A Tremendous Loss

Ronit Sherwin


Our St. Louis community and the larger Jewish world suffered a tremendous loss last week with the passing of Rebbetzin Paula Rivkin.  It is difficult, and truly impossible, to fully capture the person that was the Rebbetzin Paula Rivkin.  She was kind, loyal, extremely intelligent, generous, funny, perceptive, devout, faithful, G-d fearing and G-d loving, and most notably loving of all humanity.  She and her husband the Rabbi Sholom Rivkin were a mighty and unique team of Rabbi and Rebbetzin.  The stories of their compassion and kindness are infinite and will hopefully be shared for years to come as inspirations for us all.


I want to share some thoughts specifically about the Rebbetzin, whom I called Paula, my friend.  Paula was the kind of person whom many people considered to be their best friend.  She talked with you as if you were the only person in the world at that moment.  She listened.  She cried.  She felt what you were feeling and she did so deeply.  She was also tremendously funny and had a great love for chocolate and good literature.  Paula was also sad and lonely.  She missed her husband, despite his physical presence.  She felt abandoned and she felt hurt.  She struggled to get out of bed on many days, even before her illness.  The events of the world and the ways in which we treat each other saddened Paula.  Like you and I, Paula was human and suffered the same vulnerabilities as each of us.


At the same time, Paula was not like most in that she did not pass judgment on other human beings.  She was a religious woman who lived according to traditional Jewish laws and practices.  Such a lifestyle can easily translate into engaging with only others in that world, but not Paula.  Her friends were as diverse as they were numerous.  She learned from each of them and also believed her relationships with others existed to challenge her how to live as a Jew and a human being.


Rebbetzin Paula Rivkin was one-of-a-kind, literally.  And it is a kind that we need more of in our Jewish community and in the world.  Like many others, I feel a tremendous personal loss and sadness over Paula’s death.  I also feel shame and guilt.  Did I really appreciate the enormity of the person that she was?  Did I do enough for Paula?  Why is it that there are not more people like Rebbetzin Paula Rivkin in our Jewish community and in our world?  May her memory serve to inspire all of us to pursue justice and to be tolerant and loving of each other.  Amen.