From her birth in British Mandate Palestine to Breslover parents in 1942, to her passing 75 years later this past Wednesday, Rebbetzin Rivka Korf led a remarkable life, during whichi she spearheaded, along with her husband R’ Avrohom Korf, the renaissance of Jewish life in the state of Florida.
Rivka Korf, a pioneering Chabad-Lubavitch emissary who helped inspire the explosive growth of Jewish life throughout Florida for 56 years, passed away on Oct. 18. She was 75 years old.
Born Rivka Eichenbaum in the spring of 1942 in the city of Afula, in Mandate Palestine, to Moshe Chaim and Sara Basia Eichenbaum, adherents of Breslover Chassidism. After immigrating to the United States with her parents, she studied in the Beis Yaakov school system, where she discovered a love and talent for writing and education. In later years, she wrote for the Algemeiner Journal, the popular Yiddish-language newspaper, in addition to other publications.
While living with a Chabad family in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., she met Abraham Korf, a Lubavitcher rabbinical student who had been part of the underground yeshivah system in the former Soviet Union before immigrating to the United States in 1953.
In 1960, the young couple married with the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—officiating the ceremony.
A year later, the Rebbe dispatched them to Miami Beach, Fla. Their long-term goal was to establish Chabad schools and centers, and create an upsurge in Jewish study and practice throughout the state.
Until the 1940s, most of the state’s Jewish residents were concentrated in the northern ocean port of Jacksonville, but migration southward—coupled with an influx of retirees from out of state, and a swell of Jewish immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean—established Miami as Florida’s new Jewish hub. By 1960, the state had about 175,000 Jewish residents.
In a 2010 interview with Chabad.org days before a 50th-anniversary gala event celebrating his and his wife’s launch of Chabad activities in Florida, Abraham Korf recalled that Miami had only three synagogues at the time, while Florida as a whole had just two ritual baths.
When the young couple arrived, milk adhering to the strict kosherstandard known as chalav Yisrael was unheard of. He found a local dairy and supervised the milking of cows himself.
For meat, the rabbi would shecht chickens, and his wife would salt and soak them.
Said the rabbi: “When we first came here, there was no glatt kosher meat, no glatt kosher restaurant, no kosher bakery. Everything we needed, we had to bring or ship or find.”
Teaching Torah, Hosting Shabbatons, Writing Articles
Educationally speaking, while Miami had modern Jewish day schools, they didn’t suit the needs of the growing Korf family. So they started their own, establishing the Landow Yeshiva in 1966, reflecting a take-charge attitude born in part by the rabbi’s experiences learning in secret underground Jewish schools in the Soviet Union.
The fledgling school’s first teacher was Rivka Korf, recalls Judy Mayberg, who, together with her late husband, Morton Mayberg, met the Korfs shortly after their arrival. “For years, she continued to teach in the school, and she was just a dynamo,” says Mayberg, whose children were among the first students.
“It started off with six children,” Rabbi Korf said of the school, “then 32 children the next year, then 67, and then hundreds. As people started hearing about it, it grew.”
Mirroring the growth of other programs, today, under the umbrella of the LubavitchEducational Center, what began as the Landow Yeshiva incorporates a preschool, an elementary school, the Beis Chana High School for Girls and a rabbinical college. The complex serves more than 1,000 students.
Along with the school, the Korfs built a synagogue and a Jewish overnight camp. They both taught Torah. Since the young rabbi did not know English well, he would share with his wife the lessons he planned to teach to college students in Yiddish, and she would teach him the English words to use.
Rivka Korf earned fame for her Saturday-afternoon talks on the weekly Torah portion and the Mishnaic tractate known as Pirkei Avot, as well as her classes on Chumash with the commentary of Rashi. She also taught public-school students about Judaism as part of the Released Time program at Miami-Dade Public High School.
In those years, the Korfs often ran mini-Shabbatons in their home, inviting dozens of college students for conversation, spirited singing and kosher meals. Even decades later, it was not unusual for the Korf Shabbat table to be surrounded by more than a dozen guests. A spirited conversationalist with a keen sense of humor, Rivka Korf made sure that everyone felt at home.
“Anyone who came to her needing help, she was there for them,” says Mayberg. “She was a delight, an inspiration, a happy personality with so much to give to everyone.”
Writing in impeccable Yiddish and English, she wrote numerous press releases and other articles about Lubavitch activities in Florida and beyond.
Over the ensuing decades, the Jewish population in Florida grew fourfold; Florida now boasts the third-largest Jewish community in the United States with about 750,000 Jews. During that period, Chabad centers were established throughout the state; today, nearly 200 Chabad emissaries serve their communities in some 145 locations.
There are few places where Chabad’s influence on local Jewish communities has been more documented than in South Florida.
According to the “2014 Greater Miami Jewish Federation Population Study: A Portrait of the Miami Jewish Community,” some 42 percent of Jewish households with children in Miami-Dade County have engaged with Chabad-Lubavitch programming and, in the case of an even younger age bracket, 47 percent of those under 35 enjoyed involvement with Chabad over that same time period. When factoring in all age groups, including seniors, some 26 percent of Jewish households in the area connected with Chabad, according to the study.
“She was there right alongside her husband since day one,” attests Mayberg. “They were a team. She had many talents, and they all shone in the work they did.”
In addition to her husband, Rivka Korf is survived by her children: Rabbi Yossi Korf (Hollywood, Fla.); Rashi Raices (Postville, Iowa); Shevi Sossonko (Miami Beach, Fla.); Rabbi Benjy Korf (Miami Beach, Fla.);. Leah Jacobson (Brooklyn N.Y.); Mendy Korf Miami Beach (Fla.); Motty Korf ( Miami Beach, Fla.); Rabbi Zalman Korf (Walnut Creek, Fla.); Sari Korf (Miami Beach, Fla.); and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is also survived by siblings Hadassah Plattler, Rachela Itzkowitz and Yosef Mordechai(Joe) Eichenbaum, all of New York.