Monday, May 30, 2016

Rivky Deren Berman a"h

Rivky Berman, a young Chabad-Lubavitch emissary who inspired many throughout her lifelong struggle with illness passed away yesterday at the Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. She was 29.

Born in Stamford, Conn, to Rabbi Yisrael and Vivi Deren, Rivky Deren grew up in an atmosphere where serving Gd with joy and sharing Judaism with others was paramount—even when things were not easy.

Rivky was one of several siblings who were born with Blooms Syndrome. In addition to affecting her growth, the condition caused Rivky to be prone to many illnesses.

Nevertheless, throughout her life Berman maintained a spunky, upbeat attitude and a unique ability to share the hope and joy that defined her life with others, and she did so in blog posts, personal counseling and in every venue available to her.

Reflecting in a video posted to her blog on the medical hurdles she had faced, she maintained, “I dealt with it, I am here, and I have an incredible life . . . I don’t see those things as issues. I see them as challenges. Those are challenges that Gd 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 Gd thought that I can handle it.”…

After a successful lung transplant, she married Rabbi Shmulie Berman in the summer of 2012, and the young couple looked forward to establishing themselves as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, something her family had devoted themselves to since great-grandparents, Rabbi Sholom and Chaya Posner moved to Pittsburgh in the mid 1940’s to head the Chabad educational system in that city…

In 2015, she was found to have lymphoma and was once again admitted to the hospital. Even from her hospital room, she continued to reach out, organize, and serve—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 to often when you walk in and the nurses all scream, ‘Hey Deren! What’s up?’”

Yet, despite her frequent challenges, she said that “my family and I have gone through many difficult times. The teaching of ‘tracht gut vet, zein gut’ [think good, and it will be good] almost became a refrain in our lives…

“Sometimes this is on a simple level: starting your day with the attitude that it will be a good day can actually make that a reality. 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.’”…

In writing to his 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.”

He noted how his sister’s “smile, determination and fierce independence set a new standard of living, for all of us,” and that “the signature of Rivky’s email (and closing line of her Matric Valedictory Speech) was ‘in the end it will all be good, and if it’s not good, it’s not the end.’..

In addition to her parents and husband, Rivky Berman is survived by her siblings, Rabbi Yossi Deren, Rabbi Asher Deren, Rabbi Chezky Deren and Chanie Backman. She was predeceased by her siblings Shlomo Aharon Deren, Blumi Deren, and Rabbi Mendel Deren. 

See video on link
Courtesy of my daughter


  1. Rivky's blog

  2. Rivky’s and Shmuly’s parents were not always supportive of the relationship between their children and became especially resistant to the union after Rivky was diagnosed with bronchiectasis in 2011. Still, the love between the two endured and in August of 2012, a few months after Rivky’s successful lung transplant, the young couple was finally married...

    After complaining for weeks about stomach pain, Rivky was admitted to Duke hospital on Thanksgiving day. Following a period of extensive testing, doctors would finally present her with the diagnosis of lymphoma.

    In February I went to visit Rivky at the hospital and was surprised to find her in her usual high spirits. The week before, Rivky had hosted a Super Bowl party for all her neighbors in dialysis, so her corner room was plastered in Super Bowl decorations, with cardboard football cutouts dangling from the ceiling. There was also food everywhere, in addition to crayons, games, magazines, get-well cards and balloons, jammed into every corner of the room. I learned how to play Rummikub that weekend and did some coloring, which I found to be very therapeutic. Were it not for the team of nurses coming in regularly to check on Rivky’s I.V. wounds and bring her medication, I might have altogether forgotten that we were sitting in a hospital room.

  3. This article is based on a speech given by Rivky (Deren) Berman to a group of young adults shortly after she received a double lung transplant in 2011. Her positivity and intrinsic faith, as well as her love of family and friends, resonate with those who were fortunate to know her and those who did not. She passed away at the Duke University Hospital on May 29, 2016. The talk was adapted by the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative, of which Rivky recently joined as an advisory-committee member.

    My name is Rivky Deren. Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am one of eight children in my family. Four of us, including me, have Bloom syndrome.

    Bloom syndrome is a rare disorder diagnosed in Ashkenazi Jews. The two main features are abnormally short stature and butterfly-shaped facial rashes after sun exposure. Other features may be chronic obstructive lung disease and a high-pitched voice. Another challenge that some people have is asthma, which restricts normal energy for even simple everyday tasks.

    Because of my condition, I am also susceptible to viruses and have landed in the hospital very often. It has come to the point where the ER nurses shout out, “Hey, Deren! What’s up?” when they see me.

    Because of Bloom syndrome I was labeled “different.” Being different in a negative way is not an easy life.

