COMMACK, NY, February 3, 1998 — Chaya Teldon of Commack has many hats. Mother of five, teacher, writer, Cablevision TV director, speaker and world traveler, she is also a Rebbetzin, the wife of Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, director of Chabad in Long Island.

Born to "mildly Conservative" parents in Detroit, she grew up in a "secular Jewish" community. "When I was 15, I attended a Lubavitch meeting. I found answers to my questions and I was attracted by their religious commitment," Teldon told The Jewish Week. "My parents were not particularly thrilled."

Today, Teldon travels extensively (U.S., Israel, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and England) distributing her brand of "Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul." Appearing before groups of women, she offers her diversified menu of English, Yiddish, and Hebrew songs, accompanying herself on guitar. She tells stories and addresses subjects such as modesty in the workplace, Jewish life cycle events and empowerment of Jewish women. Coming from a more worldly environment than some women born into chasidic families, Teldon can relate to the problems faced by women in the contemporary world. 

While still a teenager, she elected an observant education. Observing her wishes although she was only 15, her parents allowed her to enroll at the Beth Rivkah School for Girls in Brooklyn. "I boarded with a family and attended school," she says. "I also graduated from their Teachers Seminary."

After graduation, she taught chasidic philosophy at Beth Rivkah. In spite of the demands on her time, she still conducts a class for future brides four times a year. "I teach the principles of shalom bayit (peace in the home) and family purity, as well as answer questions," the Rebbetzin says. She adds, "No subject is avoided, I try to answer every one."

In 1977, Teldon met and married her husband in Crown Heights through a traditional matchmaker. "We're still good friends with him," she says, attesting to the success of the match.

In 1979, she helped Rabbi Teldon found Lubavitch of Long Island. In the 18 years the Teldons have been on Long Island, 12 Lubavitch centers have been established.

"The women of Lubavitch are equal and active partners in the global work of Lubavitch," she says. "When I speak at Conservative and Reform places, I first have to pass the barrier of the stereotype of the berserk chasid. Then I can start teaching people that Torah is the greatest thing since white bread. [Torah] has been on the market a long time."

Her enthusiasm is evident as she explains Lubavitch's goals. "We're working to make the world a better place. People perform random acts of kindness today, I want them to get down to specifics. I would love to make a National Mentch Day. One on which everyone would act like a mentch."

A cross between a stand-up comic and a traditional storyteller, Teldon intersperses her teaching with jokes and music. "People tend to think religion is stuffy and I want to blow that cover," Teldon says.

Recent events dividing the Jewish community upset Teldon. Her aim, she says, is to "break down that which separates us." It is more important to stress those things which unite Jews than those which separate the groups within the Jewish community, she says.

"Yiddishkeit is for everybody. It's fun. It's beautiful," she tells her audiences. She wants to "dispel the perception of Orthodoxy" as exclusionary and separate. "I have to answer questions about why chasidim wear black, before I can talk about Torah," Teldon says.

A recent mailing to all synagogues in Nassau and Suffolk counties offering Rebbetzin Teldon's program to audiences restricted to women has received some positive responses. And in January, Teldon made a nation-wide tour that included Hawaii, sponsored by Lubavitch, to disseminate her recipe for "soul food."

Teldon is also helping prepare a program celebrating the 20th anniversary of Chabad of Long Island. She prefers to "work behind the scenes," but will be active in planning the activities.

"It's not so easy" to juggle her public life with her household duties, she says. Her older children commute to yeshivas in Brooklyn in a car-pool, while her youngest, a 5-year old (and only daughter), attends the Lubavitch school in Lake Grove. She does it with the help of her "sweet husband who holds the fort," Teldon says "I leave the kids with Rabbi Mom."