The recent death of Leah Raichik of Los Angeles has prompted two Portland, Ore., women, the rebbetzin's daughter and granddaughter, to reflect on the commonalities and differences three generations of women have experienced as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in a rapidly changing world.

Today, Devora Wilhelm and daughter Simi Mishulovin pursue the same goal Raichik had almost 59 years ago when she arrived in California with her husband, Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik, at the behest of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory: to reach out to and enhance the local Jewish community.

"The Rebbe saw the need for the growth of Judaism in Los Angeles 58 and a half years ago, and in Portland 23 years ago," said Mishulovin, first referring to the previous Rebbe and then to his successor, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. "He literally cared that every Jewish person's needs – physical or spiritual – should be met by his emissaries in more than 3,000 centers around the world."

Raichik moved from New York City and the few members of her family who survived the Holocaust to Los Angeles shortly after her marriage in 1948 to Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik. With a mission to reach out to all Jews regardless of their connection to Judaism, the young couple spent three days on a train traveling to a city where they knew no one.

Rabbi Moshe and Devora Wilhelm also knew no one 24 years ago when they moved to Portland with their two young children, Motti and Simi, to open the first Chabad-Lubavitch center in Oregon.

Later, in 2005, Simi returned to Portland with her husband, Rabbi Chayim Mishulovin, to serve as joint youth directors for Chabad-Lubavitch of Oregon.

Time and Place

Four generations: Leah Raichik, Devora Wilhelm and Simi Mishulovin at the 2004 circumcision of Shmuel Dovid Mishulovin, named after Raichik’s husband, the late Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik
Four generations: Leah Raichik, Devora Wilhelm and Simi Mishulovin at the 2004 circumcision of Shmuel Dovid Mishulovin, named after Raichik’s husband, the late Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik
Though all came to their new homes as emissaries, they arrived at times and in Jewish communities that were vastly different, said Wilhelm.

"Since the telephone cost $6 for three minutes, a small fortune then, she didn't call home often," said Wilhelm of her mother. "And she couldn't fly home to New York every year. They also sent my brothers away by the time they were bar mitzvah age because there was no yeshiva in Los Angeles."

By contrast, Wilhelm said she called her mother the minute she arrived in her new apartment in Portland. Her father visited two weeks after they arrived, and she went to visit her parents twice in the first year; her mother visited her twice. By the time Wilhelm's children needed a yeshiva, Los Angeles had a large yeshiva they could attend while living with their grandparents.

"When it came time for me to send my children away, although it was difficult, we spoke every day on the phone," said Wilhelm. "Airfare is more affordable; they could come home whenever they wanted. And today with cell phones, your kid can get hold of you anytime. It is a different world today."

When Raichik wanted a kosher chicken for Shabbat, for example, Wilhelm said that she had to take the bus downtown, buy a live chicken, have it slaughtered by the shochet – or ritual butcher – and bring it home, where she would salt it to draw out all the blood. She baked all her own challah and pastries, made gefilte fish from scratch and made her own jellies.

But when Wilhelm moved to Portland, she brought boxes of frozen chicken and gefilte fish. (She still has never made the traditional Shabbat dish from scratch.) And while she initially had to bake her own challah and cakes, she now has the option of buying kosher challah locally.

Of her own return to Portland, Simi Mishulovin said: "I can see first hand how my parents' arrival in Portland 24 years ago has been a catalyst for growth in this Jewish community in so many ways, with kashrut, education."

Leah Raichik
Leah Raichik
She said she benefited from the efforts of her grandparents and parents.

"They had to worry about their children's education," she said. "That has been established for us. My grandparents helped found what has become the largest Orthodox day school west of the Mississippi."

But Mishulovin said that her parents and grandparents did have one generational advantage: personal guidance from the Rebbe.

"When my grandparents were sent out, they were in constant communication with the Lubavitcher Rebbe," said Mishulovin. "They had a close connection and received hundreds of letters, which are so special to my family. Their every step was with the guidance of the Rebbe.

"My parents were sent with the blessings of the Rebbe, and they've gotten beautiful answers to their questions," she added. "My husband and I have hundreds of books the Rebbe wrote, but there is a big void and it's not the same."

Some things, though, never change, such as "the unconditional love I saw by my grandparents and parents," said Mishulovin. "Every Jew was welcomed into their homes and lives."