New York, NY – Unfathomable grief flowed through a river of sorrow on Friday morning as hundreds came to say goodbye to Daniella Moffson, a beloved Barnard College junior who lost her life after completing a compassionate mission to Central America this past Wednesday morning.
Two days after the crash on a Honduran highway, the 21 year old’s friends and family were still in shock, struggling to cope with the tragic loss of a promising light that had been dimmed all too early.
Daniella was well known for her simple goodness, her genuine compassion and her commitment to her family, her religion and her fellow man. Known to lavish her special brand of warmth on everyone she met, Daniella attracted legions of admirers, focusing her life on helping others and on bettering the world on a daily basis.
Daniella’s promise was evident early on in her life. A 2004 shot from the Ramaz Lower School yearbook showed a picture of the smiling tween accompanied by the words, “I believe I can. I believe I will. I believe I know my dreams are real.” Two years later, a bulletin put out by Kehilath Jeshurum, the Upper East Side synagogue where the Moffson family davened, announced the plans for Daniella’s upcoming Bat Mitzvah in Jerusalem where she was scheduled to deliver a dvar Torah on biblical women who showed initiative and leadership.
Below video: Hundreds attend the funeral Friday Jan. 15, 2016
Daniella was an exemplary high school student at the Ramaz Upper School, making an indelible impression on Dean Ira Miller, who praised her as an extraordinary young woman with stellar midos and an outstanding personality.
“She was modest and very unassuming,” Miller told VIN News. “You would never know what a bundle of energy and passion she was. She was always so calm and humble. She could light up a room. She was always cheerful, optimistic and always there to support her friends. She was a very sensitive soul who always wanted to help.”
Daniella’s passion for helping everyone, even total strangers, seemed to be ingrained in her even in her youth.
“ The fact that she was in Honduras was part of a pattern,” noted Miller. “At the end of ninth grade, she was in South Africa, helping out at an AIDS clinic. She volunteered at different pediatric units in Cornell Weill, Hackensack Hospital and Mt. Sinai.”
Daniella, who was the chairperson of the Ramaz Chesed Committee and volunteered for The Friendship Circle, was the recipient of the Tefila Award at her high school graduation. She went on to spend a year at Midreshet AMIT in Jerusalem, which incorporates volunteering at a foster home for disadvantaged children into its academic curriculum.
“It wasn’t enough that she went to a program that focused on helping kids, she took it on herself to be certified by Magen David Adom and go out on calls,” said Miller. “Her death is a loss to the family, the community and the world because she was helping people all over the globe.”
Rabbi Daniel Goldstein, rav hamidrasha at Midreshet AMIT, said that Daniella thrived during her year in Israel, diving headfirst into her learning and her dual commitments to chesed and davening.
“I think she was able to do that because she had no edge,” observed Rabbi Goldstein. “Simple pure goodness was expressed by openness to everything, and everyone. She wanted to grow from the very beginning and nothing stopped her. But she was able to grow in ruchniyus without putting anyone aside. People really felt that from her: openness and acceptance. That was truly special and unfortunately, it is rare.”
A dvar Torah written by Daniella on parshas Vayakhel Pekudei is posted on the Midreshet AMIT website, offering encouragement to fellow classmates prior to the long Pesach break, as many were about to return home to their families for several weeks.
“We hope we will be able to maintain the strong relationship with God that we have built these past seven months. It is comforting to know that even if we falter a little when we leave, we know if we do teshuva, Hashem will forgive us completely and we can rebuild the connection that we have worked on.”
After her returning from Israel, Daniella began her studies at Barnard College, laying the groundwork for her future as a pediatrician. In between classes, she found time to volunteer at Camp Simcha, to spend time with hospitalized children, to serve as the captain of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center 2015 College Bowl-A-Thon and to organize student groups from Ramaz to join in her charitable activities.
