Shockwaves of grief steamrolled through the greater Washington, D.C., Jewish community with the news of the passing of Zlata Geisinsky, a 49-year-old Chabad-Lubavitch emissary seen by many as a close, personal confidant. Known as a selfless educator, community activist and devoted mother, Geisinsky was co-director of Chabad of Bethesda and Chevy Chase, Md.

Born Chaya Zlata Dubrawsky in 1961, she and her twin sister Miriam were brought up in a home that embodied the giving character of their Soviet immigrant parents Yehoshua and Asna Dubrawsky.

“The home was always occupied by guests who we never knew,” recalled Geisinsky’s brother, Rabbi Mendel Dubrawsky, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Dallas, Texas. “Conversations in the home were frequently about how to assist this or that person or another guest that was coming soon to our home.”

Yehoshua Dubrawsky, a prolific writer whose work appeared in, among other publications, the Yiddish Forward and Algemeiner Journal newspapers, also wrote and edited for the Jewish Women journal and Yiddishe Heim, and transcribed the public talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

“What we observed in our home was our father’s dedication to Jewish teachings, especially the teachings of Chabad,” said Dubrawsky. “Both of our parents were the only survivors of their families, yet they educated us about giving to others, and with the anticipation that we would dedicate our lives as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries away from our hometown of Brooklyn.”

That same dedication led Geisinsky and her twin sister to embrace the thousands of Iranian refugees that arrived in Brooklyn, N.Y., after the Rebbe launched a mission to save Jewish children caught up in what would become the Islamic Revolution.

Geisinsky reached out to assist the children become comfortable in their new country.

“I was amongst the first group of kids that were brought over by Chabad on the verge of the Islamic Revolution,” said Tamar Katz. “Zlata and her sister were so kind and attentive to us. They knew we had left our parents and loved ones behind, and they were so open, so inviting to us, trying to fill the big hole and gap that we were feeling.”

Katz and other girls took up temporary residence at the Dubrawsky home; some lived there for more than two years.

“I came home for Passover from Venezuela,” remembered Dubrawsky, who at the time was a rabbinical student in Caracas and willingly joined his brothers in staying with friends, “and there were a bunch of Iranian girls living at our home.”

According to Dubrawsky, Geisinsky was “the go to person” to settle issues among the siblings.

“She could see everyone’s point of view and always knew how to get straight to the point,” he said. “She was wise beyond her years and was able to tolerate extreme opposites. She was extremely thoughtful and her ego never got in the way.”

Zlata Geisinsky was 49.
Zlata Geisinsky was 49.

Selfless Leader

In 1983, Geisinsky and her husband, Rabbi Bentzion Geisinsky, arrived in Rockville, Md., as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries. She opened the city’s Camp Gan Israel Jewish summer camp and a short while later, became the director of the preschool at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, Rockville’s largest Jewish preschool.

There, she stood out for her care for children.

“Zlata knew every child the instant she met them,” said teacher Debie Charnoff. “She understood them; she knew what their strengths were; she knew if they needed love or discipline.”

“One could always find Mrs. Geisinsky roaming the halls speaking gently to the children,” Hillary Spirer Leeder wrote in an article for “She went out of her way to accommodate each child’s needs, tailoring hours, days, and teachers to suit his or her necessities. I felt that [my kids] were not only cared for; I felt like they were loved.”

Beyond the children, though, many a parent developed a close connection to Geisinsky.

“Parents would go into her office as if to speak about their child,” related Charnoff, “and would in the meantime discuss their intimate personal issues and issues at home with their older children or with their spouses.”

Parents were deeply touched by her advice and many made life altering changes based on it.

“She always asked what’s going on with your family, your other children. She was always interested,” added Charnoff. “She always had a great solution and said it with an endearing smile.”

Given her dedication to the school, “we forgot that she had many other positions in the community,” said the teacher. “She was involved with everything and anything that needed to be done, and she was there to do it together with you.”

Only after Geisinsky’s passing did Charnoff put the pieces of the puzzle that was her director’s schedule together.

“On Fridays, she woke up at 4:30 in the morning to prepare the Shabbat meals, and then she came to school,” said Charnoff. “Then, on the way back home, she would go to the local hospitals to make sure [Jewish patients] had what they needed.”

“There was nothing she wouldn’t do for another person,” said Natalie Frank. “She had strength of personality, an inner strength that prevented her from being pushed off course.”

Away from the schoolyard, Geisinsky nurtured her community in several other ways, including as co-director of Mikvah Ateres Yisroel, a Jewish ritual bath built 18 years ago in Potomac, Md. Under Geisinsky’s leadership – she trained attendants to be accepting of every woman, no matter their background – the facility earned a reputation as an open and non-judgmental place.

According to mikvah co-director Karen Cohen, more than 25,000 women have used the ritual bath since its founding.

