Mrs. Devorah Greenberg, the beloved matriarch of a large Chabad family—many of her 17 children and dozens of grandchildren lead more than 50 Chabad-Lubavitch centers around the world—passed away in Bnei Brak, Israel, on the 21st of Av, 5783 (Aug. 8, 2023). She was 85 years old.

Born on the 22nd of Adar in the year 5698 (1938) in Odessa, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Devorah was the eldest daughter of Rabbi Aharon and Nechama Leah Chazan. Her formative years were etched with the indomitable spirit of self-sacrifice as her parents raised a strictly observant family in the face of anti-religious persecution.

Although the Chazan children, like all children in the Soviet Union, were forced to attend public school on Shabbat, they consistently found ingenious ways to observe the Sabbath, frustrating their Soviet educators.


The Chazan family’s self-sacrifice extended far and wide. During World War II, the family fled eastward to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where Reb Aharon became a central figure in the local clandestine Jewish educational system for hundreds of refugee children—established under the inspiration of the Sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory. He also facilitated the establishment of such underground schools in other cities as well.

Following the war, they settled in Bolshevo, a Moscow suburb, and their residence served for decades as a spiritual oasis for Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Since they lived near Moscow, individuals from neighboring cities would frequently visit their home while traveling to acquire documents to leave the USSR. The Chazan children generously offered up their beds, as their house became a temporary refuge for weary travelers.

Despite the inherent dangers, their home became a haven for daily prayer services, Torah study and mitzvahs—housing a secret mikvah, a small synagogue, and even a clandestine matzah bakery. Through their courageous efforts, they extended open arms and unwavering support to all who sought solace and guidance. It was an attitude and a practice Devorah would maintain throughout her life, as well as a model for her children and grandchildren.

Rabbi Aharon Chazan raised his children in a rigorously observant family in the face of anti-religious persecution.
Rabbi Aharon Chazan raised his children in a rigorously observant family in the face of anti-religious persecution.

Marriage and Observance Amid Soviet Oppression

In 1955, Devorah married Rabbi Moshe Greenberg, whose early life story was one of similar unyielding resilience, having endured seven arduous years in Siberian labor camps for attempting to escape the confines of the Soviet Union. Throughout his imprisonment, he clung to the tenets of his faith, ensuring meticulous observance of Shabbat and kashrut.

When their son Yosef was born just two days before Yom Kippur, Devorah Greenberg faced a challenge. Soviet law mandated that mothers and babies remain for 10 days in the hospital, , where the infant would not be able to receive a brit milah. Her father bribed the hospital officials, allowing her to leave on the first day of Sukkot. With her newborn son in tow, she embarked on a lengthy journey on foot, covering miles from the hospital to the synagogue to ensure her son could have a brit milah on time.

When her eldest son entered first grade, one of the school teachers commented that surely the next generation would be more Sovietized and not give them the same “grief,” to which his teacher replied: “The boy is even more fanatic than his uncles and aunts!”

Rabbi Aharon and Nechama Leah Chazan finally managed to leave the USSR in 1966, right before the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Devorah Greenberg and her sister, Chaya Sheiner, as married daughters were denied permission to leave. They remained in a wing of their parents’ house, where they continued to hold minyanim during the High Holidays. Mrs. Greenberg, nursing a baby at the time, stood by the window for hours on end, vigilantly watching for signs of police presence, even as she fasted on Yom Kippur.

But by the end of 1966, the Greenberg family also received permits to leave the Soviet Union and immigrated to the Holy Land. They planted new roots in Bnei Brak, a city renowned for its vibrant Jewish life.

In this new chapter, the Greenbergs continued to impact lives. Moshe Greenberg assumed a leadership role within the Bnei Brak branch of the Chabad Youth Organization of Israel (Tzach). He also dedicated himself to advocating for Russian-speaking Israeli immigrants throughout the land.

Rabbi Moshe and Devorah Greenberg
Rabbi Moshe and Devorah Greenberg

A Portable Chabad House

During the early years, Rabbi Greenberg worked as a diamond cutter during the day before returning home and conducting communal affairs in the evening.

When the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, initiated the mivtzoyim campaigns in the 1970s, encouraging the Jewish people to strengthen their observance of mitzvahs like mezuzah and kashrut, requests for assistance poured in from all over the region. With letters flooding their home, the Greenbergs established a portable Chabad house in their dining room, which also served as a bedroom for some of their children. A neighbor, a skilled sofer (scribe), was hired full-time to assist in the inspection and preparation of mezuzahs and tefillin, while Mrs. Greenberg assumed a pivotal role in orchestrating the operation.

Mrs. Greenberg served as co-director of the portable Chabad center, helping to guide the entire operation. She opened their home’s doors to people seeking advice and help in doing mitzvahs and communicated with the sofer next door about mezuzahs and tefillin needed.

