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Devora Shaffer

Oral history interview conducted by Jill Vexler

October 26, 1993

Call number: 1994.006.29

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JILL VEXLER: This is an oral history with Devori Shaffer, Tuesday, October 26 at Jill Vexler's apartment, and the noise in the background is a demonstration by New York taxi drivers for more lenient rules with the TLC. Hi, Devori. So, we've established that you speak in English? Do you speak in any other languages?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I speak a bit of Yiddish and I understand some Hebrew.

JILL VEXLER: How did you learn Yiddish?

DEVORA SHAFFER: My parents spoke to me in Yiddish when I was growing up.

JILL VEXLER: Any classes?


JILL VEXLER: Nothing in school, in Yiddish?


DEVORA SHAFFER: No, because most of my class all spoke Yiddish from home, so -- we came across a lot of Yiddish in school, but we never had a professional Yiddish class.

JILL VEXLER: But the boys had some classes in Yiddish, right?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think the boys speak in Yiddish all the time.

JILL VEXLER: Let's work backwards, in school. Where are you in school now?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I just graduated high school and I'm going to a teachers' seminary right now.

JILL VEXLER: What are the names of the schools?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Beth Rivkah, they're both Beth Rivkah.

JILL VEXLER: The seminary is Beth Rivkah, too?


JILL VEXLER: For whom is Beth Rivkah named?


JILL VEXLER: The first Rebbe's wife?

DEVORA SHAFFER: No, no, no. I don't think so.

JILL VEXLER: Oh, as in Rivka, from the Bible?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Right. Sarah, Rivkah and Rachel.

JILL VEXLER: Rachel. Rebecca, right. And you went through Beth Rivkah since first grade? Is there kindergarten?


JILL VEXLER: What grade does that start?

DEVORA SHAFFER: It starts from kindergarten. I don't think there's a preschool. 2:00There's a kindergarten.

JILL VEXLER: For four and five, the primary?

DEVORA SHAFFER: And then there's a pre-lA, for five, and then first grade, six, and so on.

JILL VEXLER: And all the way through, what's the curriculum? Jewish studies?

DEVORA SHAFFER: We always had, from 8 to 12, Hebrew studies, and from 12 to 4, English studies.

JILL VEXLER: So your school day is from 8 to 4. Were there after school lessons?

DEVORA SHAFFER: It was only by choice. A few years, during high school, once a week we had an hour after school, if we wanted to attend.

JILL VEXLER: Elective, optional. What would some of those topics have been?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Just extra learning. What the Rebbe said, some things that the Rebbe said. Sometimes we had, one year we had, just for a few weeks, a place 3:00where we could all come and do our homework together.

JILL VEXLER: One of your sisters told me she was studying-- one told me she was studying French. And another told me she was studying conversational Hebrew. Is that extra extra?

DEVORA SHAFFER: That's home.

JILL VEXLER: That's at home? So it's with a tutor?

DEVORA SHAFFER: That's right.

JILL VEXLER: In high school, I was talking with a girl who is I guess a little younger than you about taking the regents and encouragement to go into university or beyond seminary, beyond Beth Rivkah. And I was just wondering what 4:00your take on the encouragement to go beyond Jewish studies, or beyond seminary, is, for girls.

DEVORA SHAFFER: In studying?

JILL VEXLER: In studying, or in pursuing a career.

DEVORA SHAFFER: Well, as it happens, most of the girls who graduate Beth Rivkah High School go to Beth Rivkah Seminary or one of the schools associated with Beth Rivkah Seminary, one of the other seminaries out of the country. And they're all teacher seminaries, so a big percentage of the girls go into teaching, and they teach in the community or in Boro Park, Williamsburg, all over.

JILL VEXLER: What would the subject matter be? Just the range of topics that you would learn to be proficient in teaching, or the one you would prefer to teach in?

DEVORA SHAFFER: You mean in seminary? What our subjects are, basically? Well, a lot of it is just higher learning. We go back to some of the bibles that we learned when we were younger, and we go deeper and deeper, what it really means, 5:00not just superficially. Not just what the words mean, but what they actually mean, very deeply what they mean. And that helps us. So that's not really for teaching, but we have that some of the day, part of the day, and then some of the day we have lessons. We have a teacher who actually was my kindergarten teacher, she teaches us, now. And she just tells us different points. She comes in and she has lists and lists of points, and she just tells us, instead of making this arts and crafts, that doesn't develop any coordination, so if you do this with the pipe cleaners beause it's good exercise their fingers. Things that we would never think of, but since she was teaching for so long, she knows these things. And that's also good for girls who don't go through college, who just go directly into teaching. Because they don't take those courses on early childhood development.

JILL VEXLER: So there's early childhood development and the curricular, or the 6:00classroom application?


JILL VEXLER: Personally, from home, from your own schooling, your own goals, what do you want to do in education? What do you think you want to do, and where do you want it to take you?

DEVORA SHAFFER: In education?

JILL VEXLER: Well, informal education.

DEVORA SHAFFER: Myself? I want to finish this teacher's seminary, and I'm also taking classes at Touro College, so I'm not sure exactly how far I want to go, but I want to get some sort of degree.

JILL VEXLER: Touro is only for women?

DEVORA SHAFFER: It has separate days for women and men.

JILL VEXLER: And it's sponsored by, it's Jewish, right?


DEVORA SHAFFER: Yes. It's all religious girls and boys.

JILL VEXLER: But it's a full curriculum?


JILL VEXLER: What are you taking at Touro?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Right now I'm taking statistics and English composition.

JILL VEXLER: Oh my goodness. As we say, chacun á son goût to you. I was always afraid to take statistics. One of the things that adults have frequently told me is how well prepared to enter the secular curriculum boys and girls are who have very strict Torah studies, and discipline in Torah analysis, for the secular curriculum. How do you see the interplay, the interchange, between the two types of curriculum, how is one fed off the other?

DEVORA SHAFFER: That's hard.


JILL VEXLER: Also because you're kind of right in it, right now, it's not like you're looking back on it. These are all women who are looking back on their training and preparation. But as someone who's kind of right in it--

DEVORA SHAFFER: How do I think it's going to help me?

JILL VEXLER: Yes, or how would you see how your training in Jewish education has an application?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think that all my secular studies always, I've felt, whatever I learned, whenever I learned, I always thought, in my mind, how is that going to help me? For instance, when we were learning history, I would always think, where did that fit in in the Jewish history we were learning? What happened at that time? I don't know, my Hebrew studies always came way before my English studies. It wasn't emphasized-- neither were emphasized more. My parents were always very strong in secular studies as well, but I always felt that my Hebrew studies would get me, they would help me more to be myself. They were deeper.


