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Rivky’s Golden Life

Rivky’s Golden Life

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“Is it me, or is it always either really hot or really cold here?” Zev asked as we walked through Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, N.Y. There wasn’t a cloud in sight; it was the end of May, but it felt like August. The sun was intense, a force to be reckoned with. It was a fitting day for the funeral of Rivky (Deren) Berman.

Because she was born with Bloom syndrome, pain and challenge were interwoven into Rivky’s life the entire 29 years she was on the planet. She and her family were challenged in ways that would have undone most people, but for them, being broken-hearted never darkened their love of G‑d or their love of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I knew Rivky ever since she came from Stamford, Conn., to Pittsburgh, Pa., for high school at Yeshiva Schools. (Her great-grandparents started the school.) Even though I wasn’t related, she called me Tante Lieba. (Her husband, Shmulie, whom she married in 2012, won my heart over immediately when he also used this Yiddish term for “aunt.”)

I always hoped she liked me because I sure knew she didn’t need me: Rivky was blessed with a huge and loving family. (And when I say huge, I mean huge; and when I say loving, I mean loving.) Because I was on the periphery, I could only project how poorly I would have dealt with her circumstances—her tiny stature attracted stares, and she was in the hospital as much as she was out. Yet I knew she would be annoyed by my doing that because, by some mystical miracle, she didn’t feel sorry for herself or think less of herself—at least no more, and quite possibly less, than “normal” people do.

In spiritual terms, her life was golden: She deeply affected many, many people who will carry forward her life lessons. Surely, G‑d will compensate her well in heaven for her work here. But what about the rest of us? We who are that much weaker without Rivky in the world to remind us that anything is possible?

I watched Rivky as she ended her high school graduation speech when she introduced the line that defined her life: “Everything is OK in the end, and if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”

Her words paraphrase G‑d’s promise to us, His assurance that the Messianic era will be the glorious end to all that pains and confounds us. The Rebbe has told the world that Moshiach is waiting to come, waiting to end the pain, waiting to make everything OK in the end.

But it’s up to each of us to demand it—not for Rivky, but for us. We need to tell G‑d that this is not OK.

Lieba Rudolph lives in Pittsburgh, PA, and writes a weekly blog about Jewish spirituality.
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