Editor’s Note: Chani Lifshitz co-directs the Chabad House of Kathmandu with her husband, Rabbi Chezky Lifshitz. In a speech at the Feb. 15 grand banquet of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries, she told of her friendship with Rivka Holtzberg, the slain co-director of the Chabad House in Mumbai, and her struggle in dealing with the loss. This article is based on those remarks.

We sometimes think of ourselves as emissaries who have seen it all. We have tackled everything imaginable. Our unique mission in Nepal, a location so out of the ordinary, teeming with individuals requiring our assistance, forges and strengthens us on a daily basis.

Nine years after having merited to become emissaries of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, I and my family merit on a daily basis to constantly receive assistance from Above. The challenges are daunting. But we know with absolute certainty that there is someone who is concerned for us, that we are never alone.

Nothing will ever surprise us. Nothing will ever break us, or so I thought. Until there came the latest challenge and test.

Eighty-two days ago, we all experienced a terrible tragedy, affecting each and every one of us in one way or another. Each one of us lost something. The Jewish people lost precious children. Chabad-Lubavitch lost dedicated soldiers. The emissaries lost a fellow brother and sister. And I? I lost the very best friend that I ever had. I lost my Rivky.

I never really understood the true meaning of the word “loss” until I lost her. Since then, I have never stopped searching for her. The smallest incident reminds me of her: every sound, movement, song, and word. I never quite understood what is meant when they say that it hurts to yearn and long. Now I understand. Believe me, there is actual physical pain.

Before I left, I asked Rivky’s mother what she most wants for me to relate about her daughter. “Whatever you decide to say,” she responded, “you knew her best. Just speak about her in present terms, as if she is there, for our Rivky is not something of the past, she is with us.”

Always Here

Well, clearly Rivky you are here with us. A year ago, Moishy was still an infant and you could not attend. This year, we are here together, just as we spoke and planned. I am so glad that you came with me. It was always so great to be together. In a few more minutes, as I return to my chair next to yours, you will hug me and ask with your characteristic smile: “What is with you Chani? A whole speech about me? Have you gone crazy?” It’s not me who has gone mad, Rivky, it’s the world that has gone crazy.

We got to know each other four and a half years ago. Our first relationship was a neighborly one. Compared to other places where emissaries are found, India and Nepal are close geographically, a two hour flight. Our similar work with tourists who visit both locations, and our rather mutually-challenging native life, also positively impacted our friendship and brought us closer. I was a relatively veteran emissary in this neck of the woods and you were thirsting for knowledge. You wanted to do everything the very best possible way. We very quickly grew closer and closer. We quickly went from e-mails to phone calls, and then, meeting each other in the area as much as possible.

During those years, I truly got to understand the meaning of a “twinned soul.” We spoke about everything, never hiding anything from one another. When not speaking, we shared in our silence. We were truly telepathically connected.

I remember nights when I felt that you were not yet asleep. I had the temerity to call you in the wee hours to ask you what was happening. You were indeed up; something was bothering you.

Or alternately, there were days when I needed a friend to share my thoughts and feelings. You knew, felt, encouraged. Your encouragement was like medicine for me. I began the morning with you, and likewise closed my day. I drew so much strength from you, Rivky, from the sheer fact that you were an integral part of my life. Our bond was greater than words, so much greater. We experienced so much together. We wept on each other’s shoulder; we worked together; we totally rejoiced in each other’s celebrations. At any given moment, I knew that you would be there for me, and for my part, I tried to do for you as much as I possibly could.

Our dear husbands also were aware that our moments together were ever so precious. “Tomorrow you’ll be speaking again and again,” they said. But each and every day was so precious, so cherished. They too had a special relationship. In the two weeks before the tragedy, they scoured all of India and Nepal in order to find a suitable kidney donor for a fellow Jew who was waiting in your home to get the good news. Gabi would inquire daily whether there was any progress in helping that poor person. Nothing else was more consequential to him.

Personal Difficulties

Much transpired in your lives, in Gabi’s life and your life, during those years. They were not at all easy years. I heard your mother say in one of the interviews, “There is no Gabi without Rivky, and no Rivky without Gabi.” So correct! Rather than be drowned by floodwaters, you cast each other life-rafts, and together navigated the waves. Together, you bandaged the wounds, together you braved the rolling waves. Your togetherness touched the hearts of all those who knew you. It was impossible not to feel this in the very air you breathed.