JILL VEXLER: For identity. When you talk with your girlfriends about-- I don't know that you do, but I assume that when you talk to your girlfriends somehow your parents' emphasis, and their parents' emphasis on different things must pop up in a conversation, or at least in high school must have. Where do your parents and your family land in relationship to secular or general studies, and Jewish studies?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Whenever I speak to my friends, my parents, I'm always the one 10:00that's parents are the most interested and into the secular studies. It's always that way. I think my parents feel that I'm getting a good Hebrew education, or as best as I can get, but the English education, somehow, is always lacking. There's always something that's not quite right.

JILL VEXLER: What do other parents say? How do your friends--?

DEVORA SHAFFER: A lot of people in our community think that we just need to get a basic secular education, but that it's most important to spend as much time as you can on your Hebrew studies. So they're just happy if we get our high school diplomas.

JILL VEXLER: How does that land in the difference between boys, emphasis for boys, in comparison with emphasis for girls?


DEVORA SHAFFER: There is a Halacha in the Torah that says that when boys, I'm not exactly sure, I can't quote, but I remember hearing this over and over again, that whatever time boys don't spend learning Torah, it's btul zman, it's wasting time. So it was always most important for the boys to spend all day learning Torah, and most people supplement that, they either give their boys lessons themselves, or they send them to lessons at night, for English.

JILL VEXLER: But I guess, just on a gut level, without any judgment, what does it feel like to read something that talks about a man's time, or boy's time, in comparison with the value of a woman's time. What does it say about what makes 12:00it worthwhile, or what is worthwhile, for your same 24 hours a day?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I always felt that, this is just what my feelings were, really, but that boys, I see my brothers are very easily swayed. My brother could be reading about something, and that's absolutely his opinion. This author wrote this, whatever it was, and that's what he thinks, that's the absolute way. I think that girls have, I think we have a better stand, or people that I know, 13:00and we're able--

JILL VEXLER: What does "a better stand" mean?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Besides just what I'm reading at the time, or what I've read, I think -- not that they don't think for themselves, and the women do, not at all, I'm not generalizing like that. But just that I'm thinking that I could just throw the book away and think, "It's nonsense," or, "He has a nice point, but I totally disagree." Even if he has terrific points all along. I don't know, it was always a thing, it was always something talked about, why is it that boy's time is more, you could say "precious," however you want to put it, that they know exactly what they have to do every minute. We always talked about that, but it's also that women have different jobs, they have different responsibilities.

JILL VEXLER: To use that as a transition into the other area I wanted to talk to you about, actually there are three general topics which I should have said at the beginning. I wanted to talk about schooling, and what you're doing now and what you think you'll do, and the other is about home and your impressions of 14:00being one of ten. You have one of the few large families I've ever known well, getting to know well. And the third area would be community. So we should move into home. How is it reinforced, or how is it lived out at home? How are the distinctions between male time and female time lived out? You can learn something in school, Halacha says this, and so forth, but how is it lived? I think one of the reasons this in important in the exhibition realm, how it makes sense to us, is that one of the things we're thinking about doing in the children's museum is talking about a day in the life of a family in many 15:00different cultures. What do boys do, what do girls do, what do the mother and father do, what does everyone do together? What are those divisions, that sort of thing? And since Judaism does have this historic separation between what men do and what women do, what is it in the 1990s? And how is that translated into getting up in the morning and getting food on the table?

DEVORA SHAFFER: You mean our different responsibilities in home life?

JILL VEXLER: Yeah, and how did your parents delegate things? Because ten is a large family.

DEVORA SHAFFER: In terms of housework, are you interested in that?

JILL VEXLER: Of course. Why don't we start like this? What about a typical day, 16:00when you get up in the morning? Now, as an 18-year-old, and maybe you can think back to what a typical day for your little sister is. Or what it was like for you, then. Because, as the oldest child in the house now, and a daughter, you have received some very important responsibilities in maintaining the house, or so I see.

DEVORA SHAFFER: The boys are out of the house much earlier. I know Yosef has to be out by seven, out of the house, he goes to daven. And Yehuda this year has started also to get up earlier to go daven with the minyan.

JILL VEXLER: Where do they go?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think, in the school they go to, there is a shul there, so they all daven together.

JILL VEXLER: Do they walk to school?

DEVORA SHAFFER: There is a bus. But they usually walk. The bus comes earlier.


JILL VEXLER: So they're up and out by seven?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Yehuda by seven thirty. And the girls, we never have to get up earlier, we always had the same time school started at 8:40. We had to be out of the house at 8:30.

JILL VEXLER: Beth Rivkah's that close?

DEVORA SHAFFER: On Crown Street.

JILL VEXLER: So what are your responsibilities? What's the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? The very, very first thing.

DEVORA SHAFFER: Shower. Personally, I don't have responsibilities for the morning. If I get up early and I see that the kitchen has to be cleaned or something, I'll quickly do that. But my mother takes care of the breakfast and the dressing.

JILL VEXLER: Of the little ones?


JILL VEXLER: Ritually, what's the first thing you do in the morning?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I say Modeh Ani.

JILL VEXLER: How does that translate? It's a very short prayer, right? What is it in Hebrew? Modeh Ani?


DEVORA SHAFFER: It's thanking God for waking you up in the morning, giving you life, when you wake up.

JILL VEXLER: How old were you when you learned it, or when can you remember learning it?

DEVORA SHAFFER: As far back as I can remember. I remember when I was in the crib, waking up, and my mother's face smiling over me and singing to me "Modeh Ani." When I was too young to remember the whole thing, I filled in every other word, or whatever. I had my words that I would say, and now I remember through the younger children, I see my mother doing the same thing. I remember when it was me.

JILL VEXLER: And then what's next?

DEVORA SHAFFER: And then we wash our hands.

JILL VEXLER: Do you have a cup of water, or a bowl--?


DEVORA SHAFFER: Yes. I keep a cup of water and a bowl by my bed.

JILL VEXLER: Is it special cup?

DEVORA SHAFFER: It could be any cup. It just has to have a wide opening.

JILL VEXLER: It can't be a bottle.


JILL VEXLER: What's the difference with a wide opening?

DEVORA SHAFFER: A cup, and not a-- what's the difference? I don't remember exactly what it is, but a lot of water has to pour at the same time.

JILL VEXLER: Into a bowl. And what happens with that water?

DEVORA SHAFFER: It's impure water, so it goes straight into the sink.

