Esther Feinstein

The Queen of the Virgin Islands

A heroine is in plain sight

There is nothing like sisters hugging sisters! The regional kinus felt like a  big family with a wise leader at the helm. Our greater shluchim family had recently suffered a personal tragedy, and we all felt helpless. Words echoed on one’s  lips, which played in circles on each one’s  mind: “Praying for a miracle.” 

 As a group, we stood kinder, gentler, and more in tune with how each of us felt, letting the usual pettiness fall freely off our shoulders so that we could gather together as a fortified unit. 

My head Rebbitzin was missing because she was more needed at her daughter’s bedside; I agreed, as did the group, but it didn’t take away the feeling that we lacked from seeing her empty chair. My eyes swept the room, missing her energy, positivity, and great problem-solver abilities. I usually feel that when all of the sisters’ shluchos come, she helps each one of us to place the puzzle pieces within our lives in their rightful spots.

 She electrifies one by giving one Chizik; this strengthens one for the rest of the year. 

The tragedy was terrible! It’s all that fills my mind these days. Coming back home, I sat at my desk with my mind searching for answers. I traced my steps to find all the stories that I’d heard about the Queen of the Virgin Islands. Imagining her day, I felt myself lost in thought; the desk disappeared, and all I could think of was the mitsvos and energy that took place for the island to come alive. The devoted emissaries, she and her husband, had readied themselves to serve their community. I imagined a day in her life; her voice, so sorely missed, rekindles itself by her remembered stories:

The water bounces like a rippling effect trying to catch my attention; as the sun makes its stand in the sky, the sweet rays overturn the night. Looking at the Chanukah candles that left their remnant, the smiling faces and loud Chanukah melodies had made such a peaceful exit waiting for the new day’s candle-lighting mitsvah to begin. 

It was peaceful watching the sunrise, just around five, enjoying a strong cup of coffee, and being thankful for the simple things in life. I angled my ears, anticipating my crowd and awaiting the pitter-patter of energetic footsteps of many coming to greet their mommy. 

I shook my head; it was just a bird tapping at the window, and the children still slept through this surprise of a beautiful new day. A few more minutes, I tell myself, still enjoying the sunrise. I wondered what this new day would bring: all the chaos, fun, and G-dly energy ready to plant and replant for the island. 

In the hours of schlepping, shvitzing, kindling, and rekindling friendships, strengthening the community’s bond, the chaos suits us well, and the family is alive and happy to serve. We help and bond with Jewish brethren, and Chanukah Menorahs are given out: packages, baskets, and love pour from the littlest to the biggest emissaries’ souls. 

People are touched, mitsvos partnered with many, feeling invigorated, alive with so much to do to finish this beautiful holiday. 

My son bounces in to retell a story that he just encountered about the merits of shluchim. The story of giving: Chanukah candles and menorahs are enthusiastically handed out, even to a ship of many who are not so attuned with their spiritual side and place G-d in their pocket for most of the day. It holds them upright and encourages them to get real with G-d and kindle one’s connection. 

 This holiday awakened the pintele yid, and the feeling of gratitude that our son made that reaction happen. Acknowledging this moment. This was a successful day of shlichus that the Rebbe would be proud of! 

Just then my phone buzzed, and I answered the call. A woman visiting the island wanted to come to the Mikvah. Was there a Mikvah on the island? Where was it?  Like the many women before her, she needed the prep, the love, the gentle embrace, and the kind words. 

Pushing the right words out, “There is a wonderful Mikvah here! It’s actually not man-made but G-d-made. Its location is the ocean.” My voice trailed off, but not letting my words stay frozen, I continued with bated breath and extra cheery character, “I’m excited to share this mitzvah with you.”

The panting on the other side, the stirring within her, it was to me her rebbetzin listening to her soul, as one listens to the ocean from the large sea shells. The noise was muffled, and that is when I heard her hesitation; like so many before her, I worried for her. 

Could she do it? Could this Jewish woman choose to be G-dly or go down the dark tunnel of sin? The ocean wasn’t glamorous, but it was here. I gently coaxed her along on her beautiful journey. She would be doing the mitzvah, which partners with her Creator in a very deep and profound way. 

She was late! Pacing myself, it was only fifteen minutes, but  my nerves went there, would she back out? I held my breath. It was a long day, but my eagerness to give, do, and embrace had won out, and I decided to wait and get comfortable. 

I pushed away the mosquito that whispered on my shoulders of tall tales of how things won’t work out. I swatted him away and embraced the unknown with my signature approach, “Go do first, and think later.”  

