In the 17 years since they moved to St. Thomas and founded Chabad Lubavitch of the Virgin Islands, Henya and Rabbi Asher Federman have created a Jewish lighthouse on an island paradise, serving tourists and locals alike. When Hurricane Irma hit the island in 2017, the Federmans rose to help those facing the humanitarian crises in their island home. Over the years they profoundly impacted the lives of many thousands worldwide and built an idyllic oasis of community on their island home.

Late Tuesday, it was shattered with news that the Federman’s 4-month-old daughter, Shterna, was retrieved, lifeless, from the water near the Oasis Cove Marina.

The circumstances are still unclear but both parents jumped into the water to save their baby, and the mother, Henya had to be pulled out, herself unconscious, and resuscitated. She is currently on life support, fighting for her life.

As word spread of the unfolding tragedy, WhatsApp prayer groups—each with hundreds and hundreds of those inspired by Henya—sprouted up. “Let’s storm the Heavens for Henya,” proclaimed one such group, rallying members to increase in acts of goodness and kindness in her merit.

While around the world people mobilized to do good and pray for Henya’s recovery, family and friends sprang into action to have Henya evacuated on emergency medical transport to Miami, and their children, some studying thousands of miles away, including in Israel, flown back to the United States to be together with their family.

Shterna’s funeral took place late Thursday in New York, at Old Montefiore Cemetery, where she was laid to rest by an intimate group who gathered in grief and mourning.

Henya Federman assists a daughter in lighting Shabbat candles.
Henya Federman assists a daughter in lighting Shabbat candles.

Meanwhile, the effort to do mitzvahs and pray for Henya has been increasing. Women in hundreds of communities have committed to light Shabbat candles, preceded by giving of charity, in Henya’s merit, and similar initiatives have sprung up all over.

And noting that Henya had assisted hundreds of women in immersing in the Atlantic Ocean, which serves as the island’s mikvah, many have accepted upon themselves to increase and improve their observance of that mitzvah.

Some 34,242 mitzvahs have thus far been pledged in her merit in an online campaign.

“To refer to the Federmans as ‘a family in crisis’ is an understatement,” said a close family member who has been working with family and friends to assist the Federmans. “Yet, from the first moment, we were surrounded and uplifted by your love, mitzvos (good deeds), Torah study, prayer, faith and good wishes on behalf of Henya and her family—literally from all corners of the globe.”

Numerous airlifts, chartered and commercial flights, and care for the bereaved children have already amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars. And more expense is anticipated in the coming days and months, as each child will require personal care and attention in this unthinkable situation.

Please donate to the Federman Family Fund, which is assisting the Federman family.

Join tens of thousands of others in doing a mitzvah in the merit of Henya Federman.

Rabbi Asher and Henya Federman surrounded by some of their children.
Rabbi Asher and Henya Federman surrounded by some of their children.