Alumni and faculty of Midreshet Shalhevet, formerly located in North Woodmere, were shaken late last month upon learning of the death of 2014 valedictorian Yocheved Gourarie.
Yocheved, 24, of Crown Heights, took her own life on December 22. Her death received media attention because she scheduled a goodbye message to post on her Instagram page on December 23.
Yocheved had struggled for years with anorexia and discussed her efforts freely on social media.
“All of you have made my life so much more full, brighter, and happier than it would have been without you,” she said in her final Instagram post. “Your support, your encouragement, your hugs, your invitations, your smiles, your texts, your tagging me in memes you think I’d find funny. None of you could have done anything – or done more – to prevent this from happening. You all did your absolute best and for that I am eternally grateful. I hope you can find some comfort in knowing I am no longer in pain.”
Doing more was a theme often expressed during the Midreshet Shalhevet Azkara for Yocheved held last week on Zoom. Former Head of School Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman and Principal Esther Eisenman organized the Zoom meeting to give Yocheved’s friends and teachers an opportunity to remember her life.
“Yocheved will always be remembered as a student who had brilliant insights, who was always interested in challenging herself, and engaged in learning for the sake of her own growth and understanding the world around her,” Mrs. Eisenman said. “As a person, Yocheved stood out in her sensitivity to others, her kindness, consideration and her gentle ways. Those characteristics were repeated by each student who shared her memories and thoughts. Just as she helped so many during her short time with us, may her memory be a blessing.”
A student Yocheved had tutored in math at Shalhevet came to the Azkara to gain comfort from the other students and share her recollections. Mrs. Eisenman said that after tutoring the young woman, Yocheved thanked the principal for the opportunity to help someone else and develop important skills.
“She was doing me a favor, the school a favor, and she wrote me a thank you note.” Mrs. Eisenman declared.
“She really had amazing potential,” Rabbi Friedman said. “She was always asking honest questions. She really wanted to know the truth. And she was always respectful.”
In an all-female school where small things can sometimes lead to big conflicts, “Yocheved was always above the fray,” said Rabbi Friedman. “She was always extra mature.”
Her consideration for others and maturity beyond her years helped her in her fight against anorexia and depression, but it wasn’t enough.
“Many of us aren’t prepared to deal with the real challenges of life. And Yocheved had real challenges,” Rabbi Friedman told the former students and teachers who gathered for the Azkara. “We shouldn’t overlook the idea that in the span of life, HaKadosh Baruch Hu gives us, there will be challenges.”
Faculty and friends also praised the Gouraries, who supported Yocheved and were not shy about getting her the help she needed.
Yocheved’s father Avremi Gourarie remarked on Instagram: “We are an Orthodox Jewish family. We did NOT sweep anything under the rug. We were open amongst ourselves and with anyone else about her journey and struggles. We pulled out all the stops to get her the best care that money can buy (with the generous help of many that stepped up to the plate). Most importantly, we NEVER put religion ahead of care.”
Mr. Gourarie has been posting pictures and videos of Yocheved on Instagram and thanking followers for their heartfelt wishes.
Many of the photos are of Yocheved with her older brother Levi, who is in law school at Cardozo and her younger brother Yehudah, a student at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey. Others are of Yocheved with her father, sitting next to him while he plays music or joining him in song.
The Gouraries are a close family with deep roots in Chabad. Mr. Gourarie said his close relationship with Yocheved was forged partly because she was his only daughter and because they shared a love of music.
But the thing that made her most happy was giving to others, her father and her classmates said. If she hadn’t seen someone in a while, she made sure to ask them how they were feeling and whether she could help them. She continued her caring ways as a peer mentor at Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College.
Since Yocheved’s death, Mr. Gourarie has been interacting with Yochved’s friends and fans from Instagram and TikTok. The Gouraries were aware that Yocheved was giving and receiving chizuk from social media.
“I knew she was always helping people but I didn’t realize her reach. Several people told me that Yocheved encouraged them to get treatment for mental health problems. They said they might not be here if not for Yocheved.”
“Yocheved loved helping people. I think she put people in boxes: The people she helped and the few people who were close to her she would accept help from,” said Adina Nenner, a West Hempstead resident and former Shalhevet classmate. “I may have helped Yocheved, but I don’t think she realized how much she helped me,”
Yocheved had an intellectual sense of humor. Sometimes Nenner would joke that Yocheved was too smart to be her friend. But she also had a silly side.
“I bought her a mini trampoline and she sent me videos of herself jumping on it and laughing,” said Nenner, who also enjoyed paint nights at Yocheved’s house.
“I wish I could have done that one thing that could have prevented this,” said Nenner, who is completing a PhD program in psychology. “But I couldn’t have. I think that it would mean most to Yocheved to share her story and help the people who can be helped now because that is all she would have want.”