JILL VEXLER: What's impure about it?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Because we wake up, and it's as if we were dead while we were sleeping, God took away our soul. So when it's given back to us, the tips of our fingers are impure, and when we wash our hands, that water becomes impure. That's why we wash our hands immediately. And in fact, the blessing that we say, as soon as we wake up, Modeh Ani, it doesn't have Hashem's name, because we can't say Hashem's name if we're impure. So it's just thanking God. Then we wash 20:00our hands and start the day.

JILL VEXLER: It's a kind of interesting spiritual construct, that you're thanking Hashem but you can't say the name. So you're thanking this spiritual something, whom you can't name yet. As the philosophers would say, it's the leap of faith. That's it's there, since you can't say it.

DEVORA SHAFFER: You say "melech," or king. You don't say God's name.

JILL VEXLER: And is the prayer the same for boys and girls, men and women?


JILL VEXLER: So that water gets thrown away. Is there any other prayer in the morning, or any other Jewish--?

DEVORA SHAFFER: There are the blessings you say before you can do anything. 21:00Before you eat, before you learn any Torah, and then-- I usually do that also, as soon as I get up, and then there's breakfast or whatever, but you should really pray immediately, the morning prayers.

JILL VEXLER: That's taught by your parents, too, those other prayers for portions of the day?

DEVORA SHAFFER: It's much longer, so usually I started that one when I was at school already. But even in preschool, there are certain things that you always say, like Shema.

JILL VEXLER: How many times a day does one say the Shema?

DEVORA SHAFFER: In the morning, early in the morning, in the morning prayers, 22:00then in the evening prayers, and before you go to sleep -- four.

JILL VEXLER: Is there a prayer the men say thanking Hashem for making them men? What's the women's version?

DEVORA SHAFFER: That's controversial. Some people skip that berakhah, that blessing. And some people just say, "She'asani k'rtzono." "Making me how I am."

JILL VEXLER: But what's the other one?

DEVORA SHAFFER: "Shelo asani isha."

JILL VEXLER: Which translates to--

DEVORA SHAFFER: For not making me a woman.

JILL VEXLER: That's a pretty strong prayer. So they're both acceptable prayers?


JILL VEXLER: How did that shift? Were both of those prayers always there, historically?


JILL VEXLER: How is that controversy discussed? How are the differences of 23:00opinion brought--?

DEVORA SHAFFER: About what the women should say? I don't think it's a big controversial issue. It's just what some people do. I think it's really up to you. A few times I've been told, "Better don't say anything." But then some people say, "For making me the way you made me."

JILL VEXLER: Would a man say that one too?

DEVORA SHAFFER: No. It's instead of that blessing that the men say.

JILL VEXLER: So which is the preferred and most frequently said men's prayer?

DEVORA SHAFFER: What do you mean?

JILL VEXLER: Which is their morning prayer?

DEVORA SHAFFER: They say everything the same, except that they have some extra blessings for their tzitzit, for example. We don't say that.

JILL VEXLER: Do little boys sleep in tzitzit?




JILL VEXLER: But girls don't sleep in anything special?


JILL VEXLER: Do they keep their yarmulkes on at night? How do you keep it on?


DEVORA SHAFFER: It falls off.

JILL VEXLER: Okay, so you're up and out, you're off to school, four hours of secular curriculum first?

DEVORA SHAFFER: No, first Jewish.

JILL VEXLER: Jewish. Then lunch, at school?


JILL VEXLER: And then?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Secular curriculum.

JILL VEXLER: Do you take the regents?


JILL VEXLER: All the girls do?


JILL VEXLER: And then after school what happens?

DEVORA SHAFFER: After school we run home, grab something to eat, and relax and then do some homework.

JILL VEXLER: What about your personal responsibilities? How have they changed over the years, and what are they now that you're the senior offspring?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Just in terms of-- I have more responsibilities. I do more 25:00cooking sometimes, I take care of the children, I babysit, I clean the kitchen after supper. Those are basically my responsibilities. Some shopping.

JILL VEXLER: Where do you like to shop?

DEVORA SHAFFER: For clothes, or?

JILL VEXLER: Yeah. Groceries-- Which shopping is your responsibility, and then which is fun shopping?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Well, there are groceries and that sort of thing just right in the community. It's just that our grocery store is right at the corner, so I don't even have to be the one to go. My mother sends the little children whenever she needs anything. Then there's clothes shopping.

JILL VEXLER: And where do you go for clothes shopping?


DEVORA SHAFFER: I go into the city, Macy's, Bloomingdale's.

JILL VEXLER: How old were you when you first went into the city alone?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Alone? I started last year, when I started going to piano lessons.

JILL VEXLER: Where was that?

DEVORA SHAFFER: 72nd Street. That's when I went alone for the first time. Before, I'd go with my older sister, or with my mother. I rarely went by train. We always went with my mother, who drove, or my father.

JILL VEXLER: What were your impressions of Manhattan?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I always loved it.

JILL VEXLER: It's interesting, because-- there are so many things to talk about, I but-- Could you just sum up some impressions of Manhattan, just things you've thought about over the years, and how you look at it now, and then back to Crown Heights, what living in Crown Heights is like, what it means to you?


DEVORA SHAFFER: Manhattan, I always felt when I went to Manhattan that I could just do whatever I wanted, because nobody would care, nobody would even look at me. I was just one in a million, and there are so many strange people around, they couldn't be stranger. I always loved it because there were so many different people, everybody was different, there was no one personality, you know? I noticed that everybody was different. In Crown Heights, we were all different but we were all basically doing the same thing.

JILL VEXLER: That's one of the things we're trying to show, that there's an 28:00enormous variety of people who follow the Rebbe, who are Lubavitchers. But there's this tremendous commonality, too. But it's really hard to show. What are some of the things that you would say everybody has in common?

DEVORA SHAFFER: We all pray, and we all go to religious schools, and we all try our best to do what the Rebbe tells us to do. We all love and respect the Rebbe absolutely. All our common things are in religion, but on the other hand, that's where we're different also, because we all serve God differently. But that's getting much deeper. We have to follow the same mitzvos and the same 29:00Torah, so you may think, "How different can you get?" But people are weaker and stronger in different mitzvos, and they, everyone is more careful on different, on different mitzvos. There are just slight differences that really make us different. And then our own personalities.

JILL VEXLER: What mitzvah are you-- what makes you comfortable? To explain to someone who doesn't know what a mitzvah is, and then the form that the mitzvah takes, you talk about the philosophy of doing mitzvah, but what form does it 30:00take for you personally?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Well, there are 613 of them, so each one takes a different form.

