Rifky Deutsch, a much-loved member of her Satmar community known for her care of others, contracted COVID-19 during the initial wave that swept through New York.

She battled the virus for several weeks, her family somberly marking her birthday while she was hospitalized. While the community rallied together, organizing a challah bake and prayer campaign in her merit, Deutsch passed away in the early hours of April 30.

Born and raised in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., after her marriage to Sholom Yosef Deutsch she became involved in communal charitable organizations, hosting gatherings and events throughout New York to help the needy. She also served as an American liason of the Masbia Lechol Chai organization, which helps support Torah scholars in Israel.

After the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—began a campaign encouraging his students to spread the light of chassidus to local synagogues during festivals, many would walk hours across Brooklyn to share inspiring Torah thoughts.

When Deutsch realized how far the walk back to Crown Heights would be for those returning to their own neighborhoods, she opened her home and offered the young men a place to rest and have a drink before continuing on their way. What started as a humble and kind gesture quickly ballooned into a much-loved tradition, where hundreds would come to enjoy the full spread that Deutsch prepared, along with the warm atmosphere.

Another mitzvah close to Deutsch’s heart was her love of Shabbat and the preparations it entailed. For 25 years, regardless of family and life events that might have distracted others, there wasn’t a single Shabbat where she didn’t bake her own challah in honor of the weekly holiday. Even when she was invited to a catered Shabbat meal, Deutsch would politely demur, unwilling to give up the preparations herself.

“Early Friday morning, when her household was still asleep, she would get out of bed to bake challahs and prepare for Shabbat,” said her son, Chezky. “It was her time with Hashem. With tears in her eyes, she would talk to Him in Yiddish, praying for her 12 children, many grandchildren, her entire extended family, loved ones and herself. Most importantly, she would pray for the coming of Moshiach.”

The beloved matriarch of a large and proudly Chassidic family, Deutsch was a pillar of support for her husband in his capacity as CEO of the ODA Primary Health Care Network and his more than two decades of serving as a volunteer with the Hatzalah emergency medical response corps.

When the Jewish community on the other side of the world in Melbourne, Australia, first learned of Deutsch’s passing, a classmate from their school days was notified of the devastating news.

Esther Malka Groner, now a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in the Glen Eira Jewish community, was about to begin a challah-baking class and teach the blessings associated with the tradition. Hearing about her friend and knowing how special this particular mitzvah was to her, Groner dedicated the class in honor of Deutsch, literally within an hour of her passing.

“The fact that this was the first mitzvah honoring her memory is so appropriate and comforting,” her son Chezky told Chabad.org. “She loved expressing herself through the talents Hashem blessed her with, one of which was her food. She was always looking to grow and would always ask what more G‑d would want of her.”

Deutsch is survived by her husband, Sholom Yosef, and their 12 children and many grandchildren. She is also survived by her parents, Bentzion and Devorah Wertzberger, as well as seven siblings.

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