In this feature by Dvora Lakein, From Park Slope to Pudong, Lubavitch International profiled six women serving as Chabad emissaries in disparate places. Like their personalities, their circumstances are strikingly different to each other; some with children, some without, and some with extreme challenges. Whatever the “cards” that have been dealt them, these women play the hand with refreshing grace and confidence, offering an illuminating contrast to the noisy politics of our day.
Chavie Bruk moved to Bozeman, Montana with her husband Chaim in 2007. Their community has grown steadily since and so has their family, but not in the most conventional of ways. Chavie readily shares her story to make others know that they “don’t have to go through it alone, that they aren’t alone.”
DL: You grew up as the child of emissaries in S. Antonio, Texas, so this can’t be very different for you.
CB: Well every city is so different: just because it worked in San Antonio, doesn’t mean it would work here. There are approximately 500 Jewish households in Bozeman. That means that at least one member of the home is Jewish (there is a high rate of intermarriage). We have all the typical functionings of a regular Chabad House, but on a smaller scale. My husband and I both study with people individually throughout the week. Instead of running a traditional Hebrew School, I tutor two children every Wednesday and then they and their mother join us for dinner. Our women’s programs are particularly successful. Project Dignity is the social services arm of our center. We are there for our fellow Montanans, Jew or non-Jew, in any way they may need. If someone is suffering an illness, is homeless, needs financial support, they call us. We have a special fund that we can tap into to help our neighbors. In a way, when you live in a small city, you can have a bigger impact.
DL: You’ve got an unconventional family that just grew by one more child. Tell us about your children.
CB: Yes, Courtney, our eldest, joined our family four months ago. So now we have three daughters ages 12, 7, and 6 and a three-year-old son. Our kids are adopted. We try to tap into each of our children’s strengths and loves. Courtney loves horseback riding and running track. She is learning more about Judaism and a religious lifestyle at home with us and with an online tutor. Our seven-year-old, Chaya, is wonderful. She is a deep thinker, always figuring things out. In first grade now, she loves to swim and do gymnastics. Every morning before school, you will find Zeesy, six, doing puzzles and arts and crafts. She is doing wonderfully at a Montessori school. Zeesy has Glut-1 Deficiency Syndrome and requires a very specific medical diet that is carefully weighed and measured. And then there is Menny. He is very energetic, very noisy, fun, and very, very happy. In general, everyone gets along great and is happy. When issues crop up, and they do, we talk things through and work things out.
DL: What is Glut-1 Deficiency Syndrome and how does this affect her and the family?
CB: It is a very rare genetic metabolic disorder. Only 500 people in the world are diagnosed with it. The main source of energy for the brain is glucose. In Zeesy’s case, the transporter required to bring the glucose from the bloodstream to the brain (the Glut-1) is deficient. And thus, for the first five years of her life, her brain was lacking the energy source to thrive. There are no specialists here, so we traveled to a top pediatric neurologist in New Jersey who diagnosed her with epilepsy and then sent us on this journey of genetic disorders. It took a long time until she was properly diagnosed. Now that we know what Zeesy has, we can help treat it, though there is no cure. She is on a strict Ketogenic diet: her ratio of fat to everything else is very high. A typical meal is a little tuna with a lot of mayonnaise, washed down with heavy cream and a couple of cherry tomatoes on the side. It takes me six hours each Sunday to prepare a week’s worth of meals for her, and it took six months to see results, but now, thank G-d, it is all coming together. She has shown great development in the last year, and though she will always be delayed, you wouldn’t know it looking at her or talking with her.
DL: Your community observes your devotion to all four of your kids. If you could imagine the adoptions through their eyes, what do you think they would say?
CB: We have used these circumstances to teach others about the importance of Divine providence and making the best of what we have. Look, every rabbi and rebbetzin have their challenges, though they aren’t always as public as not having biological children. When they see us struggling with this major issue, but not letting it define us, I think it makes a real impression. Not to say we don’t have bad, terrible days. We do. But it makes people more comfortable when they see us living positively. It helps them believe they can do it too. It’s what we preach, but first it’s what we do.
DL: How do your children relate to your shlichus?
CB: When my husband has to do something, I always tell him to take the children. Kids can accomplish so much more than adults, with so many fewer words. My kids are in local schools. They are always teaching and informing their teachers and classmates about upcoming holidays or Jewish practices. Chaya explains everything to everybody. Shabbos is a huge production here and our children are at the center of it, making guests feel comfortable around the table. When people see little kids living the life, praying, for example, it is so very inspiring.
DL: You mentioned that you grew up in a large family and expected to raise a large family yourself until you realized that things weren’t happening as planned.
CB: I grew up in a big family and I always wanted a ton of kids (I still do!). When we found out that we couldn’t have children biologically, I accepted that, but I didn’t accept that we would never be parents. Every child who has come into our life is meant to be with us. We have so much to give them. It happens to everyone all the time; things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes it’s minor stuff, sometimes it’s big, like the infertility, special needs, and medical challenges we face. We all have to learn the skills to adapt. It’s a cliche, but cliches are usually true. When life gives you lemons, you can make lemonade or live with lemons. But who wants to live with lemons?
DL: How do you encourage other women who are experiencing infertility?
CB: I am not an expert, but because we went the unconventional route, we have become the go-to people for this. One of the reasons I am so open about our situation is because when we were facing this challenge, we were alone in our desire to adopt. I decided to share because so many people are going through the same thing. People shouldn’t think they should be silent or not complain. Open up, let others be there for you. We pioneered the adoption world in our community, and now we are here for anyone who needs help. Don’t do it alone. You don’t have to do it alone. You are not alone.