It is Neshama’s bas mitzvah and she’s feeling slighted because her celebration is being shunted to the side due to her sister’s upcoming wedding. Her mom, Rivka Malka, has an idea. On the night of Neshama’s Hebrew birthday, Rivka Malka blindfolds Neshama and drives her and three sisters to a motel. When they arrive, the staff sings Happy Birthday. Neshama has no idea where she is. They pick her up and throw her on a bed and remove the blindfold. Music begins to play, the pillow fights start and they dance the night away.
This is the kind of out-of-the-box activity that beturbaned with her trademark multi-colored headscarf and matching ‘60s-style skirt, Rivka Malka Perlman loves to initiate. Starting with her family, Rivka Malka feels that bringing joy to Jewish women, whatever that looks like, is the path to healing and redemption.
Rivka Malka is a life coach, a life coach instructor and a speaker. In addition, she organizes redemption retreats: three-day getaways for women replete with classes, lectures and exercises designed to foster a sense of community and personal growth.
“Personal redemption means personal spiritual/emotional healing,” Rivka Malka explains. “My main goal is to gather together women who are already on their own personal redemption journeys and women who have not yet discovered the power of the journey. Together we can bring about the national redemption. The Slonimer Rebbe says in order to create a world that is ready for Moshiach, we need to roll up our sleeves and do what it takes to work on ourselves. I believe the world is ready for healing.”
The retreat is a combination of deep emotional work and joyous release. The first exercise takes place right after everyone arrives. Attendees are invited to line up in rows, each woman sitting opposite another. “We were asked to tell individuals we had never met before the biggest issues we were struggling with,” explains one participant. “Then we stood up and moved one seat over, and the question we had to answer the next woman was what we loved about her.”
In a later exercise, Rivka Malka asked for a volunteer participant to publicly confront a member of the retreat that she felt had hurt her since the retreat began utilizing tools they had learned in the previous hours about effective communication. The three intense packed days are followed by nights of song and dance.
At the end of one retreat, after the participants had already packed their bags and were getting ready to leave, Rivka Malka called them back. She felt there was something missing. “Jump into the pool,” she instructed everybody. “With your clothes on.” As the women splashed and dunked each other, Rivka Malka said simply, “We needed more bonding.”
Rivka Malka is as joyous out of her coaching world as she is in it.
“She organized a Challah Bake in Baltimore,” shares a friend. “I had just moved into the community. I remember attending the Bake and seeing rows of challah dough on the table and a large group of women dancing. There in the center was Rivka Malka. I could see that that was her place of joy, celebrating with other women from all different backgrounds.”
Inspirational moments come when women experience epiphanies, Rivka Malka relates. One woman at a retreat related the following story. She had an ill child and then lost her money and her respected career all in one blow. She felt that G-d no longer wanted her to be successful. Even though years had passed since this incident, she realized that she had carried around this false message in herself. Consequently, she was not allowing herself to be successful in multiple areas of her life. As she was recounting her story, she came to this awareness. “You could feel the hush and the holiness as she sat there crying and talking directly to Hashem in the center of the room. She recognized that Hashem had taken away these things so life could change for her in a more positive way. We asked her to bless us and she did.”
Rivka Malka shares how her personal experiences led up to her work today. “I had contracted a life-threatening complication in my pregnancy. The chance of survival was miniscule. While lying fatally ill in the ICU, not knowing if I would live or die, I had my own epiphany: G-d loves me. Of course, I had known this truth before but never with such clarity. My experience with near death taught me of the preciousness of my soul and every other soul. Now, when I look at people, I see them as sweet children of G-d. I believe that strangers are just friends waiting to happen. My experience changed the ways I view relationships. I now had an even greater desire to help others feel deeply loved from the inside.”
However, it was only after an emotionally devastating experience that Rivka Malka trained to become a life coach. She had been an charismatic leader her entire life, but it was a relationship that brought her to her knees that made her recognize that she needed to do even more internal work. “I am warm and caring in general, but I tend to be a people pleaser, so all sorts of people are attracted to me. Sometimes those without any boundaries would come to me and, like I did with everyone else up until that experience, I would try to fill their needs.”