JILL VEXLER: Among the 613 of them, the seeds of the pomegranate -- I gave one to a Japanese American designer the other day, I gave her a pomegranate and I said, "Count them."


JILL VEXLER: I don't know. She has a little boy who's two, and she said, "He can't go that high yet." I said, "Well, try." Your mother told me she tried to count them with you once. I don't know if it was with you, but with one of you. So among the 613-- is that for men and women, the 613?


JILL VEXLER: There are a couple that you always do, I'm sure.

DEVORA SHAFFER: Absolutely. Which ones are those?

JILL VEXLER: Which ones are they?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think that everything I do, every time I'm doing something, 31:00I'm doing some mitzvah. When I get dressed in the morning, I'm doing a mitzvah of dressing in the appropriate way. I'm following the laws of tzniut and-- immediately in the morning I wash my hands, and I thank God for allowing me to wake up, I say the blessings over food, so just everything I do, really everything I do, I'm following a mitzvah.

JILL VEXLER: But maybe there are different categories, then. Because that's kind of an internal one-to-one relationship with one's spirit, or with Hashem, but then there's that societal, human-to-human behavior. And how do mitzvot guide those?

DEVORA SHAFFER: In Hebrew, we say, "bein Adam l'chavero." "Between a man and his friend." As opposed to "bein Adam l'makom," which means "between man and 32:00God." So one of the basic things are, "Love your fellow Jew, your neighbor, as yourself." So right now in school there are a lot of new girls. When I come into school every day and I see all these new faces, and most of the girls are from out of town and they don't have families here, so inviting them over to come for dinner, or just hang out in the house.

JILL VEXLER: That's so nice. Your house is filled with people.

DEVORA SHAFFER: So that's-- I don't actually think, "I'll get a mitzvah if I invite her over," but it actually is a mitzvah.

JILL VEXLER: It is. The sentence about, "Love they neighbor, love thy fellow Jew," is there a difference in the love one gives, or the behavior, between the way you relate to a Jew or a non-Jew?


DEVORA SHAFFER: I think the only difference is that with a Jew there's one basic thing we have in common, and that's our identity. But with the gentile, although he's not Jewish, he's still a person and I could relate to him as a person, so I probably wouldn't go into deep meanings of the Torah or anything, with him, because we don't share that. But just living--

JILL VEXLER: Do you have Black neighbors, for example? Just to jump into--

DEVORA SHAFFER: Right across the street from me, there are two Black families. We used to play with them all the time.

JILL VEXLER: When you were little?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Yes, and then they moved away.

JILL VEXLER: And who moved in?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Some new Black -- also a Black family, but I don't think there 34:00are any younger people, I think it's just the older couple with some older children. I never met them, even.

JILL VEXLER: Were you at home two summers ago, during the riots?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I had just come home from camp. I stayed for one day, and my father sent me off upstate, to the country, and my mother.

JILL VEXLER: So no one was home?

DEVORA SHAFFER: My father was home.

JILL VEXLER: What did he tell you?

DEVORA SHAFFER: He was at work all day. I think he came home and just locked himself in the house. We were also pretty far from where everything was going on. Not far, but there wasn't anything happening right in front of the house. It was just terrible. It was scary and terrible.


JILL VEXLER: What's the most terrible thing about it?

DEVORA SHAFFER: The most terrible thing? Well, what sticks in my mind is, I remember, I have no idea who it was, but I remember hearing on the radio that an older woman was reminded of the Pogroms, from when she was in Russia, and she committed suicide because she couldn't take it.

JILL VEXLER: A Lubavitcher woman?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think so. An older Jewish Russian woman.

JILL VEXLER: In the Crown Heights area?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think so. I never found out how true that was, but I just remember hearing it. I didn't see what happened, but I thought, "That must be really bad."

JILL VEXLER: Did the neighborhood feel different when you came back? It was August, and then you came back with your family Labor Day? Did the street or 36:00your neighborhood feel different?

DEVORA SHAFFER: In a way we felt very protected, because now there are police at every street corner, there are groups of police at every street corner. So I wasn't scared, but I just couldn't believe what had happened over a few days. I couldn't believe-- I thought, "There must be so much anger in the Blacks," it just all of a sudden erupted.

JILL VEXLER: Where do you think that anger comes from?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I'm not sure what it comes from, but we're so different. They don't understand us. They don't understand why we're so different. We're both minorities, and the Blacks have always tried to be like everyone else, and Jews, 37:00we also always wanted-- first we had to get the vote, and then for Jewish people to be allowed to have regular businesses, because we didn't always have that. But we always still kept the Torah, in some ways we didn't change at all. We dress the same way as we always did, we don't have that major thing that we have to fit in with everyone else.

JILL VEXLER: When you talk about Blacks wanting to be like everyone else, who's everybody else?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Just regular Americans, not Americans, just White people. I think they feel that they're so different. They're very different because 38:00they're a different color, but they've always been put down because of their color. So they want to prove that just because they're a different color, they're people and they have feelings and everything, they can do what White people can do.

JILL VEXLER: But historically you know that Blacks as individuals were not given a full vote.


JILL VEXLER: But when Whites voted, it was one person, one vote, unless you were a woman. And that changed not all that long ago. Those are other topics. But is there any opportunity, or has there been any way for you to know about Black traditions or Black culture, that isn't just a Black version of White culture? When you were playing with your friends, did you ever learn any songs, or--

DEVORA SHAFFER: No, just from what I read or learned from school. There was nothing--


JILL VEXLER: Do you think that a museum setting can provide, that a museum can provide a setting for that kind of learning?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think that for those interested in learning, it absolutely can.

JILL VEXLER: What would you want to learn about Black culture, or your Black neighbors? If those kids you had known as a child were still there, you would have a different take, probably. But since they're not, what would you want to know about Black girls who are 18? Or would you want to know anything about Black culture?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think that I wouldn't want-- I'd want to know what they have, what they still do from like, what they did, what their great grandparents did when they were in Africa, if they keep any of their traditions. I'd be interested in knowing that. But nothing different, just on a personal level, 40:00like, "What are you doing now, after high school?" "What do you want to be?"

JILL VEXLER: There are two things to say simultaneously, but I'll remember. What would you want them to know about you?

DEVORA SHAFFER: First, I'd want to know what bothers them about us, if there is anything. I'd want to make everything clear, they shouldn't have any misconceptions. And then, that's basically it, and then just chat, like a friend.

JILL VEXLER: Have you ever just sat down and--?

DEVORA SHAFFER: When we were much younger, I just remember playing jump rope with them all the time.

