I always wanted my home to be a place of chesed,” explains Rifkie Muskat. Rifkie is a beloved fixture in Chicago’s frum community, where her weekly “Tuesdays with Rifkie” lunchtime events, which feature homemade baked goods and other treats, as well as words of Torah and other presentations from Chicago educators and rebbeim, are the highlight of the week for many of the Chicago community’s elderly women.
With young children at home in Chicago, as well as grown children living in Israel, Rifkie is constantly busy. In fact, she recently traveled to Jerusalem to welcome her latest granddaughter, and found herself stuck there due to airline cancellations because of COVID-19. Amid the pressure of trying to make arrangements to return home, Rifkie spoke with me about her long-running “Tuesdays with Rifkie” and how she’s continuing this crucial program now, during the COVID-19 pandemic:
I grew up in Bayit V’Gan in Jerusalem, a beautiful neighborhood that is home to many tzaddikim, rabbanim and talmidei chachamim; it was a wonderful place to live. I remember my childhood as idyllic: The neighborhood kids and I, as well as my four siblings, seemed to always be in each other’s houses. Our mothers would take turns cooking dinner; each evening they’d take turns dropping off home-cooked meals for each other to enjoy. We children would spend time playing outside, enjoying nature, then go home and get cleaned up before heading over to our neighbors and friends for dinner and more play.
My parents are both originally from Philadelphia; they moved to Israel to explore their Yiddishkeit, and they met each other in Israel and married there. Growing up, I attended Bais Yaakov in Jerusalem both for elementary school and high school. After high school, I attended Gateshead Seminary. Even though I was an Israeli girl, I was also the child of Americans, and I’d grown up in a very multicultural neighborhood where there were people from all over, including the United States, Europe, and South Africa. I realized that studying in Europe would help me gain a sense of maturity. It did. Those three years taught me a lot. There were girls from all over the world, and studying in Gateshead really gave me the opportunity to understand different nationalities and different temperaments. Of course, the rebbeim and teachers there were wonderful, too. I learned enriching life lessons that I still carry with me today.
Afterwards, I returned to Jerusalem, and it’s there that I really found my life’s passion: working with the elderly.
I was working in high-tech and also studying fashion in design school. I thought I was going to be a fashion designer; my mother’s an artist and I’ve always had an artistic bent. But Hashem always has a plan, and for me it wasn’t in fashion or technology. A friend of mine was expecting, and she asked me if I’d mind taking over her job for a while after she had the baby. My friend was working in geriatrics, helping an older woman in her home. At first I said no, I have no experience in geriatrics. But then the more I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t strictly true.