Hillel Moerman
Hillel Moerman
Mrs. Harriet Keilson, a’h
Mrs. Harriet Keilson, a’h

A Look at the Honorees, Part 1 of 2

Mr. Hillel and Mrs. Shani Moerman: Guests of Honor. The concept of leadership has been under increased discussion recently in the Torah community: its definition, the need for it, and the mandate for a younger generation to get involved in the communal issues of the day.

Hillel and Shani Moerman are role models for leadership in the greater Far Rockaway/Five Towns community. They give selflessly of their time and expertise for the benefit of Klal Yisrael.

The yeshiva is blessed with an active and effective executive board, and Hillel is one of its most active members. A managing director at Goldman Sachs, Hillel brings his passion for the yeshiva and his unique skills to the table at every board meeting as well as the finance committee on which he serves. Whether it is introducing greater financial controls, improving the budget process, or helping the yeshiva secure financing for capital projects, Hillel is tireless in his devotion to Yeshiva Darchei Torah.

“From my vantage point, I get to see firsthand the extraordinary level of dedication of Yeshiva Darchei Torah’s leadership,” Hillel explains. “Most parents are not aware of the amount of time and superhuman effort that people like Rabbi Bender, Rabbi Bald, and the rest of the administration invest, on a daily basis, to ensure the yeshiva’s success. When I witness their passion it makes me want to do whatever I can to help them.”

The Moermans’ selflessness extends well beyond the Darchei family. Hillel is a board member of Chai Lifeline and is active in his shul, Bais Medrash Heichal Dovid in Lawrence, where his advice and input are solicited and appreciated. Shani Moerman is a leader in her own right, as a devoted wife, the mother of their children–including Avromi, an eighth-grader, and Aryeh, a first-grader, and is involved in many community chesed initiatives. Shani helped found the bikur cholim hospitality rooms at the North Shore-LIJ Hospital branches in Manhasset and New Hyde Park, which she oversees weekly through her involvement in Aaron’s Way. She also co-chaired the Women’s League of Torah Academy for Girls (TAG) and is actively involved in shidduchim.

“This is an award that is long overdue,” says Elisha Brecher, co-chairman of the yeshiva’s executive board. “Hillel and Shani are invaluable leaders in this yeshiva and this community. They are always at the forefront of impactful projects and it is so gratifying to finally be able to offer a small measure of public recognition for their many years of quiet avodas ha’kodesh.”

Memorial Tribute to Mrs. Harriet Keilson, a’h, and Naming of the Harriet Keilson Early Childhood Center. Stand outside the Darchei Torah preschool entrance on any weekday morning and watch as hundreds of little boys arrive at the yeshiva’s entrance with smiles on their faces, eager to learn, play, and grow.

The preschool they attend is only one facet of the burgeoning mosad that is Yeshiva Darchei Torah. With over 2,000 students on its nine-acre campus, the yeshiva is a hub of activity from morning until night, 12 months a year.

It wasn’t always this way. Yeshiva Darchei Torah was a fledgling little cheder at 1414 Caffrey Avenue when Lloyd and Harriet Keilson enrolled Avi, their firstborn, in 1975. Over the ensuing decades, the Keilsons would play a role in the yeshiva that was significantly broader than their status as the parents of Avi, and subsequently his brothers, Tzvi, Dov, and Yair. They became leaders.

Harriet, who passed away this summer, supported her husband in every aspect of his communal work, enabling him to make his mark not only on Yeshiva Darchei Torah but on a host of other causes. In addition to her critical supporting role, however, Harriet invested her own time, wisdom, expertise, leadership skills, and good sense for the benefit of the yeshiva. Whether it was her founding of Darchei’s educational committee, which made pivotal curricular and hiring decisions in those early years, her leadership of the Women’s League and its annual ‘Art & Silver Show’ that provided the yeshiva with sorely needed funds, or a host of other decisive activities and events, Harriet Keilson made her mark. Lloyd and Harriet were also among the small group of active parents that appointed Rabbi Yaakov Bender as menahel in 1978, setting the stage for a remarkable era of Darchei’s growth–in student enrollment as well as in educational vision and scope.

Harriet Keilson has rightfully earned her place in the history of Yeshiva Darchei Torah as a true ‘founding mother.’ But mother, wife, and grandmother are the roles that Harriet Keilson was surely the most proud of. She related to each of her children as an individual, encouraging their particular strengths while gently suggesting improvement where needed. Each child and grandchild felt that he or she had a special relationship with her that could not be duplicated.

Every morning, without fanfare, she opened her Siddur and davened to her Creator. Her children and grandchildren hold in their minds the image of her standing at a shtender in gratitude and supplication to Hashem. Extending a hand outside her own family, she was the consummate rodefes shalom and sought to restore harmony when she felt she could make a difference. As an oved Hashem, she expected no honor. She was just fulfilling her duty joyfully.

Despite her medical struggles, she always exuded genuine happiness. She did this by focusing on the abundant good with which Hashem had blessed her. The message of being grateful to Hashem and concentrating on the good in one’s life, of savoring every moment, was the one most often repeated to her children and grandchildren and it remains an enduring part of her magnificent legacy.

Nearly 60 years ago, a young girl began her educational career in Far Rockaway at the Hebrew Institute of Long Island (HILI). There she augmented the treasured value system of Torah and Yiddishkeit that she had received from her own parents and grandparents. There she met her future husband and partner in life. There she would go on to make her most lasting impression on the community, as her beloved Yeshiva Darchei Torah took up residence on that campus in 1980. There her children and grandchildren grew into upstanding bnei Torah who gave her so much nachas. She was eulogized at that yeshiva and escorted to the Yeshiva shel Ma’alah on a sunny but dark Sunday in the summer of 2015.

The devotion and legacy of Harriet Keilson will always remain part and parcel of Yeshiva Darchei Torah’s DNA. They may not know it, but generations of preschool children will continue to enter those doors each morning thanks to the pioneering efforts of visionaries like her who took a fledgling yeshiva and developed it into a world-class powerhouse of Torah and chesed. How fitting, then, that her name will forever be associated with the yeshiva, with the naming of the Harriet Keilson Early Childhood Center on January 10.

The other honorees are: Mr. and Mrs. Alon and Chanie Goldberger, Parents of the Year; Rabbi and Mrs. Dovid and Dvorah Morgenstern, Harbotzas Torah Award; Michael Mandel, Moshe Mandel, Menachem Pollack, Shimmy Sussman and Tzvi Sussman, Alumni Leadership Awards; and the Mesivta Chaim Shlomo Class of 2001, celebrating 15 years of accomplishment.

For more information about the dinner, please call 718-868-2300, ext. 237, e-mail dinner@darchei.org, or visit www.darchei.org/dinner.

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