Rebbetzin Chaya Mushkah Schneerson (born 1901), wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, passed away on the 22nd of Shevat of the year 5748 (1988). An erudite and wise woman, she carried the mantle of her revered and exalted position in a most humble and unpretentious fashion.
Born in Babinovitch, near the Russian city of Lubavitch, she lived in Lubavitch until the autumn of 1915 when due to World War I, she and her family were forced to flee to Rostov. In 1920, on the passing of her grandfather, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, her father became the sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch. In the Spring of 1924, due to increasing dangers for the Jews in Rostov she and her family moved to Leningrad. In the autumn of 1927 her father was imprisoned in 1927 for disseminating Torah observance, and she participated in efforts to have him released that were ultimately successful. After his release, the Schneersohn family left the Soviet Union and moved to Riga, Latvia.
In 1928 she married Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson in Warsaw, and they went to live in Berlin, Germany, where he studied in the local University. After the Nazis came to power in 1933 they fled to Paris, France. When the Nazis invaded France in 1941 they managed to escape from France on the Serpa Pinto, which was the last boat to cross the Atlantic ocean before the U-boat blockade began. They settled in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York, where many Lubavitcher Hasidim had already settled. However, her younger sister Shaina and Shaina’s husband, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Horenstein were trapped in Poland and murdered by the Germans in the gas chambers of Treblinka.
In 1950 her father died. According to the Chabad biography, Rabbi Menachem Mendel initially did not want to take on the mantle of leadership, but Chaya Mushka (along with many of her father’s Hasidim) persistently urged him to reconsider, and in 1951 he was formally appointed as the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka had no children, however once, when a child visiting her house asked her, “where are your children?” she answered, “the Chassidim are my children.”
Gracious and courteous to everyone, she saw her role as wholly subordinate to her husband’s mission of Jewish leadership. In public, she always referred to him as “the Rebbe.” When she relayed an answer from him to those seeking his guidance, she always repeated his exact wording and made sure that the listener knew it, invariably refusing either to interpret or elaborate upon his advice. She resisted efforts among the Lubavitchers to bestow public honors on her.
During the court case held against her husband over ownership of the Chabad library, Chaya Mushka testified for the federal court, saying, “My father, my husband, along with all his books, belong to the Chassidim.”
Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka passed away on February 10, 1988, after a brief illness, and was buried in the Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York, next to her mother, Rebbetzin Nechama Dina, and grandmother, Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah, and near her father.
After her passing, her husband immediately founded a charitable organization in her name. The organization, Keren Ha’Chomesh (Chomesh is an acronym of Chaya Mushka Schneerson), serves a variety of causes, primarily those related to women’s religious social and educational programs. A campus of the Bais Rivka girls’ school (“Campus Chomesh”) was also named in her memory, as were many other institutions. After her passing, when the Rebbe was asked about the extent of the Rebbetzin’s greatness, he remarked, “Only Hashem knows.”
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Video: Take to Heart — the events following the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson
Video: The Life and Times of The Rebbetzin