1. The Rebbetzin’s Father and Husband Were Both Rebbes

The Rebbe and his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, in Purkersdorf, Austria. (Photo: JEM/The Living Archive)
The Rebbe and his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, in Purkersdorf, Austria. (Photo: JEM/The Living Archive)

“Rebbetzin” is a Yiddish title derived from the Hebrew word “rabbi.” It generally connotes a woman who is married to a rabbi, and/or wise and learned in her own right. Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson was the second of three daughters of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (the sixth Chabad Rebbe) and Rebbetzin Nechama Dina Schneersohn. Her husband, a distant cousin, became the seventh Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.

2. Her Grandfather, the Fifth Rebbe, Suggested Her Name

The fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn.
The fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn.

When she was born (Adar 25, 1901), her grandfather, the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer, was traveling abroad and he telegraphed her father, “... Mazal tov on the birth of your daughter … if she has not yet been named, she should be called Chaya Mushka (the name of the wife of the Tzemach Tzedek [the third Chabad Rebbe]).”

Explore: Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch

3. She Was Known as Moussia

Detail of the Rebbetzin’s Soviet passport. (Photo: Jewish Educational Media/Early Years)
Detail of the Rebbetzin’s Soviet passport. (Photo: Jewish Educational Media/Early Years)

Among family and close friends, she was known as “Musia,” a Russian/Yiddish equivalent of Mushka. On legal papers it was spelled: Moussia.

4. She Encouraged Her Friends to Light Shabbat Candles

Chaya Simons lighting candles.
Chaya Simons lighting candles.

Growing up, she followed the custom (which her husband later turned into an international campaign) that young girls light a single Shabbat candle, even before marriage. She would encourage her friends to do so as well, regardless of whether there was precedent to do so in their family.

Read: 15 Shabbat Candle Facts Every Jewish Woman (and Man) Should Know

5. She Was Central to the Chassidic Underground

Detail of the document authorizing the Rebbetzin to act legally on her father's behalf.
Detail of the document authorizing the Rebbetzin to act legally on her father's behalf.

As the Communist noose tightened around the Jewish community, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak bravely led the struggle to maintain Jewish observance and Torah study. Then in her early 20s, Chaya Mushka was right beside her father in his activism. Level headed and brave, her father authorized her to act on his behalf in all matters. When the Soviets arrested Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak and sentenced him to exile in distant Kostroma, she joined him at his request. On the 12th of Tammuz, she was the bearer of the good news of her father's release.

Read: 13 Pictures that Illuminate the Arrest and Liberation of the Sixth Rebbe

6. Her Activity Spread Beyond Chabad

The Rebbe Rashab's and Rebbe Rayatz's residence in Rostov. (Photo: בתוך הגולה (אלישיב קפלון), חיש תשע"ב)
The Rebbe Rashab's and Rebbe Rayatz's residence in Rostov. (Photo: בתוך הגולה (אלישיב קפלון), חיש תשע"ב)

While living in Rostov, she regularly smuggled food and candles to the Novardok yeshivah, a non-Chassidic institution of Torah learning then located in the city.

7. Her In-Laws Were Unable to Attend Her Wedding

The Rebbe's parents, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson. (Photos: Kehot Publication Society/JEM)
The Rebbe's parents, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson. (Photos: Kehot Publication Society/JEM)

In the autumn of 1927, on the day after Simchat Torah, the Schneersohn family left the Soviet Union and moved to Riga, Latvia. Chaya Mushka was already engaged to marry Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, who left Russia with her family.

The wedding took place in Warsaw in 1928. The authorities did not allow the Rebbe’s parents, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana Scheerson, to leave the Soviet Union, and they held a parallel celebration at their apartment in Dnepropetrovsk (Yekatrinoslav), which continued throughout the night.

Watch: You are with Us”

8. She Saved a Man From a Nazi Bomb

German Luftwaffe bomber. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
German Luftwaffe bomber. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Soon after their marriage in Warsaw, Poland, the newly married couple settled in Berlin, but with the rise of Nazisim, moved to Paris. In May 1940, France was invaded by German forces, and, like many French Jews, the couple fled to Nice in southern France. In the course of their flight, there was a devastating bombardment. As people ran in every direction, Chaya Mushka noticed a shell heading towards a man next to her. Quickly pushing him to the ground, she saved his life. Recounting this story decades later, the Rebbetzin characteristically said, "True, I saved his life, but for pushing a Jew down one must do teshuvah."