JILL VEXLER: What kind of misconceptions do you think a Black person of any age, men, women, young men-- might have about the Lubavitcher, or about Lubavitcher ways of life?


DEVORA SHAFFER: I think they don't understand why we do the things that we do. They get upset when they see us running down the street, because the Rebbe's coming out for one of the prayers. I think it bothers them that all of a sudden there are hordes or people running, which I can understand, absolutely. So I wish I could make them understand the importance it has for us. But that's hard.

JILL VEXLER: How would you explain the importance of the Rebbe?

DEVORA SHAFFER: The first thing is that he's like our father. He's our father in a lot of ways. So whenever he calls, we all come running, like we do with my own father. He teaches us how to be a Jew and how to follow the Torah, and enjoy it, 42:00and I feel like he taught me how to be me, personally even though I rarely have anything… the Rebbe only once told me something directly, something personally to do.

JILL VEXLER: In what context?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I didn't meet him, I wrote him a letter, and I asked him what I should spend my year after high school doing, this year, and the Rebbe told me to stay here and go to seminary.

JILL VEXLER: And at what points in your life, thinking forward, would you write the Rebbe again?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Anytime I have a major decision to make. Right now, I think that for the next few years I'll be in college, but if something changes and something comes up, and I want to go away, I'll absolutely write the Rebbe 43:00before I go, ask him for a blessing and his consent. And absolutely before I get married, I'll ask the Rebbe for a blessing and his consent.

JILL VEXLER: That's kind of the way you look at the sequence of the next number of years-- when do you start meeting young men?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Everyone's different. I'll probably start meeting men in about two years.

JILL VEXLER: Is that what you want?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think so. If two years is as close as the last two years are, no.

JILL VEXLER: What does that mean?

DEVORA SHAFFER: If it's just so soon, then I don't think I'm ready for it. But if I grow up a lot in the next two years, then absolutely.

JILL VEXLER: Would you have thought Nechami seemed so mature to have gotten married?


DEVORA SHAFFER: She seems ready to have gotten married.

JILL VEXLER: She's how old?


JILL VEXLER: And Liba is…?


JILL VEXLER: She seems old. Is Liba old?

DEVORA SHAFFER: She's my older sister.

JILL VEXLER: Back to the family for a second. Which of your siblings are you closest to?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Nechami and Liba and the baby, Natali.

JILL VEXLER: You take care of Natali a lot, don't you?


JILL VEXLER: How does that feel?


JILL VEXLER: Do you feel that you can take her around, and she's kind of in your charge?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I don't feel like I always have to be responsible for her, but I 45:00like to, I enjoy it. I take her whenever I can.

JILL VEXLER: Does Liba have children?


JILL VEXLER: So how long has she been married?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Almost two years.

JILL VEXLER: And where does she work?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Right now she's in school.


DEVORA SHAFFER: I'm not sure.

JILL VEXLER: I want to say Brooklyn College, but that's where Lali is. What is it like, I obviously want to talk to Nechami about it, but what is the first-- how does someone figure out who you're going to go out with, first?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think that, before my parents arrange for any of us to meet someone who they think is appropriate, I think a lot of the things on the list, 46:00the top thing is that our families are, not similar, but we're from the same backgrounds, basically. We understand each other; we know what we're coming from. And then, personally, that they're decent people, that they'll take good care of Nechami, or whoever it is.

JILL VEXLER: Row do you get along with your brothers-in-law?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I get along very well.

JILL VEXLER: I have a really stupid question for you. Little boys get their hair cut for the first time at three years old, right? And the next big event in a little boy's life is his Bar Mitzvah. Two questions: first, is there anything 47:00that tracks like that in a girl's life? Any ceremony--

JILL VEXLER: So we were talking about events in a little girl's life.

DEVORA SHAFFER: There's not a special time to cut a girl's hair, and just-- they're our birthdays are made a big deal about. And then when we turn Bat Mitzvah, which is at the age of 12, it's also a big deal.

JILL VEXLER: When brothers and sisters are playing, they can play tag, or whatever, until a certain age. Is that right? Or is there an inhibition or prohibition on male and female, brothers and sisters, touching each other?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Brothers and sisters, no.

JILL VEXLER: At any age?



JILL VEXLER: What about aunts and nephews?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Anything other than your brother or your son or your husband, I think those are the three. Over the age of nine, there should be no physical contact.

JILL VEXLER: So I shouldn't shake Yehuda's hand?

DEVORA SHAFFER: That's right.


DEVORA SHAFFER: No, he's ten.

JILL VEXLER: But if I were an aunt, I still couldn't, because it's not some--

DEVORA SHAFFER: That's not the Halacha, that's just what evolved over the years. In the Torah, it's after the age of 12 and 13, because that's when you are 49:00responsible for your own mitzvot.

JILL VEXLER: We didn't finish the mitzvot discussion, but back to Crown Heights a bit-- When you come into Manhattan, or you travelled around your Lubavitcher camps around the world, and so forth, what are people's responses when you say you're from New York or Crown Heights? Or how do you say where you're from?

DEVORA SHAFFER: If I get into a discussion with somebody and they ask me, "Where are you from?" Sometimes people say, "Aren't you scared to live in Crown Heights?" I say, "Absolutely not. I feel absolutely safe." I don't get anything… Out of New York, people say, "Wow, you're from New York? Great city." I say, "That's right."

JILL VEXLER: They probably think of the Empire State Building. Before the riots, had people ever said to you, were you afraid?



JILL VEXLER: Where do you think those perceptions come from, that something of two years ago is still accurate?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think it evolved, two years ago something happened because there were two kinds of people living together and they couldn't get along. And it broke out into terrible fights. And nothing has changed since then. We're still living together, so I think that people still might think that there are very big problems.

JILL VEXLER: How is it that people are living together? What's it like? Are you aware of your Black neighbors, different groups around you? What does "living 51:00together" mean?

DEVORA SHAFFER: What it means to me is that, when I see someone walking down the street, I say "Hello." The only difference is that I don't really know who you are, as opposed to someone-- but I don't know who my Jewish neighbors are either, always. I don't know personally what you're doing.

JILL VEXLER: That's a really important point, it really is. What do you think the mood is the Jewish community is now, toward the neighborhood, or living in Crown Heights, or relating to the different Black neighbors, the Caribbeans, the African Americans?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think the decent people are decent, whoever it is. I know, 52:00actually, that that's the case. I know my aunt talks very often to her Black neighbors--

JILL VEXLER: Which aunt? You have several aunts, right?

DEVORA SHAFFER: My aunt Esty, on President Street.

