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Musing for Meaning

Being Superwoman

Being Superwoman

Rivka Marga Gestetner
Rivka Marga Gestetner

One of the most transformative times of my life was my junior year in college, when I studied abroad in Israel. It was not an easy year—actually, one of the most difficult of my life—but, as often happens, hard and life-changing often go hand in hand.

Towards the end of that year, during which I managed to immerse myself in just about everything other than Judaism, I was introduced to Rabbi Shlomo and Rivka Marga Gestetner. They had recently moved to Israel from the States, and had opened up a Chabad House in the Old City of Jerusalem. While I most certainly knew that rabbis, rebbetzins and I didn’t mix, I reluctantly agreed to meet them, as my close friend assured me she was an excellent cook, and my stomach overruled most moral or other ethical dilemmas I might have had.

My stomach overruled most moral or other ethical dilemmas I might have hadA tremendous cook she most definitely was (and is), and it didn’t hurt that as I entered the apartment, her then-one-year-old toddled over to me and reached his arms out. It was love at first sight. I was hooked. Over the next few months I became somewhat of a permanent fixture in their modest apartment. So much so that when my academic year came to a close, they offered me a place to live with them in exchange for helping with their two adorable children. Hmmm, live in the Old City of Jerusalem, eat incredible food, take care of children I adore, and get to hang out with the coolest “religious” couple I had ever met. Yeah, that worked.

So, in I moved, and as each day passed I absorbed more and more. Unlike what any classroom or textbook could offer me, I was living an authentic Jewish life with two extremely talented teachers. Everything they did was followed by a question from me as to why, what reason, and what meaning it held. From the practicalities of cooking and keeping a kosher kitchen to the mysticism and esoterica of the customs, I was a sponge.

I watched in awe as they taught classes, ran programs and hosted dozens upon dozens of people for Shabbat meals, and often meals throughout the week. And, of course, there were the endless hours of counseling they provided for those in need, and lending a hand for whatever else was going on. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that I was living with Superman and Superwoman. And I liked it.

When the fall came, it was time for me to return to the States and resume my undergraduate degree, and the Gestetners were also flying back to the States for a family wedding. We decided that I would fly with them, spend the holidays in Crown Heights, and learn a bit in yeshivah before returning to California. So, together we flew, and arrived at the beautiful home of Rivka Marga’s parents in New York. After just a few hours, I turned around and found Rivka Marga collapsed on the couch. Not only exhausted from travel, she had clearly come down with something.

As the days passed, I watched her as her mother cared for her, and she did . . . nothing. She was being pampered, and was enjoying every minute of it. Friends of hers would come by to visit, and she would laugh with them and share stories like a teenager. She lounged around in pajamas eating ice cream. I was in shock. Where was Superwoman? Where was the powerhouse woman I knew and admired? Was it possible, conceivable, that in fact she was . . . human?

To a certain extent, my world came crashing downTo a certain extent, my world came crashing down. I had built her up to such an ideal that I had to come to terms with the fact that in addition to being my mentor and role model, she was also a daughter, sister, friend and young woman herself. But the very same thing that disappointed me gave me a sense of strength and purpose as well. If she could be “normal” and also capable of so much, then maybe I had that potential as well?!

Over the years I realized that the world is filled with Rivka Margas. Each one unique and individual, but amazing women who accomplish tremendous feats in sometimes extremely challenging situations. If you are reading this, you most likely have been to a Chabad House. If not, get yourself to one, and you will be blown away by what the couple running it manages to do. If it is running a school or leading a congregation or caring for the daily needs of their community, those who run Chabad Houses are nothing less than supermen and superwomen. No matter where you go in the world, from the large Jewish communities of Los Angeles to the barely existing ones of New Zealand or India, you can find a Chabad House.

But here is the best part.

They were not born supermen and superwomen. They were born regular people. They are regular people. But they are capable of remarkable things. How? Because they have a sense of purpose and mission, and the knowledge to act on it. They prove that when we devote ourselves to something we are passionate about, we are capable of more than we could ever imagine.

It is now the annual Kinus HaShluchos in Crown Heights, New York. Once a year, all of the women who run Chabad Houses around the world gather together for a long weekend of rejuvenation and inspiration. During these days they get to visit family, hang out with friends, eat food they didn’t have to cook, and attend rather than teach classes.

They are regular people. But they are capable of remarkable thingsI look around and I see thousands of ordinary women enjoying themselves and this precious yearly vacation. Not until I look at their nametag do I realize where they live. Most of the time I have never heard of the place, as they explain that it is a remote town in Brazil or Russia or someplace else I have never been and probably will never go. And then they are off, squealing as they hug a friend they haven’t seen in years.

Ordinary women who live extraordinary lives.