“I’ve never in my life met anyone like her,” said one close friend who asked to remain anonymous. “She dedicated every hour of her 24 hours to doing chesed and helping others. She was an example to every person and everyone could learn from the way she lived her life. Sometime she would just spend the night in the hospital with a cancer patient. She wouldn’t even tell anyone she was going. She was the most humble person you ever met. Her favorite thing to do was to volunteer and help others.”
Songwriter and Singer Lipa Schmeltzer who attends Columbia University, a partner school to Barnard College, knew Daniella from joint campus activities and from her work with Camp Simcha. Schmeltzer said that Daniella would frequently ask how he was faring in school and offer unsolicited compliments on the biweekly divrei Torah he posts on Facebook.
“She was a good girl from a good family,” said Schmeltzer. “She had so much chein and a special neshama. So many students after finishing finals just want to go on vacation, but for someone to take that time off and spend it working to help poor people, you have to be very special. She was always smiling at everyone. You saw from the many comments posted on Facebook how many non-Jewish people knew her and what a kiddush Hashem she made.”
Cantor Netanel Hershtik of The Hampton Synagogue knew the Moffson family from their summers in West Hampton.
“Daniella was eidel, gentle, a real tzadeket,” said Hershtik. “She was always the first one in the ezrat nashim for Shacharit. She had great midot. It is amazing how Hashem takes the very best.”
Emotional tributes to Daniella on social media bore testament to the many lives she touched.
“She was one of the kindest, sweetest and most generous people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting,” wrote Lauren Lantry, who noted that Daniella invited her to sit with her in class early in her first semester. “While she never knew it, she was the first person to make me feel welcome and at home at Barnard.”
“Such a wonderful girl, taught me so much about Judaism,” posted Amy Lauren. “I still have that siddur you got me with the English so I was able to pray. I hope you rest peacefully.”
Daniella went by the name “Cookiemoffster” on Instagram and close friend Michael Schiff shared a picture on Facebook of a chocolate chip cookie he had baked for Daniella’s return from Honduras. The cookie bore the words “Bienvenido Doctor” in pink icing, accompanied by a pink stethoscope.
Schiff wrote of the innate goodness that was visible for all to see in Daniella’s smiling face and her never ending quest to improve the lives of all those around her in deeds that were done selflessly and with zero fanfare.
“This is the tzadeket she was,” posted Schiff. “She didn’t need to talk about it, or be expressive about it. It was simple. She just did. And everything she did improved the lives of all those around her immeasurably. Just thinking back on the way she lived her life it doesn’t even seem real, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that she did. She was a true one of a kind angel.”
Schiff described his final interaction with Daniella.
“The very last conversation we had was the day before the incident she sent me a picture of a brick oven for the underserved that she constructed with her bare hands by lugging bricks and cement up a mountain. It comes as no surprise to anyone that her final moments were spent doing what she did best, caring for others.”
David Cohen shared his recollections of his year in Israel, when Daniella would refuse invitations to socialize with friends, preferring instead to spend time helping at an orphanage or engaging in other acts of chesed.
“It is said that one dies when they complete their mission in life and if there is anyone who in 21 years could have accomplished what it takes many 90 years to do, it was Daniella. Daniella was the most beautiful girl I have ever known, inside and out. G-d is lucky to have you by his side. Baruch Dayan Emet. Daniella’s memory will always be a blessing for me and everyone who ever had the privilege of meeting her. She will live forever in the hearts of those she touched.”
An overflow crowd jammed Kehilath Jeshurun and spilled out onto East 85th Street for Daniella’s levaya, followed by burial at Riverside Cemetery in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. Daniella is survived by her parents, Michael and Sheera and her siblings, Raquel and Alex.
“Words cannot describe the loss,” wrote Alexander Jay Banon on Facebook. “You were the kindest most giving person I have ever met. Always had a smile on your face from the day you were born. Danielle Moffson, you will always be remembered for the amazing things you did in this world. You inspire us all to focus on what’s important in life. That lesson will never be forgotten. Your legacy will live on through all of us.”