May 12, 2024
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Rhoda Dermer Speaks at Mikvah Chana Event

Rhoda Dermer, whose husband, Ron, is the Israel ambassador to the United States, was the keynote speaker at the Hotel Westminster in Livingston for the Women’s Annual Gala benefiting Mikvah Chana. Throughout the evening, Dermer and other speakers inspired the 600-strong, women-only audience with their thoughts on the night’s theme of “Passion and Power.”

The night began with a video announcing the construction of a new bridal suite at Mikvah Chana to honor Naomi Rosenfeld, z”l, a young mother of four from Livingston who passed away last year after a courageous battle with breast cancer. Naomi served as treasurer of the ritual bath since its inception, and friends say she put her heart and soul into making it a cornerstone of the Livingston community and a place where all Jewish women are welcome.

Recounting her own journey, Yonna Rosenberg told the audience that when Naomi’s medical condition had precluded her from fulfilling the Jewish laws of ritual purity herself, she would go to support Yonna. “Going with Naomi and watching her pray with a full heart taught me the importance of taking the time for my own deep reflection and prayer,” Rosenberg said. “She taught me to have continued faith, even if the roads we are on may not be the ones we envisioned for ourselves.”

Reflecting on one’s own personal journey, both individually and as part of the global community of Jewish women, was indeed the theme of the night. Rebbetzin Chanie Krasnianski, who co-directs Chabad of the Upper East Side with her husband, spoke about every woman’s responsibility to set the tone in her home, as well as to carry on the traditions of our ancestors and forefathers.

The audience chuckled appreciatively when she related an anecdote about a time her husband unexpectedly brought extra guests home for Shabbat dinner. “It’s always up to you how you react in any given situation: You can be passive-aggressive, you can be angry, you can throw a tantrum or you can laugh,” she said. In this instance, Krasnianski laughed, and said it turned out there was enough food to feed everyone. The fact that she had enough food to feed everyone, she added, could only be described as a miracle.

“We create miracles through our own attitude and our own reactions. We make ourselves a vessel for blessing through our reactions,” said Krasnianski, who also serves as founder/director of Chabad Upper East Side Preschool, Friendship Circle NYC, and the Jacques and Hanna Schwalbe Mikvah.

According to Krasnianski, while each individual soul’s mission on this earth is a mystery, one thing is true for everyone. “You are the only one who can nurture, sustain, warm, light up and nourish your four corners of the world,” she said. “Every Jew that ever lived and every Jew that will ever live is counting on us and there is nobody else that can come into this world and do what your soul can do.”

Closing out the evening, Rhoda Dermer spoke about the obligation to pass the torch to the next generation, particularly when it comes to Israel. She spoke about the land’s history and contrasted today’s modern, well-used mikvahs against ancient, dried-up mikvahs at archaeological sites throughout the country.

“I can’t help but think of the remarkable odyssey of the Jewish people in the land of Israel: the towns and cities that thrived there long ago and the violence and destruction that brought them to an end,” Dermer said. “I think of the long and difficult exile that followed and I think of the return of our people to our ancestral homeland in modern times.” She reflected on what a miracle it is that there are now mikvahs filled with water in a sovereign Jewish state.

The Dermer family made aliyah in 2002, and are currently raising their five children in Jerusalem.

“Everywhere you look in Israel, you see achievement,” Dermer said, noting that in addition to being a hub for Jewish learning, Israel has Michelin-starred restaurants, world-class artists and scholars who have been awarded Nobel Prizes.

But it’s a double-edged sword, said Dermer, because as Israel has thrived, its existence—and its prosperity—have become “the new normal,” making it all too easy for Jews to take it for granted. “We are the generation that has seen the condition of our people transformed from catastrophe to redemption,” she said. “But as our generation moves forward, let us not repeat the mistakes of the past; let us constantly remind ourselves and our children and our grandchildren of how blessed we are to live in a time when there is a sovereign Jewish state.” Israel’s existence, Dermer continued, should unite the Jewish people, but instead issues—such as settlements, the Iran deal and the peace process—divide it.

She concluded her remarks with a fitting instruction for the room full of women who had come to support Mikvah Chana: “Now that we’re back in Israel, it’s up to us to make sure that our mikvahs never run dry again.”

By Rachel Jager

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