JILL VEXLER: What don't you like about the neighborhood?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I don't like the fact that it isn't very safe. I know that. My father won't let me walk outside at night alone. And that's the only thing.

JILL VEXLER: Do you feel unsafe, or does he think it's unsafe for you?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I don't feel unsafe. I don't think I could ever feel unsafe in my home town.

JILL VEXLER: People say that to me, about all of New York. That I'm absolutely nuts to live here. For Texans it's all of New York, it's not a neighborhood. We 53:00talk about all the different parts of Brooklyn, the different parts of Manhattan. If you could change something about Crown Heights, about your area of Crown Heights, what would you change?

DEVORA SHAFFER: What would I change? In the way we live together, you mean? Anything?

JILL VEXLER: Anything. Stores, the way you live together, whatever--

DEVORA SHAFFER: Just make it cleaner.

JILL VEXLER: It's true.

DEVORA SHAFFER: I wish we could all-- this sounds so ridiculous, and I'm sure a million people have said this, but I wish that all of us could just sit down together and say, "Hey, we're all people. We all feel the same way. Why do other people have to think that we can't get along? Let's just get along." Why can't we get along?

JILL VEXLER: What do you think everybody feels the same about? Why do you think 54:00that Blacks, and the Caribbeans, the few Latinos in the neighborhood, all think the same thing, and what is that thing?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think they all think that we're different. They do think that we're different. I think that's the big problem, that we're so different than all of them.

JILL VEXLER: Do you really think, in your heart of hearts, that you're that different?

DEVORA SHAFFER: On a religious level, absolutely. In terms of religion. But in my day to day life? No. We do the same things, we have the same goals.

JILL VEXLER: If you could sum up what you think a general goal is, what would it be, that everyone would share?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think we all eventually want to get married and raise a happy 55:00family, an educated family, just be happy, I guess, the pursuit of happiness.

JILL VEXLER: Is there anything that kids can do? You say, "Why can't we all sit down," I think there are different "we's" in the political stratification of a society. The Rabbonim are these kind of leaders. But since we're not those people, is there anything we can do, and "we" meaning the Children's Museum, is there something that kids can do. How can kids have a voice? You're not a kid, you're a young adult. Is there something you can do to create that setting for explaining, a setting for listening, a setting for learning?


DEVORA SHAFFER: I think that first, what I would do, is I would want to get together with people my age and work on something that has nothing to do with this topic. Let's say, do a research paper together, and just work on it together, and let's say we both want to get an A, so we both work really hard on it, and then-- whenever I'm studying for a test, I end up talking. So we'll talk about our personal lives, and understand each other better, and somehow all sit down and say--

JILL VEXLER: That opportunity could happen. It would be great if you would be a part of it. We're trying to figure out ways for people to meet. One woman I met, who's Lubavitcher in Canada, but was home for the holidays, said that-- she's in her late 20s, but she said she didn't think that Lubavitcher teenagers should be 57:00in a secular society, in a secular educational setting, because they weren't sure enough about themselves to deal with all the differences. And that's why separate education and separate societies were better.

DEVORA SHAFFER: I agree with that. I don't think we should go to the same schools, because we both have to learn different things, and religious Jews have different limitations, stricter limitations, so I think it's fine that we go to different schools, but out of school--


JILL VEXLER: Let's say I'm Christian, and I invite you over, and we're talking about whatever, and I say, "Do you want something to eat?" and you know the house isn't kosher. How would you explain it, not having a snack together, how would you explain some of those limitations?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I'm religious, and one of my laws is that I have a very strict diet. Maybe we can go out to a restaurant together, somewhere where I can eat, or would you like to come over to my house?

JILL VEXLER: And what about dating? We were talking about dating. How would you explain the structure of dating in a religious society?


DEVORA SHAFFER: You mean, why I can't date anyone out of my religion? That's just because I must marry a Jew. That's one of my laws.

JILL VEXLER: But then, the setting in which you meet young men.

DEVORA SHAFFER: Our parents find out about him, find out about his family, and make sure that everything is good and fine about him, and then all I have to do is meet him. I know that he's healthy, I know all the things-- I think it's the most perfect thing, because I don't have to ask embarrassing questions. I don't have to ask him what religion he is, or-- That's not embarrassing. I know everything about him that I definitely want. And also, the other thing is, we both know that we're doing this to get married. It's not just, let's have some 60:00fun. It's not like, "Oh, my gosh, don't mention marriage," because that's the point. If we like each other, then we want to get married. The only thing I have to do is like him. And if I don't, then he's a really nice guy, he's a smart guy, but I don't want to spend the rest of my life with him. I think it saves a lot of embarrassment.

JILL VEXLER: You know that it's a real contrast to the way most Americans, or most urban people around the world, meet and date and get married. I don't know-- imagining, I just think it's always interesting to know how people figure 61:00things out, and how you live with whom you live, where you live, are big questions in anyone's life. And this is one way to solve it and to deal with it. And I'm not sure how we can portray that, but it's certainly something that a lot of people are curious about, the whole idea of ishut your parents involvement. Whereas most ethnic groups kind of reject any parental voice. It's a real contrast. It just seems important to include it, I'm not sure how. Aviva suggested having a box of cards that Shimshon has. Have you seen it?



JILL VEXLER: What's in it? I haven't seen it, I've only heard about it.

DEVORA SHAFFER: Aren't you talking about the list of boys and girls? I don't know, just information. He's 26, he wants a certain kind of girl.

JILL VEXLER: How do you describe the kind of guy you want?

DEVORA SHAFFER: The kind of guy I want? Someone well-educated, someone very kind, someone who's good with children, who will obviously respect me, what else? Handsome would be nice. Smart. Has knowledge about a lot of different 63:00things in the world. Interesting. An interesting person to talk to, that's very important.

JILL VEXLER: What about someone who's baal tshuva? Now that that's happened in the family, it kind of opens a door I suppose for possibilities. But when you talk to your two brothers-in-law, although of course Levi's in another country, which is a whole other variable, so he brings all sorts of different experiences, but is there anything that you can kind of sum up that is a contrast between the two, in the way they look at the world? Not just in their personalities, which are unique, but being brought up religiously to being brought up secularly and then becoming religious.

DEVORA SHAFFER: In the way they look at the world? The only think that I think 64:00is a major difference is that one of my brother-in-laws, Ephraim, is interested in political science, and he has all these different ideas of-- just of events that happen, what it means, I think that's just their personality, though. I think in the way they look at the world, they pretty much think the same way. Different opinions and everything, but it comes down to the same thing.

JILL VEXLER: So would it be within the realm of possibilities that a baal tshuva could, that you could meet a baal tshuva?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Absolutely. I don't see why not.

