Meet Chaya Mushka, Again and Again

Hard to Keep Track of Hasidic Women Named for Rebbe's Wife

Flower Girl: Mookie Cohen, who works in a Crown Heights flower shop, is one of thousands of women named after Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the late wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
nate lavey
Flower Girl: Mookie Cohen, who works in a Crown Heights flower shop, is one of thousands of women named after Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the late wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

By Paul Berger

Published December 18, 2011, issue of December 23, 2011.
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If in the coming weeks you happen to meet a young woman called Mushkie, here are a few things you should know:

Mushkie is probably younger than 24. She is most likely consumed with her upcoming wedding or her young children.

One more thing: “You have to say the last name when you are talking about Mushkie,” said Mushkie Bronstein, 20, “because everyone’s called Mushkie.”

Mushkie — or to give her full name, Chaya Mushka — is one of thousands of girls in the worldwide Lubavitch Hasidic community named after Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the wife of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Born Chaya Moussia (“Mushka” is the diminutive), Schneerson died, childless, 23 years ago, on February 10, 1988.

Video: Nate Lavey


In the months that followed, hundreds of Lubavitch parents named their daughters Chaya Mushka. On the first anniversary of Rebbetzin Schneerson’s death, the rebbe was presented with an album of namesakes born during the previous year — 324 Chaya Mushkas from across the world.

Mushky Duchman, born in August, 1988, in Brooklyn was among them. “The rebbe was our leader and when the rebbetzin passed away, it was the greatest thing to give back to the rebbe,” Duchman told the Forward.

During the 1990s in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where the Lubavitch movement has its world headquarters, schools were flooded with Chaya Mushkas. Duchman said that at her Beth Rivkah school in Brooklyn, about 75 of the 120 girls in her grade were called Chaya Mushka.

To differentiate themselves, these Chaya Mushkas adopted various nicknames and alternative spellings: Chaya, Chayale, Moussia, Mushkee, Mushkie, Mushky or Mookie.

Rishe Deitsch, senior editor of a Chabad women’s newsletter, said distinguishing between Chaya Mushkas at school only became a problem when cousins shared the same surname. “Then you start going by the street [they live on],” Deitsch said, “like Chaya Mushka Crown or Chaya Mushka President.”

That was no solution for teachers and classmates of Chaya Mushka Avtzon and Chaya Mushka Avtzon, first cousins who lived three doors away from each other on Crown Street, in Brooklyn.

“We always requested to be in the same class and everyone got us mixed up,” said one of the 22-year-old Avtzons who recently married and officially became Mushky Edelman.

Even today, now that one of the Avtzons has given up her maiden name, the two women still receive each other’s phone calls and text messages, or those meant for their 21-year-old cousin, Chaya Mushka Avtzon, who also lives in Crown Heights.

Mushka Katzman, 21, a classmate of the two Avtzon cousins, recalled how a teacher at the Lubavitch high school they attended avoided confusion by asking both girls to choose their favorite shape. Then each could sign off on her test paper in a different way, one with a star and one with a heart.


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