Inspiring Jewish Women
Women to know: Spiritual kickstart with Rivka Malka Perlman
My mission is to take someone by the hand and show her the beauty of judaism
If you need a spiritual kickstart, spend five minutes with Rivka Malka Perlman. Her exuberance is as potent as a triple espresso, and you’ll surely get a lift at the sight of the tichel(s) on her head, which are most likely arranged into an artful confection of color, sparkle and a dash of whimsy. Rivka Malka, along with her partner, Andrea Grinberg, are authorities on how to tie a tichel with flair. And with a following of thousands around the world on their blog wrapunzel.com, Rivka Malka has everything to smile about.
Rivka Malka’s post at the helm of Wrapunzel is the latest stop on a long journey of selfdiscovery and inspiration. Growing up as the eighth of nine children in the chesed-oriented Klatzko family of Cleveland, Ohio, it was not unusual for Rivka Malka to share her Purim seudah with elderly community members her parents had spent the morning driving around to pick up. (“It was not the most fun when I was a kid, but it was always looking out for the klal.”) Surrounded by a crew of spirited personalities (including her brother, noted rabbi and speaker Bentzion Klatzko), finding her place in the family was a struggle. “As one of the youngest, it took me a long time to find my voice,” she says. “If someone was loud and dynamic, I would curl up and become a little girl again.” But an unexpected tragedy would spark a personal transformation.
At the age of 28, Rivka Malka’s brother, a beloved kiruv rabbi living in South Africa,passed away of unknown causes, leaving his wife and four children behind. “It was a terrible, terrible shock,” Rivka Malka says. But despite her sorrow, the experience sparked a personal transformation. “The veil of reality is lifted when you suffer. You become an adult.” At a gathering for her brother’s shloshim, Rivka Malka spoke publicly for the first time, from the heart, and made a genuine connection with her audience.
After that, she says, “my sense of mission kicked into high gear.” That mission, she knew, was “to take someone by the hand and show her the beauty of Judaism.” After some fits and starts while her children were younger, Rivka Malka was able to realize her mission around the time her youngest was three. She connected with WOW!, a kiruv organization for young professionals in Baltimore, coordinating and planning events, hosting a stream of Shabbos guests, and teaching. Well, sort of. As she describes it, “In a way I was teaching, and in a way, I barely taught. I always related to people like, ‘No, me and you, we’re the same.’ I’m not teaching you...It’s about us sharing a moment of chizzuk, so that we can both walk away enriched.” A year later, she was hired as the program’s director. To build the WOW! network, Rivka Malka got involved in social media, making YouTube videos of Torah thoughts.
The response she got was surprising: People liked what she had to say, but they loved her tichels. Could she make some videos about them? “To me,” says Rivka Malka, “it was bizarre; I want to teach Torah. Why should I make tichel-tying videos?” But the advice of a movie-producer friend finally convinced her: “You need to go where you’re authentic.” In Rivka Malka’s case, it didn’t get more authentic than tichels. Inspired by her mother-in-law, who she calls “a trailblazer in tichels,” Rivka Malka had been experimenting with head scarves for over 20 years —and enjoying every minute of it. With multiple layers, elaborate styles and unique accessories, Rivka Malka took the mitzvah to a whole new level. (“I love tichels,” she says. “I love the color and the cheerfulness and the creativity. It’s celebrating the mitzvah, not hiding the mitzvah.
I love not blending in everywhere I go. I’m a Jew, and I look different.”) After only three of four videos, Rivka Malka found herself recognized around the world. It was only a matter of time before she was contacted by Andrea Grinberg from Chicago, a professional cellist, spiritual teacher and tichel enthusiast. “Hashem brought us together,” says Rivka Malka— literally. Not long after they connected, Andrea’s husband got a fellowship in Baltimore, and the Grinbergs moved around the corner from the Perlmans. The duo quickly teamed up and created Wrapunzel, the go-to site for tichel-tying (and spiritual) inspiration.
Rivka Malka and Andrea now travel around the world speaking, attending hair-wrapping expos, and inspire their thousands of followers with videos, blog posts and descriptions of their tichels with messages like “Love Your Neighbor” and “Celebrate Your Differences.” “Baruch Hashem, we open a lot of doors” Rivka Malka explains. “We are a vehicle for spirituality.” A week after Wrapunzel’s launch, Rivka Malka decided it was time to step down from her position at WOW! after a threeyear ride. “By the end,” says Rivka Malka, everything was very other-people oriented, but my family needed me. I was struggling.” With the overwhelming response to Wrapunzel, Rivka Malka seized the opportunity to work from home. Now Wrapunzel has truly become a family affair, with her husband, Betzalel, running the site full-time, and her children helping to put tichel kits and packages together. “They’re very handson, very helpful,” Rivka Malka says. “My daughter Hadassah is a photographer; she comes [with us] to every show. Whenever I leave the house, my husband says, ‘Make the world feel beautiful’!”
Every day, Rivka Malka’s inbox is crowded with messages from women whose lives have been transformed, thanks to Wrapunzel. One woman wrote, I used to dread covering my hair. I hated how I looked, and now I feel beautiful. Another confided that she was a better wife now that she’d started wearing tichels. Yet another said, I just started getting to know about Judaism, and I’ve been covering my hair for months. What do I do next? One woman I know, who took a lot of pride in her corkscrew curls, began wearing elaborate tichels after getting inspired by Wrapunzel, and every time I see her, she looks like a queen. So between being mother, kiruv dynamo and hair-wrapping guru, what’s Rivka Malka’s secret to maintaining balance? “The biggest detriment to life balance is not having self-acceptance. When we don’t have self-acceptance we set schedules and goals we will never accomplish, and we feel incompetent, less-than or overwhelmed. When we decide to love our strengths and weaknesses, just like Hashem does, then you can...create a life for yourself that Hashem had in mind for you.” It seems, indeed, that she has.