JILL VEXLER: Is there any kind of proving ground that a baal tshuva young man or woman has to go through to be accepted in the community? Are things kind of 65:00equal all the way around, or are there differentiations made between children of baal tshuva?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Not at all. My best friend is the daughter of baal tshuvas, so--

JILL VEXLER: I met her. The one you were studying with the other day? The first day I came over?

DEVORA SHAFFER: The first time last year, when you came over? What did she look like?

JILL VEXLER: Shorter. My height. Maybe a little taller than I am. She was one year older than you.

DEVORA SHAFFER: I don't remember. No, she's in Nechami's class. No, I'm not talking about her.


JILL VEXLER: But you don't see a difference in the way the community treats…?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I don't think so. I personally have a very great amount of respect for baal tshuvas.

JILL VEXLER: Based on--

DEVORA SHAFFER: It's incredible. I was born into it, and I find it hard. And you chose it and you're still doing the same thing I'm doing. I think that they all must be very deep people.

JILL VEXLER: What's hard about being Hasidic?

DEVORA SHAFFER: About being Hasidic, or religious?

JILL VEXLER: Religious.

DEVORA SHAFFER: Just the limitations.

JILL VEXLER: What's the difference, in asking that question, about being Hasidic or being religious?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Well, one difference is that, if I was just religious, if I wasn't Hasidic at all, I might meet boys when I was younger, and spend time with them.


JILL VEXLER: So how should I have phrased that question? What's difficult about being--?

DEVORA SHAFFER: About being religious? About being Hasidic? I don't think that thing, for sure, doesn't make it difficult. What else is there? I think the only difference about being religious and Hasidic is that being Hasidic, I feel like I have a much deeper understanding of a lot of things. When I learn things according to Chassidut, it's incredible. And I often think, I often ask my teacher, "What about the people who don't learn this according to Chassidut, do they think that he was wrong," or whatever. Because according to Chassidut, a lot of things that seem as if they're wrong are not wrong at all. Like King 68:00Shaul, according to Chassidut, not only according to Chassidut, he was a great man. But you think that he did all these bad things, maybe he wasn't so great.

JILL VEXLER: King Saul. What bad things did he do?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Not bad things at all, I didn't mean that. He didn't completely wipe out the nations he was supposed to, he had pity on them, and God told him not to. That's not, I wouldn't say "bad," but he was so great, he should have done that. Everything is deeper. There is a reason for everything.

JILL VEXLER: It's kind of an interesting point. Regardless of what you're taught, what kind of differentiation, in aspects of Jewish people, how do you 69:00view non-observant Jews?

DEVORA SHAFFER: How do I view them? I think that they're missing a lot out of life. They're missing the meaning of life, of being a Jew.

JILL VEXLER: Are there other ways to be Jewish, without following all of the laws, though?

DEVORA SHAFFER: You are Jewish, even if you don't follow any of the laws, you're absolutely Jewish. But you have to act Jewish, there's no other way to act Jewish, unless you follow the laws.

JILL VEXLER: Have you ever been to a conservative or a reform service?

DEVORA SHAFFER: No, never. But I've met people in camp, I've met people.


JILL VEXLER: You were a counselor?


JILL VEXLER: In which one?

DEVORA SHAFFER: We were in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

JILL VEXLER: So it was a camp for all Jewish kids, but from different backgrounds?


JILL VEXLER: How old were they?

DEVORA SHAFFER: The youngest kids were about two and a half, and the oldest ones were 10, 12.

JILL VEXLER: But they talked about their services, or they talked about their studies?

DEVORA SHAFFER: No. Not very much.

JILL VEXLER: Did they know very much about [unintelligible]?

DEVORA SHAFFER: No, they knew very little, actually.

JILL VEXLER: They were mostly what denomination?

DEVORA SHAFFER: They were mostly just non-religious, they weren't conservative or reform. But I think a few of them were conservative, but I didn't really get to speak to them about it. They were younger.


JILL VEXLER: It was quite a decision for their parents to have selected a religious camp.

DEVORA SHAFFER: It's the only camp.

JILL VEXLER: They could have sent them to a completely secular camp. It's very rare, except in certain parts of the United States, that you have the choice among Jewish camps. A reform, a conservative, an Orthodox, or a Lubavitcher camp. It's very, very rare, and it's a lot more expensive because you have to pay travel, and so forth. But I think it's symbolic. Just a couple of more questions. Do you view yourself as a future participant in any of the shluchim outreach activities, and what would you like to do.


DEVORA SHAFFER: I think I want to be a participant, but I don't want to officially be a Shliach. I would like to be involved in the activities, I'd like to help, to make activities, but I don't want the entire responsibility on me for this-and-this neighborhood, or this city, to be in charge of all their religious needs. I'd be scared to do that.

JILL VEXLER: It's a huge responsibility. Nechami talks about that. Do you think she'll do it?


JILL VEXLER: Is there anything else? Just back to the exhibition, you've been to the Children's Museum, at least you were there a long time ago. Is there anyone really central thing that--? If you were to pick a set of objects, I don't mean one, but a set of objects that would represent your life, your home, your 73:00specific family, are there some things that you could identify that you would put in a museum to talk about Lubavitcher life?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I'd somehow explain what the Rebbe means to us, because that's the head of Lubavitch. That's what I'd say about Lubavitch.

JILL VEXLER: Something that starts with the Rebbe. What could we show of the Rebbe? What do you think, because there are a thousand different photographs… dozens of stickers and posters, but which one says something to you?


DEVORA SHAFFER: What particular picture or poster? I think just the idea that the Rebbe is interested in every Jew, just that idea. And really takes personal interest, and in fact there are stories that the Rebbe has sent some people to… I just read a story that right after the war, the Rebbe sent somebody to a city in Holland somewhere, and he said, "Bring the Jew that lives there matzahs." And there was one Jew that lived there, in that city. And it was a whole long story, but he had just made a deal with God, he said, "He can't live like this anymore. He's the only Jew, and he wants to get married to someone, but there are no Jewish people," and he had thought that all the Jews were wiped out because of the holocaust. He was misinformed. He said, "If you don't show me within two weeks, or something like that, a Jew, then I'm just going to convert." And within two weeks, this man from the Rebbe showed up, and said, 75:00"Are you Jewish? I found out you were Jewish." It's incredible. I think the main thing is that the Rebbe shows personal interest in every Jew.

JILL VEXLER: Now that the Rebbe is sick, how is the personal interest conveyed?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Personally, with me, I just sent the Rebbe a letter, and he answered me. He told me exactly what to do.