    Life has been a challenge, a very big challenge. Sometimes, I just don’t know if I can continue . . . if I want to continue. And at that moment, that’s when I remember the things about life that help me get through these times; I think about the amazing, loving, supportive family I have. It’s not easy going into the hospital on 30 seconds’ notice. Yet every single time my parents are there, together by my side. My father, with his irrepressible and at times embarrassing sense of humor, asks the doctors who are trying to work on me to give me the biggest needle for my IV because that’s what I love most. My mother helps to get my mind off of what’s going on at that moment by describing long green meadows and the deep blue ocean. She buys me great funky cards that say things like “People who say laughter is the best medicine have never had morphine!”(continued)

  4. (continued)Each of my siblings comes up with everything and anything that would keep me entertained and happy while I have to be in hospital. They constantly drop off a never-ending supply of food. They don’t stop for a minute because as long as they can, they are going to do everything possible to make something so hard just a little bit easier. Why? Because they care and because they love me, and for that, I can’t thank them enough!

    On September 3, 2011, I became a new person! I was given a second chance at life. How so?

    After months of intense testing, searching and physical preparation, I finally received a set of brand-new lungs! I became the recipient of a bilateral lung transplant!

    Going through something like a lung transplant is no simple task. Even though I was told what to expect, I really had no idea of what I was about to experience. I arrived in Durham, N.C., with my mom on May 15, 2011, where we were scheduled to meet with a transplant doctor at Duke University Medical Center. I was excited, yet very scared at the same time. Had I known what it really meant to go through something like this, I don’t know if I would have agreed to it.

    The countless doctor appointments, tests and procedures; the months of eating, sleeping, dreaming, walking and talking “transplant.” Unless you are really motivated, transplant is a process where there is no way a normal human can pull through.

    So what was that motivation that got me through it all and still does today, as the challenges of being a lung-transplant recipient will be with me for the rest of my life?(continued)

  5. (continued)In Chabad Chassidus, there is the well-known Hebrew teaching Moach sholet al ha’lev: “The mind rules over the heart.” Or, at least, the mind is capable of this.

    This relates to another teaching in Yiddish: Tracht gut vet zein gut, which is loosely translated as “Think good, and it will be good.” As many of you may well know, my family and I have gone through many difficult times. Tracht gut vet zein gut became a common refrain in our lives.

    Sometimes, this is on a simple level—starting your day with the attitude that it will be a good day can actually make that a reality. On a deeper level, we are taught that having this kind of bitachon—“trust,” “security” and “confidence” in Hashem—can actually help create the space for the good to happen. Even in situations where it is difficult for human beings with our limitations to see good, 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.

    Another way of saying this is that “everything ends up OK in the end, and if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”

    Psychology can give us the tools if the system needs fixing, but it is Torah, and specifically, Toras HaChassidus, that points us in the right direction and shows us where to go.

    Our very own Rabbi Abraham Twerski tells a story of a man who brought his car to the mechanic. He told the mechanic that practically everything in his car was broken, from the wheels to the gears to the tires to the brakes. The mechanic agreed to fix it for the man.

    When the man returned to pick up his car, he said to the mechanic: “Thank you for fixing it. Now where shall I go with my car?”

    We have the tools to help us connect to G‑d, yet when we encounter a challenge, everything gets numb. You can’t move, you can’t think, you feel alone. There is a drink of water next to you; you pick that glass to take a drink, without thinking about the spiritual side of what you are doing. Yet when you make a blessing and begin to drink, you have just ignited the connection to G‑d.

    When there are times that you can’t even do that, having the mindset of knowing that everything that G‑d does is for a purpose, even though we may not be able to see it right now, is helpful.

    That reassurance that G‑d is always there—guiding and protecting us—relieves the feelings of isolation and loneliness, remobilizing and re-energizing me.

    How do I know that it will be good? Because G‑d always comes through.


  7. This Thursday, the 22nd of Iyar, marks the first Yahrzeit of Rivky (Deren) Berman; family and friends of Rivky are inviting women to the Yahrzeit event in honor of this special day.

    “Rivky was always thinking of other people,” says Devora Lustig, who first met her at Camp Simcha, a camp for children and teens with cancer and other blood disorders. “She was always running around arranging things. 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.”Nevertheless, throughout her life Berman maintained a spunky, upbeat attitude, and had a unique ability to share the hope and joy that defined her life with others. She shared that positive attitude in blog posts, personal counseling and in every venue available to her.

    Lustig adds that “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. In camp, we would sing and dance at every meal, and all the staff would make sure to dance with the campers to try to cheer them up. Even though she herself was a camper, Rivky was up there dancing with others, never thinking of herself as in need of encouragement.

    “Rivky was very good at keeping in touch with people, which was probably one of the reasons why she had so many friends,” continues Lustig. “I remember visiting her in the hospital, and there she was writing a letter to a friend who had just gotten engaged. That was her—always thinking about what she could do to help.”