“Zlata is the one who set the tone, who made sure that everything was proper according to Jewish law, but at the same time, welcoming to all people,” said Cohen. “It was typical of her to come out at whatever in middle of the night to open the doors for someone who needed to use the mikvah. And she would never question the fact that the hour was so late.”

Nancy Rubin once wrote of her experience at the facility.

“When you ring the bell at [a] mikvah,” said Rubin, “you have no idea who your [attendant] will be. How wonderful it has been for me, when I open the door to that warm hug and smile from Zlata. That was my alone time, my quality time with Zlata.

“Zlata was real, honest and upfront,” she added. “Everything she said was said out of love, concern, real interest and caring.”

Cohen illustrated Geisinsky’s care with a story she heard at the family home during the traditional seven-day mourning period.

“Once a woman told her that she had a phobia of being totally immersed in water,” related Cohen. “Without missing a beat, she went in fully clothed to help this woman.”

Zlata Geisinsky stood out for her devotion to children.
Zlata Geisinsky stood out for her devotion to children.

Devoted Mentor and Mother

For years, the Geisinskys built up the Potomac Chabad House under the guidance of Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Baltimore. She organized programs there, taught classes and served as a mentor to many in the community, counseling some women and teenagers as she prepared Shabbat lunches in the synagogue kitchen.

“She would always greet me with a smile,” said Joshua Eisdorfer. “She showed me not only to have compassion for your fellow, but to embrace Judaism in its entirety; and in doing so to live life to your fullest capabilities.”

With the Chabad House fully established and growing, the Geisinskys handed it over to a new couple and moved a short distance away to Bethesda.

According to Frank, Geisinsky was loath to trumpet her deeds. During her short lifetime, no one knew the amount of people she touched.

“She never discussed this, and for sure, she never patted herself on the back,” said Frank.

Offering a story she felt was typical, Frank said that one Friday afternoon, she told Geisinsky that she wasn’t feeling well.

“I was shocked when Zlata appeared at the door with an entire meal for Shabbat,” said Frank. “She brought it to me to make sure that I would have something to eat. She didn’t ask me, she just stopped by and dropped off the food.”

“She was basically the reason I went to synagogue,” revealed Gena Zaiderman, who described Geisinsky as a second mother to her.

Zaiderman found it difficult at first to figure out the customs of Jewish prayer, she said, but “Zlata made me feel totally comfortable and did not make me feel that I was burdensome to her.”

Over the years, tens of thousands of people enjoyed Shabbat meals at the Geisinsky home, where an open door policy made guests feel like a part of the family.

“My children felt at home,” said Yonit Eisdorfer. “Many times, my son would stay there after the Shabbat services. She always made him feel great.”

But Geisinsky also carved out special time with her own children.

“She always sat at the kids table,” remembered Eisdorfer. “She was always having so much fun with her kids. They would sneak into the kitchen and have their own party. Her relationship with her kids was admirable.”

“Through all of her many duties,” said Geisinsky’s husband, “she was always there first and foremost for the kids. She was a remarkable mother.”

Zlata Geisinsky and her mother, Asna Dubrowsky, visit the resting place of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in Cambria Heights, N.Y.
Zlata Geisinsky and her mother, Asna Dubrowsky, visit the resting place of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in Cambria Heights, N.Y.

A Final Goodbye

Several months ago, Geisinsky became ill. Despite the devastation it caused her, she kept it to herself. People attributed a slight drop in her energy to the passing of her father or her daughter’s wedding. Even her husband didn’t know the full extent of her illness.

“But I knew something was wrong,” said Bentzion Geisinsky, “when suddenly, I could keep up with her.”

Weeks before her passing, she was making final arrangements for a graduation party at her school.

“She planned everything,” said Charnoff. “She concentrated on all of the details: the balloons, the pictures of the kids.”

As her situation deteriorated, Geisinsky’s husband took their kids to school, but the day before her last doctor’s visit – she would go to the hospital shortly thereafter – she wanted to do it.

“Thinking back to after we became aware of her situation,” said Geisinsky, “I have no idea how she made it there or how she made it back.”

She just needed to say goodbye to everyone, added the rabbi.

“There is no one that I could think of that I could admire more in this world,” said Frank. “I know that there will be a whole lot of us for whom there will be some need that cannot be filled by anyone else besides Zlata. She meant so much to so many people.”

“I am numb,” stated Cohen. “The entire community is walking around in a daze. We are mourning a great loss.”

Bentzion Geisinsky takes comfort in knowing that his late wife saw her children following in her footsteps. The couple’s son and daughter-in-law, Rabbi Sender and Nechama Geisinsky, serve as associate directors of the Chabad House they founded.

“Her devoted work and impact on the community will continue,” he said, “through the second generation of Geisniskys in Bethesda.”