BROOKLYN, NY, February 6, 1997 — Chaya Epstein is one of the few Harvard students who sought permission from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory before attending the prestigious university. The Rebbe gave her his blessing and she graduated with a bachelor's degree in Education and Psychology.

Although Epstein lived with a Lubavitch family during her college years, and did not participate in the social aspects of college life, her very presence on campus stirred much interest. She recalls with fondness teaching classes for Jewish women at the Harvard Hillel. She smiles when she tells of one of her students who, upon graduation, traveled as a Peace Corps volunteer to Botswana, her Shabbat candles in tow.

Interviewed last weekend at the annual Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries, Chaya Epstein, outgoing and with a sparkling demeanor, looks younger than her 30 years.

Just as she taught her way through college, Epstein continues to pursue her passion for teaching and learning as a Lubavitch envoy to Chicago. She and her husband Boruch have been working for the past six years at the Illinois state headquarters of Lubavitch with Rabbi and Mrs. Daniel Moscowitz.

A mother of two daughters, Epstein teaches three days a week at the local Lubavitch girls' high school, and leads four adult education classes at the Chabad-Lubavitch center. She and her husband also design the social and educational programs their center offers year round.

Adult education classes are most fulfilling, she says, because they provide her with opportunities to learn from her pupils.

"The relationships I form with the women, the give and take, the questions that force me to think — and when I see someone growing or expanding their perspective," these are what Epstein most appreciates.

She is often asked by newcomers about the role of the Lubavitch woman, and whether she feels her tradition limits her in any way, because of gender.

"It's not a stupid question," she says, "but I find that the question is posed mainly by those who have not had a close relationship with a Chassidic woman. If they could see a day or a week of your life, study together, they would see that the imagined conflict between a woman's development and her Jewish tradition simply isn't there."

This observation, she emphasizes, is deeply rooted in the Rebbe's reverent treatment of women. "There is no way a person can learn the teachings of the Rebbe about womanhood and not perceive the tremendous amount of respect he has, or the great responsibility he places on women's shoulders and his expectations of women's accomplishments," she says.

When men and women are not entangled in a quest for power, but work together toward achieving common goals, issues of gender domination simply do not exist, she contends.

"In our reality there's no time to contemplate whether you are primary or secondary — you're just too busy getting things done."

Epstein adds that she could not imagine doing anything else with her life. "Thank G‑d I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing," she says. "I wouldn't change any part of my life except I wish Moshiach were here."

Is the work challenging?

"I receive plenty of intellectual stimulation in my work," she answers. "I am challenged enough." She pauses for a moment. "I just wish I had more time!"

Epstein says she considers herself a modern feminist, pointing out the difference between the feminism of ten years ago, and the feminism surfacing today.

"Women want to be viewed as women," she explains. "They want equal respect to be given to them as women; it's not that they want to be like a man," she says.

Epstein sees a great change in the last decade, not only within feminist circles, but universally as well. Those qualities which used to be belittled because they were considered characteristically feminine are now being encouraged, she says.

"Men are encouraged to be more sensitive nowadays. Even governments and economies are encouraged to cooperate with each other rather than compete. All of these very feminine, 'connectedness' kinds of values are growing in status around the globe.

"I believe that [what we're seeing] is a sign of Moshiach coming — that all these female attributes are being expanded into the world," she says.

Before parting, Epstein ends with what could only be called traditional Lubavitch hospitality.

"If you're ever in Chicago for Shabbat..."