Most teachers hope to be remembered fondly by their students and to have impacted the student in a positive way that helps them grow—not just academically, but as people and members of a community.

Judging by the numerous Facebook posts on the webpage called “A Mitzvah for Rivkie Barber, OBM,” Mrs. Barber—a mother of six who passed away on March 21 at the age of 49 after battling an illness—was that kind of teacher.

The page is filled with recollections about Barber as a teacher by young women who were in her class when they were children, along with different mitzvot—acts of kindness—that they plan to do in her memory.

“I’ve learned from her that we don’t laugh enough in life,” wrote Mushka Edelkopf. “In her memory, I will … try to be more positive and upbeat toward other people.”

Mrs. Rivki Barber
Mrs. Rivki Barber

And Rayzl Cylich said this: “I remember Mrs. Barber teaching me to always think of the bigger picture, that we only understand one piece of the puzzle. That has stuck with me a lot, and right now, after such a tragedy and in such a hard reality, it’s just a tiny bit easier to process the shock when I know she would have wanted me to see the bigger picture and would have explained that we just can’t always understand why things happen. She was such an enthusiastic and motivating person, constantly reminding every student of their importance. I will always remember her bubbly and caring nature, and try to reflect some of those values into my life. I know that the lessons she taught us will stay with me forever.”

It’s not only students from the Beth Rivkah Ladies College in Australia that Barber affected. It was her family, friends and the kehillah, the community, she led with her husband, Rabbi Yacov Sholom Barber, at the South Caulfield Hebrew Congregation in suburban Melbourne, Australia.

If there was one trait that pops up time again when people talk about Barber, it was her natural inclination to seek out the positive.

“[Rivki] was able to draw everyone together through her ability to find the lighter side in every situation,” says Debbie Herbst of Melbourne, her friend of more than 30 years. “Everyone would wait to hear what Rivki’s take on a situation would be. Her dedication to family, her parents, siblings … we literally feel part of her family, even though we physically live so far from them and have met each of them only a few times.”

People Drawn to Her

Rivki Heber was born in Crown Heights, N.Y., the eldest of Rabbi Asher and Nechama Heber’s four children. She married the Sydney-born Barber and moved to Australia in 1984. Two years later, the family moved to Melbourne when Rabbi Barber was appointed as the leader of the South Caulfield synagogue.

Barber was a mother of six; her children range in age from 9 to 28. She also worked as a fourth-grade teacher at the Beth Rivkah Ladies College, a kindergarten through 12th-grade school in Melbourne, run by the Chabad-Lubavitch Yeshivah Centre.

Mrs. Rivki Barber with her daughter, Chanie Biston, and baby grandson, Yehuda Biston
Mrs. Rivki Barber with her daughter, Chanie Biston, and baby grandson, Yehuda Biston

“Our children grew up together,” said Herbst. “We shared it all—the everyday as well as extraordinary life events, the good and the not-so-good. I remember Rivki thinking I was a bit shy or aloof, but her instant warmth and laughter were the glue that helped bind us together.

“We laughed a lot. All of her friends will say the same; there were plenty of things not to laugh about, but she managed to bring humor into every situation. It’s what drew people to her.”

She was also known to be caring and warm, and concerned with the lives of others.

According to Herbst, the local community plans to honor Barber’s memory with a special program next week that will “emphasize the power of a positive word, of seeing the good and positive in every situation.”

Also doing mitzvot in Mrs. Barber’s memory are classmates of her daughter Leah, who have created an Instagram page where they post photos after doing acts of kindness to honor the former teacher. Some 500 other high school-age girls worldwide have taken up the cause and joined in this campaign.

In addition to her husband and parents, she is survived by her parents-in-law, Meyer and Esther Barber (Sydney, Australia); and siblings Yaffie Begun (Sao Paulo, Brazil), Brocha Chana Metzger (New York, N.Y.) and Rabbi Noach Heber (Brooklyn, N.Y.). She is also survived by her children, Perel (Levi) Shmotkin (New York, N.Y.); Dov (Mushka) Barber (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Chanie (Yechiel) Biston (Parkland, Fla.); Shaina Barber; Leah Barber; Mendel Barber; and five grandchildren.