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Jewish Journal

The giver: Rachel Brunelle

by Jared Sichel

June 11, 2014 | 1:04 pm

YULA Girls High School
Going to: Midreshet HaRova seminary; New York University

When Rachel Brunelle was in 10th grade at YULA Girls High School, she took one look at the list of approved community service projects and immediately was disappointed.

She already had been volunteering weekly with critically ill kids at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA — which wasn’t on the list — and she felt that the policy that only credited service within the Jewish community was a mistake. She was “deeply bothered” that students couldn’t receive credit for volunteering outside of the Jewish world and took her case to Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, the head of school.

“I want[ed] to show them that there’s more in Los Angeles than just the Jewish community,” Brunelle told the Journal recently. “There are more people in need.”

[See the other outstanding graduates here]

Lieberman listened and agreed. The result of Brunelle’s speaking up is YULA’s annual “Chesed Day,” which, twice a year, devotes an entire school day to allowing students to go out into the broader, non-Jewish, local community to do acts of chesed, kindness — to give.

Dividing students into groups, contacting charitable organizations, arranging transportation — Brunelle did all of it. Oh, and she’s co-president of the student council and was part of the highly selective Diller Teen Fellows leadership program, funded locally by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Diller Family Foundation.

All of this has set her on a clear path for the future: Brunelle will learn at the Midreshet HaRova seminary in Jerusalem’s Old City for one year before starting New York University’s nursing program in fall 2015. 

“I like that it’s a career that you give more than you receive,” she said about nursing, adding that she inherited the giving gene from her parents. “I see how they act toward their parents, their friends.”

And she’s confident in where she’s headed.

“I have an idea of purpose, an idea of what I want to be in life — not just go to college, study something and then figure it out,” Brunelle said.

Once she becomes a full-time nurse, she plans to use her three or four days off per week to serve elsewhere as a volunteer, using her time and energy to give to others and improve life around her — one act of loving kindness at a time. 

“I know I can change at least small communities. I can change YULA, I can change my synagogue, I can change my group of friends — a little bit,” Brunelle said. “If we all change the few people around us, then maybe the world would be better, as cliché as that sounds.”

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