In just a few more days they will return to the place they now call home. Because they made it their home. Because they chose to move there, knowing they had something they could accomplish. Because the superwoman is not always who you are, but who you allow yourself to become.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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louise leon PA March 6, 2013

to Ruth again Ruth...You definitely are the "light". Thank you. Reply

ruth housman marshfield, ma February 15, 2013

To Ruth Housman reply Thank you for responding to my post. You are so right about obstaclrs in the path and those people who present as 'chaff'. They do chafe. Ay there's the rub as Shakespeare would write. Follow your heart. Treat people who present to you in ways not about you and the light as the 'yetzer' and do not allow them to stop you. Feel good about yourself. You have the power!

In Ruth, the corners of the fields were left free so those who needed could sort the wheat from the chaff. S wheat IS the gold of frienship and love. Hands reaching hands! Reply

Jennifer Lee Australia February 11, 2013

Yet another wonderful article from you! Can't wait until you have your own TV show! I'm putting it out there :) Reply

louise leon Pennsylvania February 9, 2013

to Ruth Housman Amen. I have also been very blessed to have mentors along my journey to help me along. On the other hand, I have "run into" those who impede my journey by my letting myself feel hurt by those I trusted who were not worthy of any trust. Therein lies the importance of accepting true mentors while sifting through the chaff. It can be very difficult at times. Reply

An old friend from PC and OC February 8, 2013

I've known Rivka Marga for close to 35 years and although she is a contemporary of mine,sh does exemplify all that you wrote.I also remember you,Sarah Esther,living and working with Gestetners way back in the old city of Jerusalem.Much success to you as you have certainly developed into the role of superwoman yourself!
CO Reply

kudos to the shluchos! canada February 8, 2013

beautiful! i am so amazed of how well you express yourself whether in lectures or articles. Ah, the shluchos are just so unbelievably giving, k'ah. they should all have only blessings and success in every step of the way. Reply

Anonymous February 7, 2013

may the gestetners only have blessings! interesting and inspiring paradigm. thank you. Reply

MG Westford, MA via February 7, 2013

Hooray RMG and she is and always was a great friend - from forever ago:) Reply

Anonymous February 7, 2013

Rivka Marga....I always knew you were wonderful...but this just confirms it. Kol Hakovod.

your brother's shviger Reply

Simcha Weinstein February 7, 2013

Rivka Marga for President Rabbi Gestetner & Rivka Marga are true Superheroes & that's coming from somebody who wrote a book on the topic!! Reply

Reize February 7, 2013

the gestetners are AMAZING!! Reply

ruth housman marshfield, ma February 6, 2013

special people who mentor In looking down the years it is clear there are people in my life who have served as beacons. Sometimes a person can say something, turn a thought in ways that are personally remarkable. I believe we are all of us engaged in a cosmic dance totally moved by G-d. In fact, personsally I have not one drop of doubt.

This woman came into your life for a deep reason. We are change agents for each other. The climb is empathy and love. Thank you for sharing a 'peace' of your journey! Reply


Ditto! So beautifully written, I hope you are chosen to do their eulogies after 120 years of good health and happiness.
I knew Shloimie since he was a wild grade school kid and I went to sem with Rivka Marga and they always had the makings and markings of wonderful people.
May we all grow from strength to strength. Reply

Hanna Perlberger February 5, 2013

No where is it written that super heros don't get to take a nap, or do their nails, or eat ice cream in bed for breakfast, or say no to something without an apology or explanation. We have to give to ourselves to give to others. Great article written by a real super woman. Reply

Hadassah Hemet California February 5, 2013

Superwoman Oh Sarah what a wonderful article.I can feel the Divine Presence in every word you wrote. I am disabled and have no car so I cannot get to a Chabad House.I love them though and i have met such wonderful couples in the Chabad Houses in the Area.Again thank you for your inspiration-it is wonderful to be human too. Reply

Anonymous Israel February 5, 2013

here's another Rivka Marga fan I've been privileged to teach at Mayanot since it's inception. I never fail to be amazed and warmed by Rivka Marga's smile, concern,efficiency and dedication to family and sem. SHe connects with each girl, with each staff member BECAUSE she's human and remarkable at the same time. We can indeed learn from her to aim high Reply

Ella Zeiler February 4, 2013

Thank you Sara Esther for writing such a special article about a very special person. I can only say that you just managed to touch base on Rivka Marga's qualities, and b"H there is so more to be said about her - Yashar Koach Rivka Marga. We are so proud of you Reply

Tsivy jerusalem February 4, 2013

our role model I have the merit to watch first hand the superwoman doing her super job with a smile! Reply

Talia Davis Denver February 3, 2013

I love this, and Rivka Marga You perfectly encapsulated her here. This is a beautiful article!! :) Reply

Dina Jerusalem February 3, 2013

Rivka Marga is special! As a teacher in Mayanot, where Rivka Marga is assistant director, I get to see first hand how remarkable she is. Rivka Marga, may Hashem grant good health to you and your family and continued hatzlacha and koach for the amazing shlichus you do! Reply

Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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