Lubavitch relationship-maven bringing expertise here

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The computer has been a blessing for just about every sector of society, but there is an exception and it is a huge one: It has had a terrible effect on human relationships.

So says Esther Piekarski, a Brazilian-born, New York-raised rebbitzen who lives in Israel and who will soon be heading to the Bay Area to share her insight into male-female relationships.

"People are not used to sticking to something very long," she said. "You can always change your Web site or close off your chat, but you can't do that to a real person."

Piekarski, 45, is a mother of 12 and grandmother of one. Her eldest child, a daughter, is 23 and has a son; her youngest is 3.

Born into the Lubavitch movement, Piekarski and her husband were sent to Israel by the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. They lived in Safed for two years and then moved to Tel Aviv, where they live now. In addition to their work on behalf of the Chabad movement, her husband imports pearls and she is a jewelry designer.

But somehow along the way, she got interested in relationships.

"People started calling me," she said. "They would say, 'You have a large family, how are you managing?' People started opening up to me. I guess I'm a good listener. I'm easy to open up to and people know I keep my mouth shut."

This led her to take some courses and do research on human relationships, and "that's how it came about," she said. "I became an expert in the field." She also was cited by the Israeli daily Ma'ariv as one of the top 10 speakers in Israel.

What distinguishes her from most other experts, however, is that all of her advice comes from one of the oldest and most revered sources: the Torah.

Piekarski regularly counsels brides- and grooms-to-be. She noted that one young woman who sought her advice was the daughter of a well-known Israeli psychologist who offers relationship advice on the radio.

"I was afraid to teach her," Piekarski recalled. "But I did, and she kept coming back. Usually, non-religious people don't keep coming back."

But then the young woman admitted that her father loved hearing what the rebbitzen had to say. "'My father is astounded at the knowledge you have,' she told me, and I said, 'It's all Torah knowledge.' He didn't know all this comes from the Torah."

The "all this" Piekarski refers to are such things as the family purity laws, which designate a time of the month when a husband and wife must refrain from touching each other.

When couples marry in Israel, they must register with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and then must meet with someone like the rebbitzen. The couples are often non-religious, she said, but are surprised to hear just how much she knows.

"People have misconceptions about religious people, that for us, love is a dry thing and you only have relationships to have children," she said. "But it's the other way around."

According to the rebbitzen, "The Torah knows to what depth that love is unlimited," and "the Torah strengthens the connection between husband and wife."

Piekarski also said there are many misperceptions among the non-religious when it comes to the role of women.

The late Lubavitcher rebbe recognized the strength women have, she said, "more than other Jewish leaders did. We didn't need the feminist movement. In the religious movement there is a lot of strength among women, and we don't feel we lost out on anything."

While Piekarski is a working mother herself, she said that many women who try to have it all find themselves unfulfilled.

"We became career women and our lives did not get easier because we still have to do the traditional things," she said. "The real satisfaction is in being a woman."

In Piekarski's view, "The feminist movement, which really died, was pushing that women should be like men. Now we're in a post-feminist era and we get much further by being women and bringing out the strength of women."

Piekarski claims she is especially effective when she speaks to those in the Israel Defense Force who are about to get married.

In the army, she said, men and women are taught to be equals, "which we are, but we're different."

As Piekarski speaks about those differences though, a funny thing happens.

"All of a sudden, the women sit up and cross their legs, and play with their hair, and the feminine part of the soldiers comes out. The male soldiers start looking at their friends with different eyes."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."