Mrs. Keny Deren, a longtime educator and pioneer of Jewish education in the United States, passed away in Pittsburgh. She was 83 years old.

She was born in 1930 to Russian-born Chassidim, Rabbi Sholom and Chaya Posner, who had recently immigrated from British Mandate Palestine to the United States upon the instructions of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

In 1942, the Previous Rebbe wrote to her father, who then served as a reverend (shamash) at Congregation B’nei Ruven in Chicago, saying he felt young Keny would be a fitting candidate to lead a chapter of his recently founded mesibos Shabbos (Shabbat afternoon educational programs) in the city, expressing his high regard for the abilities of the young girl, just 12 years old at the time.

Shortly thereafter, her parents relocated to Pennsylvania—to the city of Pittsburgh—to found the Yeshiva Schools and Lubavitch Center of Pittsburgh, a calling that would become hers as well.

As a student in the Beth Jacob High School in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.—then the only girls’ Torah high school of its kind in North America—she served as a role model for many of her peers, vocally promoting Jewish outreach and the responsibility that she and her classmates had to share their Jewish education and passion with others.

Marriage and Move to Pennsylvania

In 1949, she married Rabbi Yechezkel Deren, a Polish-born yeshivah student who had survived the Holocaust by fleeing to Japan and then China before coming to Canada and America. While still a young teen in Poland, he won many awards for his mastery of advanced Talmudic texts. Known for his broad and deep Torah knowledge and revered for his humble approachability, he was regarded as a peer-mentor by many students at the Central Chabad Yeshivah in Brooklyn, N.Y., as well as at the nearby Mirrer Yeshivah, who had gotten know and admire him during their years in Shanghai.

Rabbi Yechezkel and Mrs. Keny Deren
Rabbi Yechezkel and Mrs. Keny Deren

Together, they moved to Davenport, Iowa, where Yechezkel served as a shochet (ritual slaughterer). The couple later relocated to Pittsburgh, where they became active leaders of the Jewish community there.

Keny Deren served as principal of the Yeshiva Schools for many decades.

Esther Kaltmann, who was a high school student at the Yeshiva Schools in the late 1980s, remembers that her first impression of Mrs. Deren was “formidable, strong, learned and no nonsense,” yet she says that “as I got to know her, I also saw her kindness, emotion, care and compassion.”

Kaltmann fondly recalls how Mrs. Deren drove a carload of girls to New York to visit the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—regaling them with tales of how Chassidim of yesteryear would travel by foot to see the Rebbe. “I felt transported back in time—only we were in a station wagon, not a horse-drawn wagon.

“I will always remember seeing Mrs. Deren—who had driven through the night—a few hours later, looking beautiful, in a dark-brown suit, perfectly coiffed, like royalty. Her face was shining with a glow of happiness, excitement and anticipation.”

Keny Deren was a dedicated educator who taught by example.
Keny Deren was a dedicated educator who taught by example.

Kaltmann also remembers the day the news broke that Mrs. Deren’s soon-to-be-married daughter would be moving to what was still the U.S.S.R. with her husband-to-be, Rabbi Berel Lazar, to serve as emissaries of the Rebbe. “I saw her walking into the room, her face aglow and eyes with a fiery spark emanating from them. She told us how utterly excited and happy she was that her children would be shluchim, and that this was the best news she could ever hope to hear.”

Kaltmann says that Mrs. Deren’s loving attention to detail—like bending down to pick up scraps papers from the school hallways and making sure the girls had eaten in the morning—left an indelible mark on her.

A lifelong educator, she inspired by example.

Her son, Rabbi Yosef Deren recalls that his mother did so “with an aura of regality, while maintaining a sense utmost humility. She loved her grandchildren—both her biological descendants, as well as her hundreds of students—so much that even criticism felt like a compliment.”

She is survived by her children: Rabbi Yisrael (Vivi) of Stamford, Conn.; Sonia (Rabbi Elyakim) Wolff of Morristown, N.J.; Chavie (Rabbi Leibel) Altein of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Blumie (Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld) of Pittsburgh; Rabbi Yosef (Batsheva) Deren of Pittsburgh; Rabbi Mendel (Braindel) of Lod, Israel; and Chanie (Rabbi Berel) Lazar of Moscow.

Her siblings are Rabbi Zalman (late Risya) Posner, Rabbi Leibel (Thirza) Posner, Rabbi Zushia (Yehudit) Posner, Bassie (Rabbi Gershon Mendel) Garelik and Sara Rivkah (Rabbi Avremel) Sasonkin.

Her descendants serve as Chabad emissaries all over the globe.

She was predeceased by her husband in 1978.

The funeral procession will begin at the Yeshiva Schools, in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, at 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon.

Mrs. Keny Deren, center, receiving a dollar and a blessing from the Rebbe.
Mrs. Keny Deren, center, receiving a dollar and a blessing from the Rebbe.