Nearly a decade has passed since the untimely death of Shaina Charitonow, beloved educator, community leader, and friend to all. She arrived in snowy Buffalo, New York, at the age of 19, and immediately began warming hearts and melting barriers, bringing sunshine and joy to all who met her.

Together with her husband, Rabbi Shmaryahu Charitonow, she ran an open home, hosting local and out-of-town guests with her trademark friendly and open style. She juggled many roles, co-directing Camp Gan Israel with her husband, managing the local women’s mikvah, teaching, and working tirelessly on many community functions and activities for Chabad of Buffalo.

Even after Shaina became ill, she remained a source of inspiration, courageously displaying a positive attitude and rock-solid faith.

Shaina passed away on Erev Shabbat, the 14th of Shevat, 5773, and was buried that very afternoon. Yet, her warmth, joy, and acceptance continue to be felt by all.

“I was a public-school teenager with dozens of pairs of jeans, tons of non-Jewish friends, and little to no interest in spirituality,” recalls one of the many people whom she influenced. “In the 90’s, my family began attending the Knesset Center [where Rabbi Charitonow is rabbi] on a regular basis. The Charitonows welcomed us warmly, though our families couldn’t have been more different. Even as a somewhat cynical teen, I couldn’t help but be charmed by Shaina. Her vibrancy, her energy, her humor, her laugh! She was fun, fun to be with, fun to be around, and so I started wanting to be around.”

Rebbetzin Shaina treated everyone like family, because she truly believed that all of Klal Yisrael was indeed, one family,” she continues. “Her hospitality was legendary, her way with unaffiliated families gentle and loving and free of judgment. She truly wanted all Jews to know and love the Creator as much as she did, and her pure motivations shone through.”

Today that woman lives a full Jewish lifestyle.

“I can credit Shaina for making me feel welcome and comfortable,” says Carol Ann Sackett, general studies principal at Torah Temimah School, where Shaina taught Judaic studies. “I learned so much from Shaina because she graciously allowed me to ask questions and she had no qualms about answering them. She had the ability to see her world through my eyes and make it comprehensible. But as much as she was an observant woman, her warmth and mischievousness made me feel as though she could be a friend.”

This warmth was deeply appreciated by her students. “Even the students who hadn’t been in her class for years affectionately still called her Morah Shaina and would make a point of stopping into her class to say hello.” attests Yosepha Birkan “It was obvious how much all of her students loved her. They weren’t the only ones. Everyone who knew Shaina loved her.”

Her friendship extended to the friends of her children as well. “Whenever I would call the Charitonows to speak to Mushka, and Mrs. Charitonow answered the phone, she made sure to have a short chat with me first,” says Mashie Butman, today a Chabad emissary in Cambodia. “She always started with, ‘Oh, Mashie! How are you?’ And she really wanted to hear.”

Though she was a respected teacher and leader, she insisted on being called “Shaina,” not “Mrs. Charitonow” or “Rebbetzin,” recalls Dr. Michoel Friend. “She was much more comfortable being on a first-name basis, as a friend, and she made you feel that it was only natural to call her Shaina.”

Even when she fell ill, she continued to think about others and their needs. Her only complaint, says lifelong friend Cipi Junik, was that she did not enjoy being a burden on her husband and children.

Another difficult pill for her to swallow in her final years was that she was no longer able to teach. “For Shaina, teaching was never a routine, a paycheck, or just something to do,” explains Esther Kleyman. “She loved her students; she lived for them. Her projects were immaculate and creative. Her lessons were filled with drama and wit. I have to shamefully admit that watching my children being taught by Shaina made me envious more than once! She made parshah come alive.”

That sparkle was evident in her adult relationships as well “She had such a young spirit, full of mischief and simultaneously wise,” attests Kleyman. “She could analyze a complicated life situation better and quicker than a certified life coach! So many of our talks would end with Shaina’s trademark, ‘Now that we have solved all the problems of the world, let’s go do…’ ”

Sarah Voldman, an elderly immigrant from the Soviet Union who has since passed away, recalled that “from the first day, Rabbi Charitonow and Shaina welcomed us and treated us like family. She helped us understand and accept that being Jewish was something we could be proud of, not something to be feared. For me this was like a breath of fresh air.”

As pious and devout as she was, she had an impish sense of humor and would stop at nothing to bring joy to others. “I am humbled by how much I owe to this wonderful woman,” says Brocha Sapochkinsky. “Without effort, without even knowing it, she ripped apart so many of my preconceived notions. She was my first role model of the loving acceptance of others.”

And 10 years later, her acceptance, joy, spunk, faith, and ingenuity continue to have ripple effects, all across Buffalo and beyond.

The memories shared here were compiled into a booklet titled Lessons I Learned, by her family with help from Devorah Bokozba.