Sister Talk

Sister Talk

by Dvora Lakein - Chabad Lubavitch Headquarters

March 4, 2009

( In the aftermath of Rabbi and Mrs. Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg’s murders last November, the grieving Jewish community was intent on learning everything they could about the lives of these two heroes. Those of their colleagues who knew them personally shared their memories with their fellow Chabad representatives in every corner of the globe.

“For me, it was the virtual coffee and pastry that Rivka shared each day with her friend Chani that I found so touching,” muses Mrs. Aviva Deren. Chani Lifshitz, Chabad’s representative to Katmandu, reminisced about her friendship with Holtzberg in, and again at the banquet of the International Conference of Shluchos. 

“Chani was clearly in so much pain, and yet she so generously shared of herself. I believe that the act of connecting with other women, her friends, helped her feel better,” states Deren. 

Deren, who has been serving the Stamford community for 35 years, says that while “Rivka and Chani’s friendship is something to dream of, every shlucha [f. representative] must have a direct connection with other shluchos.” It is for this reason that Deren is assisting the Chabad-Lubavitch educational division with the inception of their latest program, promoting mentoring opportunities for Chabad women representatives.    

Merkos Mentors for Women comes on the heels of the successful program for men, of the same name, launched in September of last year. The program for Chabad rabbis has made 75 mentoring relationships, says program director Rabbi Shalom Zirkind. Merkos Mentors for women will commence with 50 pairs, many of which were formed at the recent Shluchos Conference.

For many shluchos, explains Mrs. Nechama Eilfort of Carlsbad, California, balancing their children and their Chabad House is a constant struggle. She fields calls from younger women looking to find that perfect equilibrium. Eilfort, who co-directs Chabad at La Costa, is a popular scholar on, and home-schools her eight children, tells younger shluchos her basic rule of thumb. “The Chabad House is like one of my ‘children.’ Sometimes that ‘child’ comes first and sometimes not.” 

When Eilfort first moved to the San Diego area, she regularly consulted older shluchos for advice. Now, she laughs, “I never thought I would say it, but I am one of them.” Eilfort believes that women of her generation “must represent the Rebbe for the younger generation. Though they are very connected to his teachings,” she explains, “they did not have the personal connection we had. We have to be that for them.”

Chanie Perelmuter has mentored several women previously and plans to continue under the auspices of Merkos Mentors. “I mostly listen to people so that they can work out their issues,” says the California preschool director. “I often assist with work-related issues (‘should I run such an event and how?’) and personal matters as well. Why should anyone have to rediscover the wheel? It is comforting to talk to people who have done the same thing.” After 28 years as a Chabad emissary, Perelmuter says she “knows just how hard it can be.” 

“It was very good for me to step away from my ‘rebbetzin role’ and ask burning questions that have been bothering me for some time,” relates a representative from a small East Coast town. “My mentor gave me practical advice based on the Rebbe’s teachings, which is something I could not have gotten elsewhere.” She made several connections at the conference and anticipates tapping into the resource whenever she has the need.

For Deren in Connecticut, a third-generation Chabad emissary, modeling after her parents and grandparents’ examples has helped her in her own position. While declaring that she is, “very, very lucky to have a personal circle with whom to consult,” Deren acknowledges that most are not as fortunate. 

“Women must take responsibility for themselves,” she says. “It says [in Ethics of Our Fathers] ‘acquire for yourself a friend’ and ‘make for yourself a Rabbi’ meaning that it is an individual’s responsibility to reach out to others for help. Don’t wait for someone to notice your loneliness or need.” Merkos Mentors, Deren believes, is that surrogate support system, it only needs to be tapped into, with benefits, she says, that will trickle down into the community itself. 

“When the mommy’s happy, everyone’s happy,” she asserts. “I mean that in a very real way. The biggest impact we can have on our community is as the foundation of our home, and thereby our entire community.”

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