Baltimore, MD - Mar. 31, 2022 - Sheryl Grossman was nifteres this past Monday.
She was a graduate of Heather Hill School, Parker Jr. High and Homewood-Flossmoor High School (1994) in Chicago’s south suburbs, and received her BA (1998) in Psychology with a minor in Jewish and Near Eastern Studies and a special minor in Disability Studies, and her MA (2001) in Social Work with a concentration in Disability Issues and Advocacy from Washington University in St. Louis, MO.
Founder of Bloom’s Connect and Board Member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, she was a fierce advocate and activist for the rights of the disabled, and served as a role model and source of empowerment for disabled people in general and those with Bloom’s Syndrome in particular. In recent years, she worked on making the workplace accessible to the disabled for the Job Accommodation Network, on housing rights for the disabled for the National Council on Independent Living, and on making covid vaccine accessible to aged, disabled and homebound people for Independent Marylanders Achieving Growth through Empowerment.
Loved by so many in every community she touched in her abbreviated life, she made every day count and left an outsized, positive mark on humanity.
Rabbi Ariel Sadwin delivered a hesped at the levayah [Click here to watch the video]
We find ourselves at a very auspicious time on the Jewish calendar. This past Shabbos, the last one of Sheryl’s remarkable life, was called Shabbos Parah, during which we read the supplemental Torah reading about the Parah Aduma – the Red Heifer. This is a section which discusses in great detail the rather unique purification process that was necessary in those times in certain circumstances. In most years, this special reading takes place while the weekly Torah portion is still reading from the book of Shmos – Exodus. This year due to the Jewish Leap Year, we are a couple of weeks into the Book of Vayikra – Leviticus.
This Book of Vayikra is known primarily for its coverage of the sacrifices and service that took place in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle which served as the Temple during the years the Jewish people traveled in the wilderness; AND its known for its in-depth analysis on many areas of ritual and spiritual purity.
This was Sheryl’s last Shabbos – when the Torah is discussing the topics of purity and sacrifice.
It is these two themes - purity and sacrifice - that to me are so reminiscent to the life of the Sheryl Grossman that I - and I’d assume most of you - knew. She dedicated her entire being – despite incredibly challenging physical limitations – to those with challenges. She simply did not let anything get in her way. She created awareness and effectuated change in countless ways benefiting countless people. She was a great leader and mentor to so many. She attained purity through this dedication, not letting her limitations slow her up AND the totality of her life’s work is the korban, the sacrifice, she offered up in the service of her people – those to whom her life was dedicated.
Sheryl – your name is Zipporah Gittel (bas Eliezer Menashe). Zipporah is a bird. Gittel means good. The Talmud refers to the bird as a symbol of peace; and as a creature who serves as a connection bringing support and sustenance to others, especially the vulnerable. Your name truly represents your essence.
Sheryl – you and I met roughly five years ago in Annapolis on a short Friday afternoon. We were both there to testify at a legislative hearing in opposition to a bill known to the politicians as “the end of life options act” or as “the death with dignity act”, but to us it was called the physician assisted suicide bill.
This bill hearing would annually take many hours – with dozens of witnesses testifying for and against the bill. Other than one year, the bill hearings were always on a Friday. We had separately asked the committee chairs to be able to testify earlier in the hearing in order to leave with enough time to return home for Shabbos. That first year, they kindly granted the request. We sat together at the table to deliver our testimony. Everyone in that large hearing room, the dozens of legislators, those in the audience who supported the bill and those - who like you and I opposed it – all listened with rapt attention as you described in your soft but firm voice - the immense concerns that the disability community had with such a bill.
That was when we met. I was then in awe of you – your passion, your dedication, your confidence, your leadership – and I have been in awe of you ever since. And, I am still in awe of you now – and thus incredibly humbled standing here in front of you as you prepare for your eternal journey after a life of wholesomeness, dedication, and service to others.
Beyond our shared work against dangerous laws like that bill, you introduced me to a whole world of people – those functioning at the highest levels of life despite challenges. I came with you to the NCIL conference in DC to meet some of these people remarkable to whom you were forever dedicated, and who were dedicated to you.
You wanted to create an awareness at the highest levels of organized Orthodox Jewish life of the incredibly important role your work played, and it was my honor to work with you on that. Although you were not able to attend, close friends and colleagues of yours attended the National Convention of Agudath Israel of America to meet with me and others and to facilitate important conversations.
Your work was never done – there was always more you wanted to do.
You inspired so many and in so many different ways.
Your impact on the lives of so many will forever be felt and you will never be forgotten.
Tzipporah Gittel – we ask you to take the incredible advocacy you did in this world and to now transition it to the spiritual world. Your work surely continues – but from a heavenly place.
We ask you to be a melitza yosher – a true advocate – for your parents and your brother. Be a melitza yosher for the community you served so admirably and effectively: especially those with disabilities, challenges, and limitations. And be a melitza yosher for the Jewish nation, and all of the many friends and admirers you had.
You lived your life with dignity and you leave this world with dignity.
Bila hamaves lanetzach umacha Hashem Elokim dimaa me’al kol ponim.