Mrs. Dusia (Dvosha) Rivkin, matriarch of a large Chabad-Lubavitch family with hundreds of descendants around the world, passed away on March 29. She was 93 years old.

Born in Kharkov , Soviet Ukraine, in 1927 to Mendel and Hinda Deitsch, Dusia absorbed the values of generosity and hospitality from a young age. Especially formative were the years of World War II, when the family fled Ukraine ahead of the Nazi onslaught. The Deitsches found refuge in Samarkand, Soviet Uzbekistan, where a war-time Chassidic community had sprung up, and there, despite the widespread starvation, they opened their home to hundreds of refugees, supplying them with a meal and a kind word. Rivkin’s mother, Hinda, became especially famous for her dedicated drive to feed the hungry.

Although Rivkin never attended an official Jewish school, the dedication to Judaism and love of a fellow Jew she saw in her parents’ house shaped her as a young woman and remained with her for her entire life.

Life in the Soviet Union was not easy. The Soviet government systematically persecuted religious Jews, shut synagogues, yeshivahs and religious institutions. Not allowing hardship to stand in their way, Chabad Chassidim opened a network of clandestine yeshivahs, and Dusia, with fair hair and blue eyes, was often chosen to be a courier for the funds that served as a lifeline for these “counter-revolutionary” activities.

While in Russia, Dusia was introduced to her husband, Mordechai Rivkin. Yet even on their wedding day, the long hand of the Soviets did not allow them the time to rejoice. Mordechai was nearly snatched from under the chuppah by the MGB, as the KGB was then known. He may have ended up in an infamous secret police interrogation room if not for the intervention of a friend, who bribed the agent who showed up at the wedding.

As the dust settled after the Holocaust and World War II, the Soviet Union began allowing Polish citizens to return to their home country. Seeing an opportunity, many Chabad Chassidim, among them the young Rivkin couple, forged Polish passports and managed to escape. Making their way eventually to Paris, the Rivkins lived among the many escapees until they were able to immigrate to America in 1947. After living in Cleveland for a short while, they moved to Norwalk, Connecticut. Finally in the late 50s, they settled in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., in close proximity to the transplanted headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

Only a few years after their arrival in the States, in 1950, the Rivkins’ spiritual guide and mentor—the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, of righteous memory—passed away. With the succession of his son-in-law, the RebbeMenachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—the Rivkins became his dedicated Chassidim, a trait they passed on to their descendants.

“My grandmother took tremendous pride in the fact that all of her children and grandchildren took part in the Rebbe’s mission, each in their own manner, working to bring Judaism to every Jew,” one of Rivkin’s grandchildren told Chabad.org.

Mordechai Rivkin was involved in a long list of projects initiated by the Rebbe, and with each, he had his wife’s full support and partnership, disregarding the many days, weeks and months the work took. Some of those projects included the first expansion of the synagogue at Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, being on the board of directors of the Bais Rivkah girls’ school and the printing of Likkutei Torah, one of the seminal works of Chabad Chassidus.

“On a personal level, she was totally devoted to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She knew every detail in our lives and always had a compliment to say about my children,” said Rivkin’s grandson, Rabbi Mendel Rivkin, program director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana. “My grandparents were the superglue of our extended family, and since my grandfather’s passing, Bubby Rivkin filled that role.”

Her grandchildren who live in Crown Heights tell of her devotion and the special connection they had to her. “We always felt drawn to her home,” one grandchild said “it was always filled with my cousins, second cousins and even distant relatives. Her home was a second home to me and so many others.”

Mrs. Rivkin receives a dollar and a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Mrs. Rivkin receives a dollar and a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A New Orleans ‘Bubby’

Rivkin wasn’t only a Bubby to her progeny. “Growing up in New Orleans, a large part of our community called her ‘Bubby,’ ” recalled another grandson, Rabbi Yosef Rivkin, now co-director of Chabad of Red Rock, Nev. “Her Crown Heights home was a home base for our New Orleans Chabad House, and nothing made her more proud than hosting her son’s— my father’s—congregants.

“This sentiment was expressed over and over in the days since her passing,” he added. “Both from the New Orleans community and from the Karmiel community in Israel, where my uncle is the Chabad emissary and presides as rabbi, countless individuals told us how a visit to her Crown Heights home impacted their life in a real way.”

G‑d’s ways are mysterious,” noted Mendel Rivkin. “A woman with hundreds of descendants, whose circle of family, friends and acquaintances numbered in the thousands, was buried with only a handful of family and close friends standing six feet apart. This is G‑d’s will, and we accept it with love, but it was still painful to behold.”

The family was comforted, however, by a folk saying their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother often repeated: “There should always be big weddings and small funerals.”

Rivkin passed away on Sunday, the fourth day of Nissan 5780.

Predeceased by her husband, she is survived by their children: Chana Gorowitz (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Rabbi Zelig Rivkin (New Orleans); Rabbi Yosef Rivkin (Karmiel, Israel); Rochel Leah Brook (Brooklyn, N.Y.); and Sima Karp (Brooklyn, N.Y.); in addition to many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.