Name: Ahava Winston
Occupation: Director of Nitza - The Jerusalem Postpartum Support Network/The Israel Center for Maternal Health
Education: Queens College, Psychology
Place of Residence: Israel

Last night, I walked right past my friend Rivka on the street. She looked so different from the last time I saw her, I didn't even recognize her until she called out my name.

"Rivka! How wonderful to see you! Where are you coming from?"

"The hospital," Rivka answered.

I was shocked to see standing before me the old RivkaRivka, I understood, had just come from the bedside of her chronically ill son, Moshe Chai, who has spent most of his first two years of life in a hospital ward with his mother at his side. Since the birth, every time I had seen Rivka she had looked ashen, depressed, totally depleted. The stress of caring for her sick son had pushed her into one of the worst cases of Postpartum Depression I had ever seen.

But yesterday, I was shocked to see standing before me the old Rivka: the old sparkling eyes, the old tooth-filled smile, the old warmth that issued forth from her whole self like a radiator. What had brought about this transformation in her, I wondered.

When Rivka asked if I was working on any new writing projects, I got the answer to my question.

"I'm writing an article about Ahava Winston of Nitza."

"I have a few things I want to tell you about Ahava Winston," Rivka told me. "Start writing!"

I took out my handy notebook, and started scribbling at a sprint to keep up with everything Rivka had to tell me. Rivka explained, "Since I gave birth, Ahava Winston has treated me like I am her daughter, or at least her best friend. Ahava calls me on a regular basis to talk and to check how I am doing. Ahava has created a whole support system for me and my family. She knows exactly how much to help, when to help, and how to help."

Rivka continued, "The name Ahava means 'love,' and that is what Ahava Winston is. Pure love, humility, and kindness."

In my lifetime, I have had the privilege of meeting several people like Rebbetzin Winston, the founder and director of Nitza, the organization which has served as a lighthouse guiding Rivka and thousands of other Jewish women suffering from Post-Partum Disorders back to shore. I have noticed that these heroes and heroines who make the tough decision to be on call 24/7 to help the neediest members of the Jewish people always share certain characteristics. As a rule, they don't sleep much. Their salary (if they even get a salary) has no relationship to their true working hours. And these people, as a rule, always insist, as they shake their heads back and forth, that there is absolutely nothing special about them. Rebbetzin Ahava Winston of Nitza is no exception.

"It was painful to me that people in the world were suffering"Ahava Winston grew up in a home where self-sacrifice for the Jewish people was a way of life. She explains, "When the Israeli War of Independence broke out in 1948, my father rushed from Canada to Israel where he fought alongside the Israeli soldiers, and was eventually injured. After that, my father received a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe to work as an educator in Memphis, Tennessee, where I was born. Later on, we moved to New York where my father was a high school principal, and an activist to free Soviet Jewry.

"My mother was also active as a teacher and as a volunteer in the Jewish community in addition to her many responsibilities as a devoted wife and mother. My mother and father never told me that it is important to give your all for the Jewish people. They never had to. I learned all I needed to know about self-sacrifice from watching my parents and the way they live their lives."

In college, Rebbetzin Winston studied psychology and got her first exposure to the inner workings of a non-profit organization as a volunteer to end world hunger. She recalls, "I loved human beings and I wanted to help people. It was painful to me that people anywhere in the world were suffering. So I tried to do my part."

In 1985, Ahava Winston married her husband, author Rabbi Pinchas Winston, and they moved to Jerusalem. "Within a few years, we had two children, and I was a stay-home mother. My husband was active in Jewish outreach, so I never knew if we would be having ten Shabbat guests or twenty. Those were demanding years."

Despite her many responsibilities as a wife, mother and hostess, it was important to Winston to start making a contribution outside of her home as well. After the birth of her third child, Winston started an organization with some other women to make home visits to shut-ins, families at risk, geriatric patients in nursing homes and to other people in need.

It was during one home visit that Winston came face to face with Post-Partum disorders for the first time. "I remember coming into a home and finding the mother of a newborn baby who was totally delusional and extremely paranoid. After consulting with some professionals, I understood that this woman was suffering from post-partum psychosis, a rare condition that afflicts one in one thousand women following birth."

