(lubavitch.com) Rebbetzin Chava Devorah (Evelyn) Shusterman, a renowned educator and matriarch of the Chicago Jewish community, who served, along with her husband, Rabbi Tzvi Shusterman, as a pioneering emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, passed away Friday, April 16. She was 89.
Born November 29, 1920, in Malden, Massachusetts, to Rabbi Shmaya Krinsky, a schochet, and his wife Etta, Rebbetzin Shusterman grew up as part of a tight-knit Chasidic family at a time when the traditional Jewish world seemed to be unraveling. Orthodox Jews in the Boston area were few in number, and the community lacked the infrastructure to support Orthodox day schools.
Ms. Krinsky, along with her peers, was sent to public elementary and secondary school during the day, and attended the local Talmud Torah in the evenings. The rich Jewish environment of the Krinsky home compensated for the absence of formal Jewish schooling. Years later, Mrs. Shusterman would recall the warmth and love of Jewish life with which her parents imbued her. In particular she remembered the festive Shabbat meals with their lively melodies and Torah discussions that created, for her and her siblings, an island of “utter spirituality.”
Emissaries sent to America by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, to help raise funds for the various Chabad institutions in Europe, were frequent guests in the open Krinsky home, finding a haven of Yiddishkeit in New England. Personalities like Rabbi Yitzchok Horowitz, popularly known as “Itche der Masmid,” Rabbi Shmuel Levitin, and Rabbi Mordechai Cheifitz brought with them stories of Chasidic life across the Atlantic.
After graduating in 1941 from Hebrew College in nearby Roxbury, Massachusetts, Ms. Krinsky returned to teach at the Talmud Torah she had attended in her youth. While teaching, she met her husband-to-be, Rabbi Tzvi Shusterman who arrived in Worcester on instructions from the Rebbe. The young couple married in 1943.
As one of the earliest shluchim, the sixth Rebbe sent the Shustermans from Boston to Rochester, New York, on the very day after the conclusion of the sheva brachot following their wedding. There they opened the Achei Temimim school for boys, and the Beis Sara school for girls. Life in Rochester was difficult as resources were limited and kosher food was at times scarce. In order to procure kosher milk, the couple purchased a pasteurizer to process milk from local farms.
In 1947, the sixth Rebbe instructed the Shustermans to move to Chicago, Illinois, where Rabbi Shusterman was to take up a post at the pulpit. Chicago seemed a world away from family and loved ones in New England and New York. Nevertheless, the couple moved to Chicago’s Uptown-Edgewater area, where the small Jewish community had opened the Agudas Chabad synagogue some years before.
Jewish affiliation in the area was lax, and it was often difficult to put together a minyan. But the young couple was not daunted. From their apartment above the synagogue, the Shustermans opened a Talmud Torah school. Dr. Ira Weiss, today a well-known cardiologist, and former doctor of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was among the first graduating class of the new school. Even today, he recalls fondly an educational experience that extended far beyond the formalities of traditional schooling. Weiss remembers spending many a Shabbat at the Shusterman home, surrounded by warmth.
“Mrs. Shusterman cared for us all,” Weiss recounts. “The students, their siblings and parents — we were an extended family.”
Although “diminutive in size,” says Weiss, Mrs. Shusterman was “immensely powerful in her determination and spirit.”
Ten years after the Shustermans’ arrival to Edgewater the Jewish community had largely transitioned to the Westside of Chicago. In 1958, the Bnei Reuven synagogue, one of the oldest congregations in Chicago, invited Rabbi Shusterman to serve as its rabbi. Although Bnei Reuven had a large traditional membership with over a thousand in attendance for High Holiday services, the synagogue had only recently moved to the West Rogers Park area.
Members had purchased land to be dedicated for a new building, but problems arose with the architect and the Shustermans soon found themselves presiding over a gaping hole in the ground. Forced to start from scratch, they slowly drew supporters from the surrounding Jewish community, and the synagogue was finally built. One of the first synagogues to be erected in the area, it drew curious crowds, and, in 1969, was awarded a prize for its unique architectural design.
Mrs. Shusterman was dedicated to her family and community, yet was also keenly aware of the critical role she played in communal life and, was a strong force for Jewish education and enrichment in her own right. Rallying women in the community behind her, she would convene monthly “Oneg Shabbat” gatherings. Soon, as many as one hundred women would join in Shabbat afternoon get-togethers, for lessons on Jewish thought, conversation and song.
When Mrs. Shusterman noticed that the local mikvah was in a state of disrepair, she formed the Daughters of Israel, an organization still active today. Members went from house to house collecting funds to refurbish the mikvah.
Mrs. Shusterman eventually partnered with her friend and fellow Chicago resident Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Hecht, to found the international, N’shei Chabad, Chabad-Lubavitch’s women’s organization. Not merely a sisterhood or women’s auxiliary, N’shei raised funds for schools and orphanages in Europe and Israel, and took an active role in communal outreach.
Rebbetzin Shusterman taught in the Arie Crown girls’ school for over twenty-five years, and was a teacher at the Lubavitch Girl’s High School for an additional ten years. Aware that the power of teaching was one that went beyond lectures and the classroom, Shusterman was meticulous in her dress and personal conduct. Though the hours of preparing for class and teaching often overwhelmed her already busy schedule, Shusterman felt a great calling in pedagogy. “There’s a certain satisfaction,” she once said, “in knowing that you’ve accomplished something for the future.”
Though Rabbi Shusterman retired from the pulpit in 1998, the couple remained active in the Jewish communal life that they had fostered in Chicago. Even after the passing of her husband in 2001, Shusterman continued to graciously receive guests and counsel those who sought her advice. Family members recall, that even in the face of personal discomfort and ailing health, Shusterman would continue to help those in need — visiting strangers in local hospitals with gifts of food and a listening ear.
Her brother, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Chabad’s educational and social services divisions, Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel, recalls his sister’s tireless efforts to help others. “My sister truly exemplified a life of dedication and service. Everyone who came in contact with her, stranger like family, was welcomed as someone of supreme importance and deserving of her attention. As the consummate teacher for nearly 70 years, she regarded her thousands of students as her own children.”
Rebbetzin Chava Devorah Shusterman is survived by her children, Rabbi Shmarya Shusterman of Chicago, Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman of Monsey, NY, Rabbi Yosef Y. Shusterman of Beverly Hills, CA, Rabbi Mendel Shusterman, of Melbourne, Australia and Mrs. Sori Galperin of Detroit, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and her siblings, Mrs. Rivkah Hecht, Rabbi Yosef Krinsky, Rabbi Pinchas Krinsky, Mrs. Sophie Goodman, Mrs. Yocheved Goldberg, and Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky.