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Ruth Shatkin, now a Lubavitcher devotee, once studied music at the University of Cincinnati.
World Within A World
t could be an old-fashioned girls'
dormitory, the kind you really
don't see anymore. In the
hallways and stairwells of the
spacious house, young women
go about their studies or phone conver-
sations, keeping _a slight, politely
modest distance from a male visitor. The
dorm mother, maternally vivacious and
herself not many years out of the dorm
generation, fields queries and smoothes
household business with a quietly firm
But this dorm is especially far from
the norm, finding shelter under the vast
umbrella of the Lubavitcher Youth Or-
ganization, offering home, study and all-
embracing support to young women
from all over America and scattered cor-
ners of the world who wish to follow the
Chasidic way of life.
The dorm's supervisor, Ruth Shatkin,
like many of her charges, is a Luba-
vitcher Baala tshuva, having worked her
way from the ground up, religiously
speaking, as an original product of a
non-religious home. Such "b.t.'s" are
Chabad's prize recruits, assiduously
courted on urban streets and college
Learning the religious ropes is hard
but, as Shatkin points out, gratifying
work . A bawl tshuvah, male or female,
can attain greater spiritual heights than
even a lofty tzaddik (righteous person),
simply because, as the sages explain,
such an aspirant has so much more
ground to cover.
Shatkin's own quarters consist of a
tiny, almost monastic room. A framed
portrait of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
behind a greeting card with Snoopy's
likeness provides one of several
haymishe touches. When not dorm
mothering, Shatkin teaches music at
Conservative-run Bialik Day School,
holds Rosh Chodesh sings at Chabad
girls' schools, gives special concerts,
busies herself composing and arranging
music. A product of the University of
Cincinnati's Conservatory of Music,
where she took the baala tshuva's route
in her sophomore year, Shatkin is adept
at piano, guitar, recorder and voice.
Like many creative baalei tshuva,
Shatkin feels that not only has her new
life failed to crimp her artistic freedom,
it's brought it closer to realization:
"We're encouraged to express our-
selves. It's an averah [sin] not to. All our
work is in service of Hashem anyway.
Our task is to extricate the holy sparks.
The modern world calls it self-actuali-
zation. In Chasidus, there's room for be-
Nevertheless, in the sexually segre-
gated world of the ultra-Orthodox, only
other females are permitted to ex-
perience Shatkin's music. Shatkin is un-
troubled by this, even though, unlike her
sister Chabadniks born into their in-
sulated world, she has seen both sides
of the sexual politics fence.
"Feminism is simply a reaction to
man's treatment of women," she says.
"It's a negative reaction. In the case of
Jewish feminists, it's Jews picking up
the goyishe mentality.
"The educated woman is looked up
to," continued yet-to-be-married
Shatkin. "The Rebbe said he wished
men knew what women are supposed to
know — kashrus,
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