The Milwaukee Jewish community is in mourning after hearing news of Henya Federman’s passing on Wednesday after a long two-month battle for her life after trying to rescue her infant daughter from drowning.
Henya passed away at the age of 40, two months after her youngest, a 4-month-old baby Shterna Sarah, fell out of Henya’s arms by the docks on the islands and into the water, according to Chabad.org.
Both she and her husband, Rabbi Asher jumped in to try and save her. Rabbi Asher was able to escape from the water whereas Henya had to be pulled out. Shertna, however, could not be saved and Henya was airlifted to Miami, Florida where she was put on life support and later passed away, according to CBS Milwaukee.
“This is something that isn’t just hitting me very closely because of my family relationship,” Levi Stein, Executive Director of the Friendship Circle of Wisconsin, who knew Henya for most of his life after her sister married his brother, told TMJ4. “This is something that’s hitting the whole Milwaukee community very strongly.”
Henya is the daughter of Rabbi Yisroel and B. Devorah Shmotkin who, 53 years ago, started the first Chabad center in Wisconsin and has opened many more Chabad centers since.
“This is a tragedy that leaves the international community of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries heartbroken,” Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky said on Chabad Lubavitch Headquarter’s official site.
“Henya was a dynamic individual. She inspired people by the sheer joy and purpose that she brought to her life’s work, a life of love and service. All of us are grieving and all of us are praying for her entire family.”
“We believe in Judaism that God runs the world and God is able to perform a miracle if He so chose to. So it’s up to us to do everything we can, then it’s up to God to decide what has to happen,” Stein said.
“This is something that’s hitting the whole Milwaukee community very strongly.”
Levi Stein, Executive Director at the Friendship Circle of Milwaukee
Henya and her family were sent by Chabad to do shlichot (outreach) in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands 17 years ago to build the Chabad Lubavitch of the Virgin Islands.
“They brought this great sense of tradition, of simha,” Sharon Triman, a local US Virgin Island resident, spoke to Chabad.org about the impact Henya and her family have had on the community there. “It’s where I felt I was connecting to my parents, my grandparents…[and] a sense of joy and light.”
“To be able to run a community along with her husband, but also be a mother, it’s a full-time job for one or two kids. Imagine 13 kids,” Stein told CBS 58.
Henya’s funeral was held on Thursday in New York where thousands of people from Chabad organizations across the United States and the US Virgin Islands attended, according to CBS 58.
“It’s unfortunate, but tragedy really brings out the amazing connections she’s had with so many people,” Stein said.
“The impact she had over the last three months is more than people can do in a lifetime,” he continued. “What a way to say goodbye.”
Stein told TMJ4 that while she was on life support “over 54,000 good deeds were accepted in her merit and close to $1.5 million were raised for the family. Her impact on the global society, just from all those good deeds, is unbelievable.”
Thousand mourn the loss of Henya
Thousands of people and Jewish organizations have posted to their social media sharing memories or sending prayers to Henya’s family.
The Milwaukee Jewish Federation posted to their Facebook page a picture of Henya and her family saying, “We are heartbroken by the untimely passing of Henya Shmotkin Federman (z”l), a beloved daughter of Milwaukee. May the Federman and Shmotkin families be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Chabad Lubavitch HQ took to their Facebook page as well, mourning the loss of Henya. “Beloved mother, wife and Chabad representative to the Virgin Islands, Henya Federman, 40, passed away yesterday,” they wrote. “Her death comes after a terrible tragedy two months ago in which her infant daughter also died and left Henya comatose.
“Henya’s funeral coincided poignantly with the start of the Annual International Conference of Shluchim today. The Conference program paused to honor Henya and give thousands of her colleagues time to attend her funeral and pay their last respects today to one of their own.
“Before Henya’s name was rushed to the top of prayer lists around the world, she was better known for her buoyant spirit. She drew friends and locals to her expansive love and her dynamic leadership abilities.”
“We are immeasurably heartbroken and filled with unimaginable sorrow,” Henya’s brother-in-law Eli Federman wrote on his Facebook. “I have so much to say about her enormous impact and awe-inspiring life, legacy, selfless commitment to public service/shluchim and motherhood.”
Jewish singer-songwriter Esther Chana Freeman wrote on her Facebook to commemorate the loss of her friend. “Gut-wrenching Levaya for Henya Federman, Chabad Shlucha (and dear friend) who passed away yesterday after being on life support for a few months. She drowned after trying to save her four-month-old baby in the ocean.
“How ironically befitting that her Levaya takes place during the International Convention, the Kinus Hashluchos for Chabad Female emissaries from all over the world, so that her fellow sister can escort her to her resting place. “
The Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this article.