Aviva Deren, Founding Director
“Morah Vivi”, as she is known to the hundreds of children and families that have connected with Gan Yeladim since its’ inception in 1989, was born into a family that has cherished Jewish education for generations, especially the education of children. She was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, where her parents had founded that city’s Day School, one of the first in a small city. Her grandparents had founded the Yeshiva Schools in Pittsburgh in 1943, one of the first in the country. Vivi grew up with the idea that she could be anything she wanted to be (her father signed her 8th grade autograph book as follows: “Madame, my Presidential vote for 1988 is reserved for you”), and nevertheless felt that there was nothing that could match the challenge and the thrill of teaching. Vivi’s parents and grandparents drew their inspiration from the vision of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who sent them to these communities, and entrusted them with what was then a trailblazing challenge, against all odds. Though the world has changed in many ways, Vivi feels that the Rebbe’s vision of how good it can be, and how much each one of us can do to make it so is more relevant than ever.
Having been educated at Beth Rivkah Hebrew Teacher’s Seminary, Vivi was fortunate to be exposed to master teachers who were passionate about this work and its’ potential to impact the Jewish community, and the wider world as well. Vivi and her husband, Rabbi Yisrael Deren, arrived in New England in May 1974, as Shluchim (emissaries) of the Rebbe. They founded one of the first Chabad Houses on college campuses, where Vivi was very involved in Jewish women’s studies, and were also involved in the Jewish community in Springfield, Massachusetts where Vivi served as Assistant Principal for nearly a decade.
In 1988 they arrived in Stamford with the goal of establishing Chabad in Fairfield County. One of their first projects was Gan Yeladim, which became the flagship of a center that continues to flourish and grow. “One of the first images of Abraham is of the 3 year old boy who figures out that there has to be a Creator. With that vision he set out to change the world, to prove that right does trump might, and that kindness and goodness are the most valuable currency of any society. At Gan we see every single child as yet another Abraham, who really can change the world. It is a dream that never grows old, and keeps us all young and hopeful.”