I finally see her car, and she steps out to quickly meet with me. We both stepped into the night. She was muttering and nervous and wasn’t sure if she could do it. I hugged her for a long while, a complete stranger, but one unit, one soul, one heart, and deep down the same, K’eish Echad B’lev Echad.

I lowered her into the water and held her hands until she told me to let go. She did this mitzvah, bringing heaven down to earth and making it G-dly. There in the dark of night, the Mikvah waters held upright, and she whispered blessings to the family, the community, and the world. 

The next day we sat for coffee, and she sincerely thanked me for my patience, kindness, and understanding. Taking her time to finish her coffee and allowing herself to gather her thoughts, she explained, “I worked hard on this mitzvah of Mikvah. However, nothing prepares one for going to immerse in the ocean!” 

The words mentioned softly and fluttered as butterflies around us: “I could do anything, but an ocean, how could I do it?” 

Taking the time to gather her thoughts, she said, “If you didn’t help me last night go to the Mikvah, I would have sinned terribly, and perhaps it would have boomeranged, and then I could have been discouraged from going in general. Thank you, Rebbitzin! Thank you for lighting my candle and being the flame to make me burn bright!” It was with those words that she slowly got up to leave. 

I continued on the Chanukah schedule of baskets, packages, mivtzoim booklets, and handouts for the family to help me give out to the newcomers, familiar faces, and those slowly coming off the fence and warming up to their traditions and family values. 

I imagined this being a glimpse into the Queen of the Virgin Islands day, but I was neglecting hundreds of instances of goodness, faith, love, kindness, and her deep passion for always helping. 

My thoughts focused on the bitter aftertaste. I admitted to myself that when times feel hard, a form of poetry calls the mind rather than regular words, and some statements flow freely: It was a tragedy like no other, a heartbreaking story that hangs in the air, no budging, no moving; only hope becomes our fresh air. A family like no other, a special group, a close group of shluchim, emissaries who give over life to bring those closer. A heroine in disguise.

 Most now know of her great character and royal traits, in which her perseverance is like none other. Her terrible accident awoke the world to her great heights of chesed, self-sacrifice, and motherhood, which few are able to ponder on the magnitude, let alone achieve it. 

It’s the friendship and support from an emissary that can be able to bring a smile, a laugh, and a hope that many lines become crossed over.

Scrolling through the stories about her, it boldly came out that her ocean was her Mikvah. A silent and private decision to take the community role and to understand that the mikvah spa-like experience was not to be hers.  It was her energy and passion to look at the positivity in life, and she gently rose to the occasion to help many Jewish women continue to keep the mitzvah of  Mikvah

People realized she wasn’t an ordinary person: It became an international crisis, an international investigation because it was understood she was the princess of her community. Sadly, it seems that the tragedy is laid out and sprawled out for all to see.

 Instead, I thought to myself that it gives one a chance to get to know her, and when she wakes up, she will be able to share her incredible counts of Mesiros Nefesh with everyone. 

Instead of the tragedy that happened becoming the story, rather the Queen of the Virgin Islands is the story: the woman behind the Rabbi, the woman behind her community, and the woman behind the family. One of the most remarkable points of the shlucha, the queen of her community, and all behind the scenes, is the warmth, light, and vibrant energy. 

 When I first thought about what had happened, I understood that she was chosen by divine providence to be singled out, hopefully getting better, for us to relate to what a heroine she is and the great sacrifices and progress that she made in her shlichus. Some of us forget or take for granted how incredible the shluchim are. 

My thoughts that come to mind are this tragedy cannot become her, but her electrifying energy- this is her. This is the Queen of the Virgin Islands. It’s a temporary time when the world can get to understand who she really is. The different stories pour in, in which one sees her gentleness and excitement to help roll up her sleeves and a home that she created within her community. 

A powerhouse of faith, love, and appreciation for others, she makes you go when you can’t move anymore. This is the type of woman that she is: a star in the darkness, moving mountains, and when it seems impossible, the impossible feats keep on climbing.  The more that I hear stories about her, the more I witness people’s tears and hope; then, getting to know her went global. 

It’s more of an understanding of who she is after the accident than before. This is not defining her but acknowledging a heroine in plain sight. One loses out when they don’t hear about these incredible Rebbetzins. It’s these Rebbetzins, their self-sacrifice, no complaints when life warrants it, because for them, there isn’t even a question. They want to help, move mountains, bring life, kindness, faith, and community to their place on shliuchus- no matter how impossible that it might seem. The story is her and not the tragedy. It’s her embrace of life and turning over the world to make a place for G-d.

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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