In 1978, after making her way back to Judaism, Devorah was a Seminary student at Machon Chana in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. Here she tells her story of her encounter with the Rebbetzin and the life lessons it taught her.
“One day I was sitting in the dorm at Machon Chana feeling dejected. I thought to myself – my friends don’t speak to me anymore and my family is not happy with me; I’m here in Crown Heights, so why not go to the top and try to speak to the Rebbetzin. I asked two friends from the dorm to join me and together we wrote a letter to the Rebbetzin and asked if we could meet with her. We took the letter and went to the Rebbetzin’s house and put it in the mailbox and then we left quickly, not sure what was going to happen.
“A few days later, Mrs. Galperin, who was the cook at Machon Chana, came up to me and in a quiet tone of voice asked, ‘Did you write a letter to the Rebbetzin?’ At that point my heart was pounding as I answered, ‘Yes.’ She said to me, ‘The Rebbetzin would like to meet you.’
“The following week we went with Mrs Galperin, who was extremely close with the Rebbetzin, to her house. Mrs. Galperin rang the doorbell and the most majestic, royal, elegant woman opened the door. We realized it was the Rebbetzin. She welcomed us in. She took our coats and invited us into the dining room. It was set for royalty with beautiful glasses and stunning china. On the table were little cookies and fruit juice. You could tell she had put a lot of thought and a lot of effort in making us feel very welcome. And a lot of preparation had gone into it. So, we sat down at the table.
“The Rebbetzin asked us our names. After we told her, Mrs. Galperin showed her some pictures of a girl from Machon Chana who recently got married. You could tell on the Rebbetzin’s face that it was as if it was her own daughter. She was so happy, looking at each photograph so very carefully. You could tell she was just thrilled that this girl had gotten married She got a lot of nachat looking at the photos.
“Then she asked each of us what we like to do, what are our hobbies? We each had our turn to tell her what we like to do in our spare time. Then she asked us what music we like? She was very down to earth and very real. She asked us if we speak Yiddish and told us it’s very important to learn Yiddish and speak Yiddish. When the visit was finished, she went to get a siddur and we were able to say the after-blessing from the siddur. It was her father’s siddur – the Frierdiker Rebbe’s* siddur!
“It was a very special visit. Afterwards, I reflected on it quite a bit.
“When I was in Crown Heights, I felt very alone. After the visit with the Rebbetzin, I felt very special.
“Here we were three girls who came to Machon Chana to learn more about our heritage.
“The average person into whose home you are invited would ask personal questions, how did you become religious; how did you come to Crown Heights?
“Instead the Rebbetzin asked us what we like to do and what music we like? It was brilliant. She treated us with so much respect. She knew the right questions to ask us and treated us with such sensitivity.
“The lesson she taught me how to deal with people, I think about it a lot, and I use it in my Shlichut in dealing with people to this day!”
Devorah Caytak is a Shlucha and heads the Jewish Youth Library in Ottawa, Canada. Today, her children are Shluchim as well in their respective communities, and she and her husband derive much Chassidishe nachat from their family.
As heard on Living Torah video by JEM
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka – 25th Adar, 1901- 22nd Shevat, 1988
*Frierdiker Rebbe – Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson 1880-1950, was the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. His last ten years were spent in America where he began the process of change to uplift and educate the Jewish people in America and beyond
Rabbi Shmuel Lew relates the following story:
The Rebbetzin would travel to Manhattan to the Public Library many times. (It is known that the Rebbetzin took an active role in doing research for the Rebbe.) Once, when she got there and gave her library card to the librarian, the librarian saw the name, “Schneerson” on the card and asked her, “Do you have a connection with the famou
The Rebbetzin answered that she did. Whereupon the woman asked her, “What is your connection to him?”
“He is my husband,” the Rebbetzin answered simply.
When the librarian heard this, she said, “I have a big complaint about the Rebbe.” She went on to explain.
