By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Beloved by her family and adored by her friends, Leeor Devora Perl was the essence of a true bas Yisrael who touched the hearts of so many. The eldest of three children, Leeor was a wonderful role model for her two brothers, with whom she shared a variety of interests. Self-motivated and driven by a desire to reach her potential, she was blessed with a zest for life and a love for learning. Leeor enjoyed many interests: she loved reading, walking, biking, gymnastics, dance, crazy roller coasters, and spending holidays with family and friends.
Outgoing, spirited, fun, and always happy, Leeor was also known for her warm, kind, giving, and inclusive personality. Leeor could have been like any other suburban Orthodox teen in her first year of high school, participating in clubs and social events, studying for tests, and making plans for the coming summer.
Tragically, she was never able to do any of these things. On June 18, 2014, nine days after graduating from eighth grade at Yeshiva Har Torah, Leeor was fatally struck while riding her bike. She was just 13 years old.
Leeor was known as a true friend who inspired everyone despite her tender age. Always involved in performing acts of chesed and public service, she was a member of many communities: West Hempstead, where she lived; Har Torah, in North Queens, where she went to school; Camp Dina in Pennsylvania, where she spent summers and where a scholarship has been launched in her memory, and the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County of West Hempstead, which dozens of her neighborhood friends attend.
One of the last projects Leeor was involved in through Yeshiva Har Torah was interviewing Holocaust survivors about their experiences for a documentary video, “Names, Not Numbers,” to be released and dedicated in her memory this month.
Pulling themselves from the depths of their sorrow, Leeor’s parents, Shlomo and Alyza Perl, have launched the Leeor Devora Perl Foundation (LEEOR), a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children, teens, and young adults of all Jewish backgrounds. Their goal is to make Jewish education and activities more accessible, offering enrichment opportunities and support scholarships across a wide range of disciplines. Included among these are review classes, “study buddies,” learning workshops, community service opportunities, support of educational institutions, and leadership development.
Many people have lent their support to the Perls. Their first major fundraising event, held on November 9 at Hempstead Lake Park—the destination Leeor never reached on that fateful day in June—drew hundreds of people. From near and far they came on a picture-perfect Sunday morning to take part in Walk for Leeor, honoring the memory of this precious young lady and raising funds for the foundation that has been established in her merit. Representing West Hempstead, the Five Towns, the North Shore, New Jersey, Riverdale, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, family, friends, teachers, and neighbors—their lives enriched by having known Leeor—completed the 2.5-mile walk.
“The money donated to Camp Dina in Leeor’s memory this past summer was used to establish two new camp scholarships. As a direct result of these scholarships, two families who otherwise could not have afforded to send their daughters to camp were able to do so,” said Alexander Gold, director of Camp Dina. “In addition, some of the donated funds were used to purchase 150 new siddurim for the camp shul. Labels mentioning that the siddurim were donated in Leeor’s memory were affixed to the inside of each siddur, and our girls davened in the honor and merit of their friend Leeor when using them,” he said. “Our campers and our staff were very appreciative of the new siddurim and they were constantly used throughout the summer.”
For their contribution to Camp Dina, Leeor’s friends created a mural on the side of the dining room in her memory. “On our mural we made a really big smiley face with two quotes surrounding it,” one of the girls explained. “The top reads, ‘Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha’—‘Serve Hashem with happiness.’ Not only does the bottom quote relate to Leeor, but it also refers to Field Day 2014. The quote says, ‘A smile is an act of kindness that gives the world strength.’ We see here the theme of achdus linking chesed and gevurah, our two teams for this year’s Field Day, because without either of the two, there is no way the world can function.”
One of the tremendous chasadim that Leeor took upon herself was to always have a smile on her face, but she did not stop there. Leeor made it her responsibility to go over to people and cheer them up, even if they weren’t upset. “We want to spread this chesed of simcha that was so important to Leeor and we hope that when you pass by our mural, no matter what mood you are in, you will stop and smile like Leeor,” the girl said.
In her yearbook, Leeor wrote, “G‑d gave me the wondrous gift of life. I choose to travel on my life journey with a smile—it makes every experience that much sweeter. In school we learn that free will and the exercise of free choice is a precondition of moral life . . . and so I choose to travel down the happy road, smiling the whole way, bringing cheer, and, hopefully, they will pay it forward.”
To make a donation to LEEOR or obtain further information, please visit Leeor.com and click on “Contact,” or write to LEEOR at 245 Hempstead Avenue #364, West Hempstead, NY 11552. Tizku l’mitzvos!
By Rochelle Maruch Miller