JILL VEXLER: You got it in writing?

DEVORA SHAFFER: No, he didn't write it, but his secretary read the letter, and he answered. And he called us, back on the list.

JILL VEXLER: He called you?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Not the Rebbe, the secretary. And then, I think that right now, what we have to do, the time before the Rebbe was sick, for years and years he gave us instruction, so that's what we have to concentrate on doing now, the instruction that he gave us.


JILL VEXLER: What other things do you think about; stuff in your room, stuff in your home, that could be representative to explain things about Lubavitcher life to someone who didn't know anything?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Well, the different books I have in my room, the things I learn.

JILL VEXLER: Are any of them bilingual?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Yeah. They're all-- most of them are translated into a few different languages.

JILL VEXLER: Because the books Yosef showed me were all in Hebrew.

DEVORA SHAFFER: Some of them are translated into Yiddish, some English, some Russian. My uncle's doing, does work, and he translates into French.

JILL VEXLER: Terrific. That's a great idea. Which uncle works with Russian?


DEVORA SHAFFER: Not with Russian, with French. He lives there. My father's brother-in-law. Did you meet him?

JILL VEXLER: No, I just heard about him. What's his name? He's Moroccan, right? Or part Moroccan.

DEVORA SHAFFER: I think so, something like that.

JILL VEXLER: Do you know him?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Do I know him?

JILL VEXLER: That's his son, who was here.

DEVORA SHAFFER: That's right. And his daughters were here, too.

JILL VEXLER: Oh, right. The ones sitting upstairs the first day of Sukkos

DEVORA SHAFFER: They're not here anymore. They went back after the holidays.

JILL VEXLER: Were they staying with you?


JILL VEXLER: There was a whole bunch of girls speaking French upstairs. I don't think they were all related, right?


JILL VEXLER: I just said a few words in French. Do you think they speak English?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Well, yeah. The older kids speak English, I think. I don't know 78:00about the younger ones.

JILL VEXLER: That's a great idea, books. What else?

DEVORA SHAFFER: What represents--?

JILL VEXLER: I mean, you were talking about getting up in the morning and saying prayers. Maybe we should have the cup--

DEVORA SHAFFER: That's not anything Lubavitch, that's just religious. One thing the Rebbe said, that every room should be a place of learning, and a place of doing good deeds. So we have a charity box in every room, and our books, like I said.


JILL VEXLER: This is kind of silly. But is there a time when you do something, like put a donation in the--

DEVORA SHAFFER: It says it's good to give charity before you pray, and then before you light candles on Friday.

JILL VEXLER: Men and women?


JILL VEXLER: So before you pray at a meal?

DEVORA SHAFFER: No, before your morning prayers.

JILL VEXLER: What about, Maariv, evening prayers?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I don't think it's a set time, but it's fine to do that.

JILL VEXLER: There are lots of different shapes of charity boxes. Any special one, I mean, there are dozens and dozens of them, obviously, but any special one that's particularly Lubavitch.



JILL VEXLER: Blue and white. Once you empty them out, how do you decide?

DEVORA SHAFFER: Most of them have a name, but the ones that don't, we give them either to our synagogue, 770, or to our schools. It's not hard.

JILL VEXLER: That's a great-- We were talking about having an activity. Kids could make their own and take it home. Because you know the Children's Museum likes to have activities. Maybe we could get some different ones to display. So those are interesting categories, if you think of the ones that you were just mentioning. One is very, very personal, which is your books, granted, it links 81:00you to school, but it's very personal. The other links you to your immediate community, and the Rebbe links you to all Jews. So it's kind of an interesting layering that you just suggested. Anything else that occurs to you, because as I gave you this little sheet of paper, it's kind of our guideline, we can't just have a bunch of words on the walls, we have to do things, maybe you could just be thinking about stuff.

DEVORA SHAFFER: I can't think of anything else.

JILL VEXLER: Anything else you could sum up, Devori, about-- if you had full 82:00microphone, all ears, to kind of set things straight, what you would want someone to know and to take to heart, about being Orthodox, being Hasidic, Lubavitch, living in Crown Heights, a principal statement--?

DEVORA SHAFFER: I would just want to say that we're all human, and we have that common denominator, and we all really want the same things in life, although personally they may be different. But that's only-- just the main thing, that we all should care about each other.

JILL VEXLER: That's great. Well, alevei, as they say.


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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Devora Shaffer

Devora Leah Shaffer-Slutzkin (Devori) grew up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, with her parents and nine siblings. She graduated from Beth Rivkah High School and, at eighteen, attended Beth Rivkah's teacher training seminary and Touro College. She visited international Lubavitcher camps and served as a counselor at a Jewish summer camp in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She married Reb Doron Slutzkin and resides in Zurich, Switzerland.

In the interview, Shaffer talks about her day-to-day life as a Jewish Lubavitcher teenage girl; her schooling, teacher training and camping experiences; and living in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights and New York City. Shaffer offers her thoughts on how the Lubavitch coexist with non-Jewish people as well as other ethnic and racial minorities. She speaks of her own and her community's devotion to the Rebbe, how she may meet her future husband, the differences in being Hasidic and being religious, and her immediate reaction to the civil unrest in Crown Heights. Interview conducted by Jill Vexler.

This collection contains oral history recordings and transcripts, as well as exhibit materials, from Brooklyn Historical Society's Crown Heights History Project, also known as "Bridging Eastern Parkway." Crown Heights History Project oral histories include audio and transcripts created and collected within the context of an exhibition project undertaken in part by BHS in 1993 and 1994. Three interviewers recorded conversations with over forty narrators. In addition to exhibition product value, the oral histories were conducted as life history and community anthropology interviews; topics of discussion include family and heritage, immigration and relocation, cultural and racial relations, occupations and professions, education and religion, housing and gentrification, civil unrest and reconciliation, media representation and portrayal, and activism. The series of exhibition research materials document the outreach efforts for interviews and materials from the community as well as exhibit scripts and curatorial notes.


Shaffer, Devora, Oral history interview conducted by Jill Vexler, October 26, 1993, Crown Heights History Project collection, 1994.006.29; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Congregation Lubavitch (Crown Heights, New York, N.Y.)
  • Schneerson, Menachem Mendel, 1902-1994
  • Shaffer, Devora


  • African Americans
  • Education
  • Ethnic neighborhoods
  • Girls
  • Jewish neighborhoods
  • Jewish religious education
  • Judaism
  • Multiculturalism
  • Race relations
  • Teenagers


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)


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Finding Aid

Crown Heights History Project collection