For decades, her husband traveled to Brooklyn, N.Y., to celebrate the Tishrei holidays in the presence of the Rebbe. “Our mother wholeheartedly and joyfully supported this annual pilgrimage,” says her son Rabbi Yisrael Greenberg, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of El Paso. “She specifically encouraged him to take along at least one child every year so they could see the Rebbe and experience those special moments in the Rebbe’s presence from a young age. These trips were crucial in motivating us to serve as the Rebbe’s emissaries. It was not easy for her, but she knew what was best for the family.”

Receiving a dollar and a blessing from the Rebbe - Photo courtesy Greenberg family from the Living Archive
Receiving a dollar and a blessing from the Rebbe
Photo courtesy Greenberg family from the Living Archive

Together, Rabbi Moshe and Devorah Greenberg raised 17 children, who serve today as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries across the globe, from Thailand to Ukraine.

“My mother gave each child exactly what they needed,” says her son, Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, director of the Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska in Anchorage. “And she did it with wisdom and sensitivity.”

Even though her children were scattered around the world, she never lost track of their time zones. She knew if they were already sleeping in China or starting the day in Alaska. “Sometimes, I’d call her late at night,” says Greenberg.” She’d ask me: ‘Why are you still awake?’ Isn’t it nighttime by you?’”

Years ago, the siblings gifted their parents a clock designed with multiple time zones, a family photo and an idea the Rebbe once shared about the Chabad emissaries around the world: “The further they are, the closer they are.” This quote poignantly describes her attitude, and the clock became an icon of her legacy.

Every Friday, Mrs. Greenberg brought warmth and solace to an old-age home, distributing Shabbat candles to the women residing there. Her visits became a weekly beacon of hope and connection for those in their twilight years.

When the Rebbe initiated a campaign in the 1970s to establish a free loan society in every community, Rabbi Moshe Greenberg started a fund to assist families in times of need. As her husband grew older and could no longer oversee the operation, Mrs. Greenberg took the reins. She devoted 25 years of her life to this endeavor, extending financial aid to countless families. Even after her husband’s passing a decade ago, she continued to run it single-handedly, transforming it into a safe harbor for those facing economic challenges. People didn’t just come for loans; they came to share their hearts with Mrs. Greenberg, who had a unique ability to connect with people on a profound level.

The Greenberg family gathers at a wedding. - Photo courtesy Greenberg family
The Greenberg family gathers at a wedding.
Photo courtesy Greenberg family

Motherly Intuition

Her motherly intuition kept her well-informed about each of her children, and she consistently provided support in any way she could. Whenever her grandchildren ventured to study in the Holy Land, she welcomed them into her home with open arms.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Greenberg was dedicated and selfless. In the words of her daughter, Shterna Wolff, director of the Chabad Jewish Center in Hannover, Germany: “All of us might say the same, but I can affirm that even when she was going through hard times, she never shared her own troubles. She simply wished to hear about us.”

Devorah Greenberg’s home was perpetually open and her heart unfailingly warm, say her children. She graciously attended to her family’s needs, gently insisting whenever her grandchildren would visit, “Don’t trouble yourselves; I’ll handle it.” Her unwavering support and devotion extended to her family’s every need, as her daughter noted.

“When I needed something, I would call her and request, ‘Ima, please ensure that the Tehillim you say today is dedicated to this and this and this.’”

Even as countless individuals flocked to her seeking guidance and mentorship, towards the end of her life, Mrs. Greenberg had a question of her own. She confided in her son, saying, “Since I was a young girl, I’ve been hearing that Moshiach is coming. Where is he?” To this, her son replied: “If everyone yearned for Moshiach with the same fervor as you, he would undoubtedly be here already.”

Mrs. Devorah Greenberg is predeceased by her husband. She is survived by their children: Rabbi Naftali Greenberg (Lod, Israel); Rochel Levertov (Austin, Texas); Rabbi Yisroel Greenberg (El Paso, Texas); Esther Shaikevitz (Kfar Chabad, Israel); Rabbi Yosef Greenberg (Anchorage, Alaska); Rabbi Zushe Greenberg (Solon, Ohio); Rabbi Chaim Greenberg (Beitar Illit, Israel); Bassie Shemtov (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Rabbi Shalom Greenberg (Shanghai, China); Chaya Wolff (Odessa, Ukraine); Rivka Azimov (Neuilly-sur-Seine, France); Rabbi Schneor Greenberg (Commerce, Mich.); Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg (Vancouver, Wash.); Shterna Wolff (Hanover, Germany); Rabbi Baruch Greenberg (Oceanside Vista, Calif.); Rabbi Avraham Greenberg (Phuket, Thailand); and Chava Kastel (Bnei Brak, Israel); in addition to numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Devorah Greenberg with one of her many descendants. - Photo courtesy Greenberg family
Mrs. Devorah Greenberg with one of her many descendants.
Photo courtesy Greenberg family