“The world says, ‘Time is money.’ I say, ‘Time is life.’ ”

— Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to the father of Rabbi YY Jacobson, Gershon Jacobson, in 1985

Recently, I lost a very special person in my life, a woman who taught me the immeasurable value of every moment. I met Julia when I was 6 and she was 12 back in the former Soviet Union.

JuliaThroughout the process, Julia was fighting cancer was not born Jewish, but she made a conscious decision to convert. This commitment was particularly inspiring and challenging because throughout the process of conversion, Julia was fighting cancer. But neither weakness nor pain deterred her from her lifelong goal to join the Jewish people. At one point, Julia made a decision to postpone chemotherapy in order to travel to Israel, a dream she knew she needed to fulfill. Together with her husband, she visited Jerusalem, the holiest place for the Jewish people, and became forever connected to our Land of Israel.

Both Julia and I were born in a city called Saratov on the Volga River. Growing up under the Communist regime, it was almost impossible to learn about any religious traditions and values. In 1987, Julia’s family immigrated to the United States, and in 1989, my family was welcomed by Julia’s family in America. After arriving in the United States, I started my own journey of reconnecting to my Jewish heritage. I have met many special people along the way, yet I have never known anyone so committed to the Jewish values and traditions.

Together with her husband, Leonid, who was born Jewish, Julia attended the Lubavitch Center for Russian Jewry for services and holiday celebrations. Rabbi Sholom Goldshmid spent countless hours teaching Torah ideas to her. Rebbetzin Malky Goldshmid and Julia became close friends. During Julia’s illness, Leonid often visited the Ohel in Queens, N.Y., the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, reading the entire book of Psalms for his wife. Julia felt an incredible connection to the Rebbe and read many of his teachings.

Julia’s diagnosis didn’t discourage her from studying Torah, as well as learning and observing Jewish customs. She believed that each day offers an opportunity to get closer to G‑d, family and friends.

“Her faith in G‑d was total,” says Malky. “When she decided to convert to Judaism, she only looked forward. She had an absolute reliance on G‑d that whatever He does is for the good. As she said to the rabbi: ‘If G‑d has decided to take me at this time, I want to go as a Jew.’ ”

Any prognosis was irrelevant to her mission because she accepted one moment at a time and used it to bring light to the world. She was an exceptional mother who offered her two boys unconditional love and acceptance. When someone was impatient with another person, she simply said, “Everyone is different,” and reminded them to treat people with respect and dignity.

Right before the pandemic, in February of 2020, Julia passed her conversion exam, walked into the waters of the mikvah and emerged with a new name, Chava Chaya.

Chava Chaya met each milestone of the Jewish year with zest, commitment and joy. She celebrated all of the Jewish holidays except one; she passed away a few days before Chanukah. I was so broken that Chava Chaya didn’t get a chance to light the menorah and to experience this last holiday.

ThenHer life itself was a light I realized that perhaps she didn’t live long enough to light the physical candles because her life itself was a light for the Jewish people.

How beautiful it is to know that there are people in this world who are so dedicated to our heritage and faith that no obstacles can stand in their way. This was the story of my friend, Chava Chaya, who was a shining example of faith, goodness and love. She wanted nothing more than to live as a Jew. While she accomplished her dream to convert and kept the commandments for just nine months, she felt fulfilled knowing that she was leaving this world as a proud Jewish woman.

May the memory of Chava Chaya bat Abraham be a blessing to the Jewish people.