Rivky Berman, a young Chabad-Lubavitch emissary who inspired many throughout her lifelong struggle with illness, died May 29 in Durham, N.C. She was 29.
Born in Stamford, Berman was the daughter of Rabbi Yisrael and Vivi Deren, regional director for the Fairfield County Chabads.
She was one of several siblings who were born with Bloom syndrome, a genetic disease prevalent among ashkenazic Jews that affects growth and makes those who suffer from it prone to many illnesses.
Despite her physical challenges, Berman, according to a report posted on Chabad.org, remained outgoing and upbeat, sharing her positive outlook on life through blog posts, personal counseling and any other means available to her.
“Rivky was always thinking of other people,” Devora Lustig, who first met Berman at Camp Simchah, a camp for children and teens with cancer and other blood disorders, told Chabad.org. “She was a doer, and nothing could get her down. For example, she and another girl had planned to hold a farbrengen one Friday night. Then that girl suddenly passed away, and we were all heartbroken. The next week, Rivky arranged an even bigger and grander farbrengen in that girl’s memory and invited everyone.”
“Even though she had so many strikes against her, no one thought of her as anything other than normal since she saw herself as just a regular person,” Lustig added.
In a video posted to her blog, Berman reflected on her outlook in the face of so many life-threatening medical hurdles. “I dealt with it, I am here, and I have an incredible life,” she said. “I don’t see those things as issues. I see them as challenges. Those are challenges that God gave me — and anyone else that has that challenge — because He truly believes that I can take that challenge and I will fulfill that challenge … I was given something that only I was given because G‑d thought that I can handle it.”
Following a successful lung transplant, Berman married Rabbi Shmuli Berman in the summer of 2012. According to Chabad.org, the couple focused on establishing themselves as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, in the tradition of her family who have served as emissaries since Berman’s great-grandparents, Rabbi Sholom and Chaya Posner, moved to Pittsburgh in the mid-1940s to head the city’s Chabad educational system.
The Bermans moved to North Carolina, where Rivky had once been hospitalized waiting for her lung transplant. There, they helped with undergraduate programming at Chabad of Duke and were instrumental in the founding of Chabad at North Carolina State University.
In 2015, she was diagnosed with lymphoma and admitted to the hospital. Even then, Berman continued to reach out, orchestrating an entire Purim celebration from the confines of her bed. In a speech, she once joked that “you know you are in the ER way too often when you walk in and the nurses all scream, ‘Hey Deren! What’s up?’ ”Starting your day with the attitude that it will be a good day can actually make that a reality,” Berman said, according to Chabad.org. “On a deeper level, we are taught that having this kind of bitachon — trust and confidence in Hashem — can actually help create the space for the good to happen. And that even in situations where it is difficult for human beings with our limitations to see good, that we can still find even small sparks of sunshine because we are confident that even if not right now, ultimately, Hashem will show us the good so we can see it with our own eyes. Maybe another way of saying this is that ‘everything ends up okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.’”
Despite her illness, Berman remained active, recently joining the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative advisory committee with the hope of advancing inclusion for people with disabilities, and emphasizing the equality and value of everyone in the community.
In writing to friends and congregants about his sister’s passing, Rabbi Asher Deren noted that “in a lifetime that some would describe as pain and illness, Rivky fought back to live a life of joy, celebration, adventure, ambition, fashion, and more than anything, purpose.”
In addition to her parents and husband, Rivky Berman is survived by her siblings Rabbi Yossi Deren (of Chabad of Greenwich), Rabbi Asher Deren, Rabbi Chezky Deren and Chanie Backman. She was predeceased by her siblings Shlomo Aharon Deren, Blumi Deren and Rabbi Mendel Deren.
This article is excerpted in part from a report that appeared on Chabad.org.
CAP: Rabbi Shmuli and Rivky Berman