You chose not to share your personal tragedy with many people. I can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of people who knew all that transpired with you. I saw opposite me a young lady with the face of a gentle child, standing constantly, daily and hourly, facing the foreign guest who filled her home and would ask questions. They would ask, “How many children do you have? How old are they? Where is the eldest? Why don’t we see the second one?” And I saw you wipe your tears in the bedroom and return to them with a bright smile, a true smile – a smile that comes from the heart, smiling to them so beautifully – a life-giving smile.

I am saying only a little, for I feel that my words will in any case not do you justice. I learned the meaning of true and wholesome faith. I learned the meaning of boundless trust in G‑d. I learned how robust a soul can be. How refined a soul can be. And most of all, I learned about overcoming adversity, how one can grow in the face of overwhelming pain and anguish.

“We must be able to detach our personal difficulties from our mission,” you explained time and again. “Chani, you must understand: It’s the mission that strengthens me. It’s what fortifies me!”

And you continued to open your warm home to tourists, to the community and to families. And whoever passed through your doors, Rivky, never wanted to leave.

“Always do that which you wish others would do for you,” you would exhort me when I sought your counsel. Regarding the thin line that separates giving and extravagance: “Always give people as much as you wish they would give you.”

Your dedication to your children was unparalleled, a syllabus in love and in suffering. You lifted your hands heavenward and accepted the decree. Without arguing, without anger, with such utter simplicity. You did for them whatever you only could; you cared for them until it was impossible.

Four years of wandering between India and Israel, between being there for others and hosting an open home, to visiting the children – those lofty souls whose future is too difficult for us, mere mortal man, to change. Your difficulties you do not tell to anyone: “Chani, why should I make them feel badly,” you explain to me when you return from there.

One month after the tragedy, we traveled to light the Chanukah lights in the Chabad House, which is also your private home, a delegation of family and friends. The terrible carnage is evident everywhere. I found there a wounded and crushed community, tourists who long for you, businesspeople wiping away tears. And I understood how very, very much you gave them all, how much hope you provided in their lives. Your unaffectedness and simplicity, Rivky, conquered all our hearts.

Constant Contact

They say that the soul feels. Twelve hours before the tragedy, I felt deeply disturbed. I felt extremely agitated. I searched for you that evening online. As always, you were there for me.

“I love you,” I suddenly blurted out, not understanding my sudden emotional outburst. “You have no idea how much I appreciate you,” I added.

There was a long pause, and then I received a response. You told me that you wanted to thank me. “Thank you for everything. Thank you for being part of my life. Thank you for being my friend. It’s important to me that you understand how much strength I draw from our connection, how much it fortifies me.”

Two hours and 10 minutes before the occurrence, you signaled me on my computer. You said that you miss me and want to know what’s happening with me. You told me that finally Moishy agreed to go to sleep with Sandra. “He is so clingy lately. He refuses to let go.”

It sometimes seems to you as if he is worrying that he may lose you, and you don’t understand why. Soon you will be serving supper. It’s impossible to know yet how many will come, but what’s the difference, the house is always open to all. You always prepare for your guests that which they most love to eat at home. Reb Bentzion Kruman likes breaded chicken, so you prepared it for him. Tonight he is leaving, and he will soon come to say goodbye. Rabbi Teitelbaum will eat the rice and potatoes. Yocheved Orpaz will eat your rolls – you really have to get them out of the oven. And for Norma Schwartzblatt, you have prepared apple cake. Tomorrow she is emigrating to the Land of Isael, and is celebrating the 18th birthday of her son, Manuel.

Gabi will give a class until the food is ready. He always uses every free moment to convey matters of spiritual significance and share his vast knowledge and spirituality with others. Oh, Norma is already coming into your house! And Ronit and Cheirut just happened to come here for a personal talk. So, we’ll talk in a few hours, or maybe tomorrow morning. And as always, with a cup of tea and a pastry, we are still talking non-stop.

These days I am the one who talks and talks, who tells you all that is happening with me. Just like it used to be, as if nothing changed. I talk and you listen and are silent. You hear every word. You always had this ability to listen and include everybody. During the short nights – when I finally succeed in falling asleep – it is you who comes to me and speaks. You tell me what’s happening with you. You’re full of pep and energy, constantly on the move, as always never able to sit still. Every night, you once again beg of me that I stop being so sad. “It’s so not you, Chani,” you say. “For my sake, please, you must be strong!” But Rivky, how does one surmount and overpower these feelings?!

When you are part of a unique army such as ours, you may never wallow in mud. We are the path. We are the passageway for so many souls. So one may cry, one may be saddened, one may even occasionally stumble, but we must know how to rise. We must be strong! We must continue! We must give! For I truly believe that we, as emissaries of the Rebbe, can have no other possible attitude and approach.