Taibel Lipskier, who witnessed some of the worst of Soviet persecution and made her way to Brooklyn, N.Y., from where she catered to society's neediest, passed away Jan. 31 at the age of 94. Remembered as a woman of exceptional kindness, self-sacrifice and piety, Lipskier was a devoted Chabad-Lubavitch Chasid whose husband served as the caretaker of the central Lubavitch synagogue until his passing in 1985.

Born Luba Alte Toiba Lepkivker in Voznesensk, Ukraine, on Dec. 27, 1913 – the Shabbat of Chanukah that year – she was the eldest of nine children. Lipskier's father, Azriel Shalom Chaim Baruch, a follower of Boyan Chasidism, was a traveling ritual circumciser, who was also trained as a ritual slaughterer and led synagogue services as a cantor.

Lipskier's childhood was one of continuous hardship and self-sacrifice as her family struggled to maintain a Jewish household during the times of Soviet religious persecution.

Her parents refused to send their children to the local municipal school on Shabbat, leading villagers to derisively call them the Shabbatziveh, Russian for the "one who keeps Shabbat."

Lipskier once relayed to a great-granddaughter the consequences of her family's religious devotion.

"My father received a summons to appear at the police station," she said, "and I and my sister went along to the station. After hours of interrogation, my father appeared with a police officer on either side of him.

" 'They are arresting me, but go home and I will see you later,' he said. We created such a tumult of crying and bawling that people gathered at the window of the police station.

"Three days later my father was released. From then on, people called us Shabbatziveh and giggled behind our backs, 'Look, those are the girls who caused the tumult by the police station.' "

Lipskier's mother Leah passed away at a young age, leaving behind four little children, and prompting her daughter to assume the role of caretaker. The family eventually relocated to the city of Batum in southwest Georgia, where authorities were less zealous about persecuting religious activity.

In 1934, she married Yankel Lipskier, a Belarusian native and Chabad-Lubavitch Chasid who had arrived in Georgia a few years earlier. They settled in Kutaisi, Georgia, where her husband and his brothers operated a knitting factory, which, though illegal under Communist law, gave them the opportunity to be closed on Shabbat.

Students of the Lubavitch Yeshivah Tomchei Temimim, many of whom did not maintain connections with their own families for fear of Soviet interception, found in the Lipskiers' home a place to eat and enjoy a familial atmosphere.

For their own children, the Lipskiers' hired a private teacher, or melamed, at great personal risk. Despite having never met the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, who had departed Russia years earlier in 1927, their home was permeated with his teachings.

Tzivia Jacobson, the Lipskiers' eldest child, recalled her bedtime routine under the Soviet regime: "Mother would recount stories of our righteous sages and would wish us, 'm'zohl zehn zich mitten rebben,' [that] we should [merit to] see the Rebbe."

They met the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe’s son-in law and future Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, while they were living in Paris in 1947. The Rebbe visited France to reunite with his mother, Rebbetzin Chana – who had arrived from the Soviet Union following the death of her husband, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak – and arrange for her immigration to the United States. Three years later, the Rebbe would assume the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch after the passing of his father-in-law.

Taibel Lipskier caringly prepared the Rebbe’s meals during his stay, an act which the Rebbe wanted to pay the family for. The Lipskiers would hear nothing of the sort.

When Yankel Lipskier asked the Rebbe what sort of food he preferred, the Rebbe requested fish. The Rebbe also requested that they buy bread at a particular bakery, and when the Rebbe stayed for Passover, they made wine from scratch for him and provided him with a personal set of utensils, in deference to his strict kosher standards.

In the end, the Rebbe gave Taibel Lipskier a set of newly-printed selected talks of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe as payment. She treasured the volumes for the rest of her life.

In 1949, the family immigrated to the United States and, as per the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe's instructions, settled on a farm in Heightstown, N.J. They moved five years later to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, where Yankel Lipskier took on the position of caretaker at the Rebbe's synagogue at Lubavitch World Headquarters.

For her part, Taibel Lipskier regularly studied Jewish law and Chasidism, and prayed with deep concentration. She learned daily out of volumes of the Tanya – the fundamental Chasidic text penned by the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi – that the Rebbe dispersed on a few occasions to waiting lines at Lubavitch World Headquarters.

Caring for the Neglected

Taibel Lipskier later in life
Taibel Lipskier later in life
Lipskier assumed tasks and responsibilities that were neglected by others. She once noticed that the silver crowns for the Rebbe's Torah scroll were tarnished, so she took it upon herself to regularly polish them. She soon found herself polishing all of synagogue's Torah crowns.

Another time, she noticed that the head table at the Rebbe's public addresses was bedecked by a hodgepodge of tablecloths. She personally sewed a long white tablecloth to replace them and laundered it every week.

Another time, a group came to the synagogue to make sandwiches for a children's lunch taking place during a grand parade celebrating Jewish unity. The group, Lipskier included, worked into the wee hours of the morning preparing the sandwiches, but everyone else left without noticing the huge mess that had accumulated. Lipskier remained behind and single-handedly cleaned the synagogue.

Her care for others was something of neighborhood lore; there was practically an open invitation to people who needed a freshly cooked meal. Her children remembered poor and needy who would show up at their door, only to be invited in by Lipskier and given a hot drink and warm conversation.

Even into her eighties, she would visit countless people and encourage them to do another mitzvah, such as lighting Shabbat candles or purchasing a letter in a Torah scroll in the merit of Jewish unity. On Sundays, she would converse with some of the thousands of people of all walks of life who converged on Lubavitch World Headquarters to meet the Rebbe, stressing to them the importance of Shabbat candles or of marrying a Jewish spouse.

She was perhaps most known, however, for her daily visits to local hospitals and the homes of sick people, which continued until her health deteriorated a few years ago.

She "didn't just go to chat and cheer up the lonely and bedridden," said granddaughter Sheva Schmukler, who would accompany her on such visits. "She searched for those who were in the worst shape possible. I couldn't even enter the rooms out of fear and revulsion, I am embarrassed to say.

"She lovingly fed them spoon by spoon and spoke to them of better times. If she felt the patient was being neglected in any way, she scolded the nurses and challenged them to do a better job. I came out of these visits in awe of my Bubby, who possessed such strength of character and a tremendous love for her fellow Jew."

Lipskier had a signature sign-off line. Whomever she spoke to, her final words were: Zeit matzliach, brengt Moshiach, yivarechecha, "Be successful. Bring Moshiach. May G‑d bless you." All her life she actively awaited Moshiach and the redemption.

Taibel Lipskier is survived by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, many of whom serve as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in locations across the globe.