,” Sidoff said.
“Imagine, what can be possible in our own relationships if we dropped the agenda? If we were in tune with the other person’s needs?” she said.
Levi Gourarie, brother of Yocheved, told of growing up in a home of kindness and acceptance, with parents who have an open home that welcomes guests of all types.
“In the last few years of her life, Yocheved chose to do as much as she could to help other people,” Levi said. “Over the past year, we heard about her impact on so many.”
Avremi Gourarie, Yocheved’s father, thanked all the individuals who worked to organize the initiative, and the awards ceremony.
He related that when the Rebbe taught the maamer Bosi Legani, the Rebbe instructed the chassidim to do acts of chessed and kindness, which was the launchpad of all the Rebbe’s messaging.
“When it comes to education, chassidishkeit and hiskashrus are important, to be scrupulous in observance is important, to learn Torah and Chassidus is important,” Avremi said. “But we have a responsibility first, to lead and parent by example…we must embrace the idea that kindness must be the catalyst for all that follows. This is true on a macro level, and even more importantly on a micro-level. Teacher to student, friend to friend, parent to child. A simple act, a kind word, a warm embrace – everything else will follow,” he said.
Dini Gourarie, Yocheved’s mother, announced the first winners, presenting educators Rabbi Levi Tzukernik and Malky Hertzberg with their awards.
Childhood friends who received awards were Mali New Labkowsky and Rabbi Shneur Zalmen Baras a”h, which was received by his father, Rabbi Sholom Baras.
Classmates who received awards were Peretz Shmuel Botvinnikov and Sheina Rochel Wolkenfeld.
In a take-away address, Rabbi Simon Jacobson, director of the Meaningful Life Center, congratulated the winners, “and the heroes and heroines that we don’t know yet – that are changing people’s lives.”
He reminded that acts of kindness are “what holds up the world… even though money is worshipped, and power and influence, at the end of the day, no human being can exist without love and kindness, it’s impossible,” he said.
VIDEO: FULL EVENT REPLAY