By: Riva Cohen
Born in Tashkent to observant parents in 1946, deep in Central Asia and under the oppressive rule of the Soviet Union, Riva Rivkin was far removed from any major Jewish centre. New York City, some 16,000 kilometres to the west, was where the Chabad-Lubavitch movement was based. Shortly after her birth her parents together with other followers of the movement made their way to Poland from where many made their escape from behind the Iron Curtain.
After some years as refugees in Paris, the family arrived in New York City in January 1953, drawn almost irresistibly to the centre of their spiritual world. Riva had never attended school and spoke only Yiddish. One year later, in Philadelphia, Riva began her schooling determined to learn English and to succeed in her studies. With the move to high school, Riva relocated once more – this time to New York City to attend a religious Jewish high school where, as she progressed through school and university, she exhibited a natural talent for teaching.
In 1974, Riva and her husband Rabbi Binyomin Cohen were encouraged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to join in his work of worldwide outreach and education by accepting a call from Melbourne – approximately 16,000 kilometres south-west of New York City – to become his emissaries. Encouraged by the results of their work and empowered by the knowledge that they are continuing the Rebbe’s work, Riva and Binyomin remain steadfast in their mission.