Esther Feinstein

A Lighthouse Through Stormy Seas

Real sacrifice is allowing your congregant to stay inside the circle without strings attached.

A prisoner’s message of thanks to my family I had the pleasure to see, for including him into our community and allowing him to reconnect to his Jewish roots without feeling shame. 

How different his words were in contrast to a congregant that I’ve fought for, struggled with, and held her in her time of extreme pain and grief. Unfortunately, her words were not with the same tune, tone, and rhythm as the Jewish prisoner’s. I’ve come to accept that sometimes giving is just one-sided, and a simple thank you can be taken out with the trash. 

It was Chanukah, flames bouncing it’s lights, creating shadows on the walls. Blessing, thanks, and warmth burrowed deep inside our Jewish home. A few special guests, loud voices, laughing, singing to outdo each other. An ancient Chanukah tune gave excuse for the sliding, swaying, and dancing with a mountain of different footsteps along the living room floor. The table is set: latkes, baklava, chocolate, farbasin, and eager little faces were excited to be included and able to share with our guests. 

It’s been a few weeks, with time the heart heals itself, and allows one to come close inside it’s inner circle again. “Has it been that long?” I mutter to myself, sipping tea looking at the menorah’s aura, encompassing peace, love and thanks, a feeling that I thought would never sit on my porch again. 

Things haven’t changed, but my outlook and my perspective did. I understood that it wasn’t personal; it was a habit from her past that lashed out at me. The beating hurt: my mind, heart, and the giver soldier within still felt Charlie horse from her roller coaster.

It was playing hide and seek, hot and cold, hopscotch blindfolded. Does one ever in the moment understand behind the scenes? One must allow their child to pull away as if using a rubber band and hope they come back to the hand that fed, nurtured, and cherished them. 

What if she never returned? This Hopelessness, this undertone to a peaceful morning must get left with the tea leaves and poured out as a mere afterthought. As her Rebbitzin, I must always do and think about the difficulties later. I was changing for the better, learning how to grow and forget when the rug gets pulled out from under me. It’s learning how to manage when one is close to you, and suddenly, you’re chewed up and spit out like a piece of bubblegum in a toddler’s mouth. 

A few weeks before, my mind was throwing a tantrum, explosions everywhere, shattered glass surrounded me for miles around; the mood was black, I was having a sit-down with myself but it wasn’t going well. 

The toddler within was devastated and felt neglected, shut out, and ignored. No matter the comforting that was received from loved ones, the sorrow felt too great to reason with, and the black mood crashed over me on all sides. No mercy was shown to my better self; no logical argument could penetrate this monster whose presence kept seeping in, and its impact ignited the lowering of myself to be tempted to contemplate childish behavior.  

It was a constant pushing of these thoughts away, my mind acting like an old grandmother trying to comfort my heart, the weeping toddler. The grandmother won, time and time again. I opened the curtains and allowed peace to prevail, Tanya to seep in and take control once again. 

The lighthouse, there it was but in the distance, it pulled me closer to its warmth, light, and sense of calm. The sea within me had quieted its roar, the waves rested and echoed the Torah approach, which was a way of truth and justice.

A congregant I cherished, nurtured, and gave her the shirt off my back had locked me out and threw away the key. I tried to reason with myself not to feel hurt after all I’ve done for her, but my inner child felt limp, alone, and sad. I argued with myself: it’s about taking the good from each circumstance, each presentation to uphold life, choose light for each situation, and reach for the stars. However my soul felt crushed by her immaturity to ignore me, and she closed the door loudly behind her, which shut me out.

It was my motherly nurturer that owned me, that allowed for this beautiful Jewish soul to be saved. She came to my door broken, abused, and helpless. I took her in when she was on the street. I did not know who she was or the risks involved, but I knew that she was my congregant, a Jewish woman, and a child of G-d. That day we met, we became close, and she stayed for over a month. 

Each day we had our routine: breakfast, Keurig coffee, and beet juice to start our morning. A notebook was placed on the table, and slowly pieces started to form. Hopeful words placed themselves together and ink gave its consent with a permanent stamp. I choose careful steps to work harder on helping her in her life, closing an ugly chapter and allowing a story to open with clearer possibilities.