9. She and Her Husband Lost Siblings to the Nazis

Although Chaya Mushka and her husband arrived on American shores in the spring of 1941, her younger sister, Sheina, and her husband, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Horenstein, were still trapped in Poland. After the war, it was discovered that they had perished in the gas chambers of Treblinka.

When the war broke out, her in-laws were in the primitive village of Chiili, (Modern day Shieli) Kazakhstan, where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had been forced into exile as punishment for his efforts on behalf of Judaism. Ironically, this saved them from the Nazi onslaught. Their son, DovBer, however, was murdered by the Nazis and buried in a mass grave.

Read: The Rebbe on the Holocaust

10. She Was Instrumental in Her Husband Becoming Rebbe

Farbrengen in the early years of the Rebbe's leadership. (Photo: JEM/The Living Archive)
Farbrengen in the early years of the Rebbe's leadership. (Photo: JEM/The Living Archive)

Upon the passing of her father in 1950, leadership of the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch movement passed to Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka's husband. Despite his initial refusal to accept the mantle, it was his wife, the Rebbetzin, who, notwithstanding the great personal sacrifice it would entail, finally prevailed upon him to accept the position.

Read: A Private Life of Public Service

11. She Would Wait Up All Night for the Rebbe

For decades, the Rebbe arrived at his office midmorning and remained there until well after midnight. On the nights he received people for private audiences (yechidus), his arrival home would often be as late as seven a.m. Aides and confidants recall that the Rebbetzin often remained awake all night, ready to greet her husband.

Watch: Giving for Chassidim

12. She Took Pride in Her Husband’s Campaigns

The Rebbe encourages the “tankists” in Brooklyn before they set off for Manhattan during the first few weeks after the mitzvah tanks were launched. (Photo: JEM/The Living Archive)
The Rebbe encourages the “tankists” in Brooklyn before they set off for Manhattan during the first few weeks after the mitzvah tanks were launched. (Photo: JEM/The Living Archive)

Those who knew the Rebbetzin attest that she took great pride in the mitzvah campaigns her husband initiated; she, perhaps more than anyone, understood the thought that went into them.

Watch: “My Husband Had a Good Idea!”

13. She Used to Refer to Herself as ‘Mrs. Schneerson’

The Rebbe and Rebbetzin's house on President Street © Marko Dashev www.markodashev.com
The Rebbe and Rebbetzin's house on President Street © Marko Dashev www.markodashev.com

Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka shied away from the limelight and rarely appeared in public, where she would undoubtedly be celebrated as the revered rebbetzin. Instead, she chose to remain within a small social circle where she would be treated without fanfare. When making phone calls, she generally referred to herself simply as “Mrs. Schneerson from President Street.”

Watch: A Visit With the Rebbetzin

14. She Was Not Blessed With Children but Has Countless Descendants

The Rebbetzin had no children of her own, yet when a child visiting her at home asked her, "where are your children?" she answered that the Chasidim, those who followed in the ways taught by her husband, were her children.

Read: Cake and Juice With Royalty

15. She “Could Give Blessings”

The Rebbetzin. (Photo: JEM/The Living Archive)
The Rebbetzin. (Photo: JEM/The Living Archive)

Once, the Lubavitch Women's Organization sent her a bouquet of flowers, together with a list of individuals for whom blessings were requested. Setting aside the flowers for the Rebbetzin, the secretary passed on the letter to the Rebbe who, observing that it was addressed to his wife, asked his secretary to give it to her, saying, “She too is capable of giving blessings.”

16. She Passed Away on Shevat 22

A woman prays at the Rebbetzin's resting place.
A woman prays at the Rebbetzin's resting place.

The Rebbetzin passed away on Wednesday, the 22nd of Shevat, 1988, after a brief illness. Her burial took place a few hours afterwards at the Chabad section of Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York. Shortly before her passing, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka requested a glass of water. After reciting the blessing, “...by Whose word all things come into being,” she returned her soul to her Maker.

The date of her passing was later chosen for the annual Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Women Emissaries.

Read: Passing of the Rebbetzin

17. Thousands of Women Are Named for Her

After the passing of the Rebbetzin, the Rebbe requested that little girls be named after her. To date, many thousands of young women proudly bear the name Chaya Mushka, continuing her legacy of devotion and inspiration.

Read: Chayale, Mushka, Mussie...

The facts listed here are mostly found in:
The Life and Times of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka
A Brief Biography of the Rebbetzin
Vignettes of Royalty (Videos)