This time, though, her unhealthy people-pleasing tendency climaxed in a relationship with an extreme narcissist. “This woman started out nice and friendly. But then she played on my goodness, emotionally extracting everything from me while simultaneously tearing me down. I ended up totally crossing my personal boundaries with her. I didn’t understand that with a narcissist the more giving you are, the more power you give them. In that relationship, anything I shared would be used against me. Like all victims of narcissists, by the time I got out of that relationship I was a shadow of my former self, I was filled with self-doubt. The entire situation made me feel isolated and betrayed and I became numb to the world. I knew I had some serious healing work to do.”
The journey to healing, even if you are a strong woman, is often long and arduous. In her coaching work Rivka Malka accesses her pain as a way to understand others, particularly when working with clients recovering from narcissistic relationships. She will guide them through their pain to help them arrive at places of trust and new freedoms.
“Each time I help someone renew their trust in self and G-d, I’m renewing mine. I believe the journey of healing is not just about putting your pieces back together, it’s about shining your light,” she says.
“Rivka Malka is not like your typical life coach instructor,” shares a coaching school student. “She has a way of putting people on the spot, pushing them past what they think they’re able to do. I had years of infertility, a miscarriage and three surgeries. Rivka Malka believed in me. She helped me through the pain and even though I still experience infertility, she helped me to find healing and to recreate myself. The pain is still present, but through my new life coaching skills, I use it to help others with their healing.”
Another one of her great assets, a student shares, is her ability to think big and at the same time show strong faith. Recently, although she had no idea where the money would come from, Rivka Malka invited an inspiring well-known rabbi from Israel to speak to her students. The morning of the speech arrived and she had only raised $100, but she had complete trust that G-d would send the money. In between breaks, always with a smile on her face, she’d call potential donors. The program was about to begin and still the money had not appeared. At the last minute, a donor came through with the entire amount.
If you ask Rivka Malka what she believes is the biggest issue Jewish women face today, she will say a lack of self-love. Self-love is synonymous with accepting Hashem’s love, Rivka Malka maintains. A woman’s greatest strength is to nurture. This is why it’s particularly vital that she receive her own nurturing. As she goes through her demanding day of giving to her family, friends and whomever she comes in contact with, she needs to feel her own source of nurturing. “My goal is to strive to create safe healing space for strong women to support others. I believe that healing is holy emunah work. Often women feel like victims. I want to bring them to transcendence. They will often come to a coaching session full of self-pity. I try to guide them to an awareness of what happened and teach that ultimately they are in control of their responses.”
There are five basic stages in this process: the feeling of victimhood, a sense of awareness, experience, transcendence and overflow. The sense of awareness comes through coaching, gaining understanding of how you work and how you function in the world. In the experience step, a woman begins to enact changes in how she functions. Rivka Malka tries to assist clients in accessing their feelings – how did the event make them feel? Is there perhaps a bigger story here?
The third stage is transcendence, which is used to bring women to an understanding that their experiences are all part of G-d’s plan. He is helping us to live our lives on a deeper plane. All our past experiences help build our present and future experience – it’s all one story. The final stage is overflow. In this stage a woman takes her awareness to do something for others to help bring world redemption.
With all this incredible healing work being performed, miracles are inevitable. The following one occurred at the closing circle at the end of a retreat. A participant shared how empty she felt because of her childlessness. Rivka Malka gently challenged her to thank Hashem for the bad in her life as well as the good, and she took up the challenge. She said, “Thank you Hashem for my infertility.” The whole room cried with her and then each woman in the circle thanked Hashem for their misfortunes. “This was a meaningful experience for everybody,” explains Rivka Malka, “but the problem was we always want to end the retreat buoyantly and the atmosphere was heavy. I didn’t know what to do but G-d helped me. I walked into the middle of the room and prayed. I talked directly to G-d and said, ‘Hashem, look at your daughters. We are in pain. Please give us the opportunity to serve you in joy.’” Rivka Malka continued and said, “Please Hashem, if you allow me to make ten retreats, the tenth one will be free for anybody who wishes to attend. Your daughters need it! Then we turned on lively music and we danced it out. It was an awesome ending.”
The incredible postscript to this story is that three and a half months later, the childless participant contacted Rivka Malka and told her that she was three months pregnant.