I remember waving goodbye to her in her packed U Haul, the back-n-forth, up and down the U-Haul ramp my little sons climbed, all in a row accomplished as they felt. As the keys ignited the engine, it was a stand that she was moving forward and not looking back.

“Why couldn’t I let go?” I asked myself. After all, what if she was ignoring me? why couldn’t I just let it go, and not let it eat at me? I made the mistake of being overly helpful. I was trying to help her in Jewish court, Beis Din, but she was reluctant to go, and my eagerness to help pulled away the loose stitching on our new friendship. The snooze button on her phone to ignore me for a few days or weeks was what I taught her in protecting herself from others.

I never imagined that I would be snoozed, overlooked, and messages that I spend time writing and sending were placed on a time out. What approach could I have? It was hard to think clearly when my overeager mother hen was excited to help, but I knew that a different approach was needed.

Each child of mine was so different, how could I expect my congregants to wear the same uniform. Patience, love, and acceptance were needed; as her Rebbitzin, I needed to find the key that fit uniquely for her. The situation struck me that the answer must lay like a strong cup of tea: the longer it has time to brew the better the decision-making would be.

Could the right answer lay in pretending that she wasn’t ignoring me? Perhaps pretending that she was not upset? Would I forget that there wasn’t a whirlwind, a twister stretching for miles? I knew how she reacted, and I knew the mechanism to what she was thinking. I was with her  24/7 for six weeks straight! This Jewish soul I knew! I knew exactly what was going on, but could I pretend that it never happened? 

Could I make peace within myself to do what’s better for mankind? Would I take this child of G-d and love her still, even if she is fighting to retreat to her own comfortable prison, a place where it’s safe arms distance length? Should I show her true peace as a Rebbitzin to her congregant, as a mother to her Jewish daughter? Can I get over myself? Can I get over my ego and humble myself to make the situation G-dly, to make the situation right?

She doesn’t know that I know that she is ignoring me. In her mind, I did everything wrong; I crossed the line! I remember sitting there with a temperature when I was sick with the flu. However, everything was still going on, she needed my help! Blankets piled high, my little heater on, and text message after text message flew from my phone to hers to help her with Jewish court– it was too much, it was too close, and I was shut out.

The messages were perfect in every way. I know that from what I’m used to from my other congregants. She was different though. This congregant needed me even if she continuously closed the door in my face when I tried to help. She needed me to get over myself, my bruised ego, and to not feel insulted, but needed me to just care. 

It was the only answer: I had to pretend that this game of ignoring me, this game of shutting me out was not happening, but just a trick of the mind. The kindness I’ve learned within my years of shlichus taught me to love, to take the next moment to move on from negativity, and keep within me the approach of “how can I still help.”

I’m her rebbitzin, I’m her shlucha, emissary. How can I help her? In what way could I bring my lantern close? I reflected on this concept, and I knew it was the only answer and the only way to still connect strongly with a daughter of Sarah, Rivka, Rochel, and Leah.

The decision was made, and I slowly wrote the words, “ Hi, how is everything? How did Beis Din go?” knowing that a week passed, and she wasn’t going to Beis Din. Everyone was crossed off her list and me too. I sent her a Jewish music video and a few emojis to uplift her spirits. At the end of the day, everything was her choice, her decision to what she chose to do and whom she chose to stay friends with. 

My choice was to choose to keep close to my congregant in need, help her in her time of need or just her regular life activities. I’m her Rebbitzin first, and the rules must include concealed sacrifice. Breaking the barrier of what includes the norms of a relationship, going beyond and above what’s expected to become the unexpected, this concept is truly living: that is sacrifice and loving your fellow as one’s self.

About the Author
Born in New York state into a family on Shlichus, Esther was formally trained in Chabad institutions in America and Canada as an educator and community leader with the lifelong goal of helping an under-served Jewish populace. She and her husband, along with their children, have been serving the local community, as well as the Northeast Wisconsin region, for over a decade, providing for any and all needs of everyone's personal journey with G-d. Her recently released book - "The Lamplighter: Experiences of a Chabad Rebbitzin" - chronicles these experiences and is available for purchase through Mosaica Press at
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