Activist grandma moved to Israel and shaped her community and beyond

Since the outbreak of the current war, dubbed Operation Iron Swords, Yehudis Schamroth has been doing more organizing rather than running errands on her own for the soldiers.

 AT THE ‘Pina Chama’ refreshment center for soldiers in Gush Etzion.  (photo credit: COURTESY YEHUDIS SCHAMROTH)
AT THE ‘Pina Chama’ refreshment center for soldiers in Gush Etzion.

US-born-and-raised Yehudis Schamroth has made a positive difference in so many people’s lives since her aliyah in 2001 to Ramat Beit Shemesh.

“There are two periods in the history of Ramat Beit Shemesh – pre-Yehudis Schamroth and post-Yehudis Schamroth,” Rabbi Danny Myers noted at a gathering a decade after her arrival in the city.

Within two years of moving to Israel and not yet speaking Hebrew, she helped launch a facility for children in danger of falling through the cracks.

Other initiatives she has taken include organizing bridal showers for young couples with limited resources and assisting special-needs adults by finding them a niche in the community where they could be productive.

Her generosity and activism, however, extend beyond her home community.

Representing Keren Yosef at a health fair (credit: COURTESY YEHUDIS SCHAMROTH)
Representing Keren Yosef at a health fair (credit: COURTESY YEHUDIS SCHAMROTH)

A retired nurse anesthetist, Schamroth, who grew up in Buffalo and made aliyah from Baltimore, continues working full time in her profession by practicing acupuncture and Chinese medicine. But that’s only a fraction of what she does in her waking hours – besides babysitting for her grandchildren.

For instance, she’s known as Doda (“Auntie”) at Lev Lachayal, the Yeshiva Base for Religious Lone Soldiers in Ramat Beit Shemesh. As a volunteer, she responds to the needs, both material and emotional, of foreign students at the Religious Zionist Yeshivat Lev HaTorah who participate in the hesder program that combines Torah studies with military service.

“I fill in the gaps,” Schamroth told The Jerusalem Post. “Most of these boys have no family in Israel, so I organize rides to the train, make sure there’s food in their apartments, mend their uniforms, and lend a motherly ear.

“Right now, there are 40 boys living in three houses in the neighborhood. I visit them frequently. They’re always so grateful for anything I do.”

Schamroth also served for two years on the board of the Michael Levin Base, a center in Jerusalem that helps lone soldiers and b’not sherut – young girls who volunteer in Israeli communities. She also donates time to the Pina Chama (“Warm Corner”) in Gush Etzion, where friendly locals provide refreshments to IDF soldiers traveling back and forth from Jerusalem to Hebron.

In fact, she never misses the opportunity to offer treats to the soldiers stationed at the checkpoints that she passes on her way to “the Gush.”

Known for her willingness to help at the drop of a hat, Schamroth was also recruited at Melabev, a nonprofit organization in the Jerusalem region that provides a range of high-quality services for individuals who are living with various forms of dementia. Melabev runs a bar mitzvah program to get the boys involved with the senior community; Schamroth bakes with them there and, not surprisingly, donates the goodies to the soldiers.

“Being a volunteer is in my blood. I learned it from my parents (Maureen and the late William Kindel). They were my biggest supporters,” she said, regarding her decision many years ago to convert to Judaism.

“In fact, my core Jewish values – doing acts of kindness and community service as an obligation – came from them.”

Aside from her dedication to IDF soldiers, the lively sexagenarian is always the first to offer help in her community when needed – and to sense when help is needed, whether it’s for widows, orphans, the disabled, or anybody facing challenges or a crisis. Her Shabbat table is always filled with guests, many of them newcomers. She can be counted on to shop and prepare food for a family in need within hours before Shabbat begins.

Indeed. It could be exhausting just reading about all her activities. “I’m very energetic and want to put my energy to good use,” she said.

She then quoted an aphorism of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the 18th-century mystical rabbi and founder of the Hassidic movement: “Every single thing that a person sees or hears is an instruction to him or her in his or her conduct and in the service of God.”

In other words, she explained, “If you hear about someone who needs something, you were meant to hear it.”

Schamroth has also used her decades of nursing experience as a volunteer at Magen David Adom and other notable medical organizations, and she makes time to educate the community on issues of health and nutrition. She has organized evening events for women with presentations by specialists in a variety of medical fields, and offered CPR training at no cost.

For years, almost every Sunday morning, Schamroth would leave at 6 a.m. to drive the Lev Lachayal soldiers to the local train station. With limited capacity in her car, she would often make three or four trips back and forth.

How has she helped Israel in the current war?

Since the outbreak of the current war, dubbed Operation Iron Swords, she has been doing more organizing rather than running errands on her own for the soldiers. “I would normally go shopping for them, filling cart after cart with what they need; but now, thank God, there are so many others who have stepped up and are giving their heart and soul to this war effort – more than in previous military operations,” she said. “Now, with an unprecedented number of reservists being called up, the need for basic items is so much greater.

“So now, instead of running myself, I’m working with many groups, telling them what they need, where to get it, where it should go, as well as collecting the money for it.”

Also due to the war, she and her daughter-in-law, Kimmy Schamroth, are organizing a private charter flight from America to bring supplies donated by the pro-Israel community to IDF soldiers. “It’s a great way to enable American Jews to get involved in a meaningful way during this difficult period,” she said.

Schamroth quips that she’s an “aliyah bully,” constantly trying to convince Jews living in America and other countries in the Diaspora to take the plunge and move to the Jewish state.

“Initially, it was my husband’s idea. He really encouraged us to make aliyah,” she told the Post. I went along with it because he’s a very level-headed, logical person, and I really meant to come here for just a short time to see how it would go. But within a very short time, I fell in love with it, and I realized that my neshama (soul) belonged here. Also within a very short time, I realized that my children were living in the biblical land, in a country where they were feeling Jewish pride, Israeli pride. Any time they went on a class trip to biblical sites, I knew it was something they would never be able to do outside of Israel.

“It didn’t take me very long to acclimate to the country, despite the language barrier and even though I couldn’t work here; I traveled back and forth for 20 years to America.

“I love Israel, and I’m a big advocate for Israel – I don’t know if I’m a ‘bully,’ but I don’t miss an opportunity to beg people to come here, to explain to them that all Jews belong here at this time in history.” ■