Rivky Berman, a young Chabad-Lubavitch emissary who inspired many throughout her lifelong struggle with illness, passed away May 29 at the Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. She was 29 years old.

Born in Stamford, Conn., to Rabbi Yisrael and Vivi Deren, Rivky Deren grew up in an atmosphere where serving G‑d with joy and sharing Judaism with others was paramount—even when things were not easy.

She was one of several siblings who were born with Bloom syndrome. In addition to affecting her growth, the condition caused Rivky to be prone to many illnesses.

Nevertheless, throughout her life Berman maintained a spunky, upbeat attitude, and had a unique ability to share the hope and joy that defined her life with others. She shared that positive attitude in blog posts, personal counseling and in every venue available to her.

“Rivky was always thinking of other people,” says Devora Lustig, who first met her at Camp Simcha, a camp for children and teens with cancer and other blood disorders. “She was always running around arranging things. She was a doer, and nothing could get her down. For example, she and another girl had planned to hold a farbrengen one Friday night. Then that girl suddenly passed away, and we were all heartbroken. The next week, Rivky arranged an even bigger and grander farbrengen in that girl’s memory and invited everyone.”

Lustig adds that “even though she had so many strikes against her, no one thought of her as anything other than normal since she saw herself as just a regular person. In camp, we would sing and dance at every meal, and all the staff would make sure to dance with the campers to try to cheer them up. Even though she herself was a camper, Rivky was up there dancing with others, never thinking of herself as in need of encouragement.

“Rivky was very good at keeping in touch with people, which was probably one of the reasons why she had so many friends,” continues Lustig. “I remember visiting her in the hospital, and there she was writing a letter to a friend who had just gotten engaged. That was her—always thinking about what she could do to help.”

G‑d Thought I Could Handle It’

Reflecting in a video posted to her blog on the medical hurdles she had faced, she maintained, “I dealt with it, I am here, and I have an incredible life ... I don’t see those things as issues. I see them as challenges. Those are challenges that G‑d gave me—and anyone else that has that challenge—because He truly believes that I can take that challenge and I will fulfill that challenge ... I was given something that only I was given because G‑d thought that I can handle it.”

Rabbi Shmulie and Rivky Berman
Rabbi Shmulie and Rivky Berman

After a successful lung transplant, she married Rabbi Shmulie Berman in the summer of 2012. The young couple looked forward to establishing themselves as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, something her family had devoted themselves to since great-grandparents Rabbi Sholom and Chaya Posner moved to Pittsburgh in the mid 1940s to head the Chabad educational system in that city.

The Bermans moved to North Carolina, where Rivky had once been hospitalized waiting for her lung transplant. There, they helped with undergraduate programming at Chabad of Duke and were instrumental in the founding of Chabad at North Carolina State University.

In 2015, she was found to have lymphoma and was once again admitted to the hospital. Even from her hospital room, she continued to reach out, organize and serve—orchestrating an entire Purim celebration from the confines of her bed.

‘A Life of Purpose’

In a speech, she once joked that “you know you are in the ER way too often when you walk in and the nurses all scream, ‘Hey Deren! What’s up?’ ”

Yet, despite her frequent challenges, she said that “my family and I have gone through many difficult times. The teaching of tracht gut vet, zein gut [‘think good, and it will be good’] almost became a refrain in our lives.

“Sometimes, this is on a simple level: starting your day with the attitude that it will be a good day can actually make that a reality. On a deeper level, we are taught that having this kind of bitachon, trust and confidence in Hashem, can actually help create the space for the good to happen. And that even in situations where it is difficult for human beings with our limitations to see good, that we can still find even small sparks of sunshine because we are confident that even if not right now, ultimately, Hashem will show us the good so we can see it with our own eyes. Maybe another way of saying this is that ‘everything ends up OK in the end, and if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.’ ”

In typical fashion, she and her family converted her hospital room into an ad hoc Chabad House, where parties were hosted and people were invited to do mitzvahs.

Despite her illness, she remained active, recently joining the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative advisory committee with the hope of advancing inclusion for people with disabilities, and emphasizing the equality and value of everyone in the community.

In writing to friends and congregants about his sister’s passing, Rabbi Asher Deren noted that “in a lifetime that some would describe as pain and illness, Rivky fought back to live a life of joy, celebration, adventure, ambition, fashion, and more than anything, purpose.”

He noted how his sister’s “smile, determination and fierce independence set a new standard of living for all of us,” and that “the signature of Rivky’s email (and closing line of her Matric Valedictory Speech) was ‘in the end, it will all be good, and if it’s not good, it’s not the end.’

“Today is not the end of Rivky’s life,” he wrote. “We hope and pray that before very long, our entire family will be reunited when Hashem will ‘wipe away the tears from all faces,’ and we will celebrate our ‘end’ in a world of eternal health and peace, with the coming of Moshiach.”

In addition to her parents and husband, Rivky Berman is survived by her siblings Rabbi Yossi Deren, Rabbi Asher Deren, Rabbi Chezky Deren and Chanie Backman. She was predeceased by her siblings Shlomo Aharon Deren, Blumi Deren and Rabbi Mendel Deren.

The funeral will leave Shomrei Hadas Chapel at 3803 14th Ave. in Boro Park, Brooklyn, on Tuesday, May 31, at 11:15 a.m., passing by Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn at 12:15 p.m.

Internment will follow near the Rebbe’s resting place‎ at the Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, N.Y.

Shiva will begin 7 p.m. on Tuesday at 121 Little Hill Drive in Stamford.