“Two years ago, I went to the Rebbe and asked for a blessing for a child. The Rebbe blessed me and told me that I need to accept upon myself a mitzvah because a blessing is similar to rain and it needs a vessel through which the blessing will materialize.”
I told the Rebbe that I am taking upon myself to light the Shabbat candles. Since then two years have passed and I still do not have a child.
The Rebbetzin wanted to comfort her and told her, “I, too, do not have children.”
When the lady heard this, she burst into tears and said to the Rebbetzin, “I am so sorry. But I am a Holocaust survivor and am the sole survivor of my entire family. This is why it is so important to me that I should have a child who will carry on the family name.”
The Rebbetzin listened compassionately to the librarian and when she finished speaking, asked her gently, “What exactly did my husband tell you?”
She answered, “He told me to light the Shabbat candles.”
“And do you keep this mitzvah?” The Rebbetzin asked.
“Yes,” the librarian answered.
“How do you do this?” the Rebbetzin continued.
“Every Friday, when my husband comes home from work, around seven-eight o’clock in the evening, I light the candles.”
The Rebbetzin listened patiently and then explained to her that the idea of Shabbat is to honor the Shabbat and not to desecrate it. Therefore, one must be careful to light the candles before Shabbat begins and not after. (Shabbat begins 18 minutes before sunset.) Take upon yourself to light the Shabbat candles at the correct time.
The librarian agreed to light the candles at the correct time from now on. Exactly ten months later, she gave birth to a baby boy.
The woman continued to keep a connection with the Rebbetzin and from time to time came to visit her at her home.
Translated from Haketzorim by Yitzchak Cohen published by Ufaratzta.
Rebbetzin Sima Ralbag told that whenever she would come to the Rebbetzin she was very careful to check that the gifts purchased for her were indeed ‘Made in Israel’!
Rebbetzin Sima Ralbag shares:
“In the early 1960’s, the chief Rabbi of Turkey, which was then friendly with Israel, was given permission to go up to Israel for a visit. This was a big surprise. My husband Rav Yehosef Gedalya Ralbag* was given the privilege to greet him and was responsible to accompany him during his whole stay in Israel. The government arranged for him tours in the whole land, its length and breadth. We even received permission to go to places which were forbidden to regular tourists.
“Among the places we visited, was Massada (the fortress of Bar Kochva destroyed by the Romans). There is an old building there which was built by King Herod (second Temple era). Because of the importance of the guest we were accompanying, we were permitted to take some small stones which remained from this ancient historical building.
“We contemplated what to do with these stones and decided to prepare a gift for the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, a gift which was ‘Made in Israel’! We knew that it was very important to the Rebbetzin when bringing a gift from Israel that it should be crafted in Israel.
“We took these precious stones to a jeweler and he made them into a necklace which was then presented as a gift to the Rebbetzin.
“The Rebbetzin was very taken by this special gift, and she thanked us profusely for the joyful gift.”
Free translation from Haketzorim by Yitzchak Cohen
*Rabbi Yehosef (1927-1994) and Rebbetzin Sima Ralbag were very close to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. Over the years they received many blessings from the Rebbe and guidance in their communal work in Israel. Rebbetzin Sima Ralbag founded the Beit Chana School in Jerusalem which she ran for many years. In 1960, they came to New York in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership. Rabbi Chadakov, the Rebbe’s secretary, asked Rebbetzin Ralbag to speak at the N’shei uBnos Chabad Convention which was taking place around this time. At this convention, Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe’s mother was in attendance. Many years later, Rebbetzin Ralbag spoke at the Toronto convention of N’shei uBnos Chabad, inspiring a new generation of Jewish women and girls. I was privileged to hear her inspiring words.
Rabbi Yehosef Gedalyah Ralbag, a’h, was a member of Bet Din Rabbanei Chabad, and he was appointed by the Rebbe to serve on the administration of Chabad’s educational institutions in Jerusalem. Throughout his life he was active in many communal and educational endeavors to strengthen Torah and Judaism in Israel.