"I learned that PPD affects one in four mothers"Soon after that, Winston noticed that a friend who had given birth three months before was exhibiting a number of troubling symptoms, including crying, anxiety and confusion. Winston explains, "I understood from my background in psychology that my friend was suffering from PPD. Thank G‑d, her husband was very supportive, and she was able to pull out of it on her own."

These encounters planted the first seeds for the creation of Nitza. Winston recalls, "When I was trying to help these two women, I learned that PPD affects one in four mothers. When I heard this statistic, I was in shock. I realized that if four women in my community gave birth that year, then among them there would likely be a woman and a family suffering in silence from this debilitating illness called PPD.

"I realized that there was no organization in the Jewish community addressing this plague in our midst, and I wanted to do something to help."

In 1996, Ahava Winston started a support group in Jerusalem for several women with PPD. Winston remembers, "Word started getting out about what I was doing, and I started getting lots of calls from all over the country. Every woman is a whole life, a full world, and every woman comes with her own personal story and issues. I was trying to give these women an ear, but I couldn't give an ear to fifty women!" Winston put an ad in the paper, and was pleasantly surprised when over fourty women came to be trained as volunteers by a social worker." That was the beginning of Nitza.

Over the course of the past eleven years since Winston met with those first fourty volunteers, Nitza has assisted over 2000 women, and at any given time, Nitza is in the process of assisting 200-300 postpartum clients. Winston today oversees twelve staff members, including therapists, alternative medical professionals, office staff and an additional one hundred active volunteers.

Winston generally puts in a fifty-hour work week, but, she explains, there is really no such thing as a fixed schedule in her line of work. "We are often dealing with life and death situations that simply can't be put off until Monday at nine AM. For this reason, I always try to prepare for Shabbat before Friday, since inevitably there are emergencies right before Shabbat that make cooking and housework impossible as I'm forced to focus on the crisis at hand."

Winston generally puts in a fifty-hour work weekOne of the toughest ongoing challenges that Winston faces is balancing her role as a lifeline for hundreds of women throughout Israel with the needs of her own family. "My children range between the ages of nine and twenty-one. One of the hardest parts of my job is balancing work and motherhood. This has been a real learning process for me. This was especially tough when my children were little and we were putting in long hours when we were first starting Nitza.

"My kids are older now, but they still complain sometimes, 'Mommy, you're on the phone too much!' So I really try hard not to answer the phone, and to devote all of my attention to them when I come home from work.

"But truly, is there ever going to be that balance? If you are doing this kind of work, can you ever give your kids as much attention as you would like? But I hope that my children are learning an important lesson from my work with Nitza and that it is making a major contribution to their inner beings and personal developments as well. I hope that my children are learning about the self-sacrifice for the Jewish people that I saw in my home when I was growing up."

Winston tells her children about her work with Nitza in terms that they can understand. "From a young age, I explain to my children that sometimes mommies need some extra help after they give birth. The mommies want to take care of their children, but they are weak and tired. Sometimes they don't have money for food. Sometimes they don't have energy to take care of their children. So your mommy helps these mommies to raise Jewish children and Jewish families."

It has been especially gratifying for Winston to see how her children have been inspired to join her efforts to help Jewish mothers in need. "My children have come to understand how important this work is. One of my sons decided on his own to organize his friends to go door-to-door to raise money for Nitza before the holidays. My oldest daughter told me something a few years ago that really meant a lot to me. She said, "Ima (Mommy), when I grow up I want to be an art therapist, and I hope I can work with you at Nitza one day!"

Nitza means 'a blossom,' and we chose this name in order to convey a feeling of hopeDespite what one might think, Winston finds that there is absolutely nothing depressing about working with depressed mothers. "I would never ever want to paint a gloomy picture of PPD. My work with Nitza is, in fact, extremely uplifting. Nitza means 'a blossom,' and we chose this name in order to convey a feeling of hope. And there is every reason to have hope. Ninety-nine percent of the women who come to us have a complete recovery. Over my years with Nitza, I have seen so many miracles. So many new beginnings."

As her interview came to a close, Rebbetzin Winston told me, "There is one last thing. You should definitely write in your article that I am just a regular, normal person who cares about the Jewish people. I am just a regular person with all of the stupid mistakes that regular people make. I am just a person who really, really cares, just like most Jewish women really, really care. There's absolutely nothing special about me," she insisted as she shook her head back and forth.

I just smiled, and assured her that I would make certain to mention that.