web analytics
December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
8000 meals Celebrate Eight Days of Chanukah – With 8,000 Free Meals Daily to Israel’s Poor

Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Watching An Extraordinary Rebbetzin Build Lives


A few years ago at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, we held a Friday night dinner for Beginners, a monthly activity that usually draws about 150 people. On that particular night there were 250 people who packed our Heyman Auditorium. The reason was that Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis joined us for dinner.

I watched with admiration as she addressed the gathering in her own inimitable style: speaking directly to the young people, telling them the truth, and inspiring them to a greater commitment to Torah. What was even more remarkable, however, was watching the Rebbetzin interact with individuals during the course of the evening. Approached cautiously by a participant with a question, she would stop whatever she was doing, make close eye contact with the questioner, and touch the soul of the person.

Often, she would cup a young woman’s face in her hands and, it would appear, penetrate straight through into that person’s inner being. In a sense, her most recent book, Life Is a Test, does just that. She takes our faces figuratively in her hands and talks directly to us, trying to, as she puts it, build lives. This is what her life is all about.

And the book gives us an insight into the way she builds lives.

Life Is a Test is filled with real life stories of people in crisis or in turmoil. The Rebbetzin tells us how she helps these people through the vicissitudes of life including, among others, financial failure, children going astray, difficulties with finding a marital partner, and depression. She reaches them through Torah insights, chassidic stories, personal anecdotes and an appeal to them to find their lives in God, prayer and honest self-reflection.

I have watched this extraordinary woman build lives in our community where she addresses a packed auditorium week after week, teaching the Torah portion and bringing hope, inspiration and courage to hundreds of young people. I have seen her do this on a one-to-one basis and have marveled at her ability to reach deep into a person’s innermost being. Coming from a family of chassidic rebbes in Hungary, she maintains that role in a gloriously impressive way.

Life Is a Test starts with a quote from Moshe Chaim Luzatto in The Path of the Just: “All that befalls us in this world, the good as well as the bad, are tests.” The book is a commentary on that statement. In one example after another from real life, Rebbetzin Jungreis shows how the things that happen to us are tests; not the kind of tests we pass or fail, but tests that reveal to us our mission in life and enable us to realize our full potential.

Drawing on the medieval commentator Nachmanides’s interpretation of the Ten Tests of Abraham, with its climax in the binding of Isaac, the book explains that these tests were not for God’s sake but for Abraham’s. They demonstrated to him the extent to which he was capable of commitment and greatness.

The binding of Isaac was considered to be the ultimate test. The Rebbetzin asks why this is so. Were not some of the other trials to which Abraham was put just as difficult and frightening? She answers that the real test “must hit you where you are most challenged, where it really hurts.” For Abraham, who abhorred child sacrifice and who inveighed against it to the world, who was renowned for his kindness and generosity, the commandment to offer his child as a sacrifice was the most difficult test conceivable. His ability to pass it demonstrated to God, and to Abraham himself, the extent of his commitment.

Consequently, the angel called out, “Abraham, Abraham do not stretch out your hand against the lad, for now I know you are a God-fearing man, since you have not withheld your son Isaac from me” (Genesis, 22:11,12).

And so it is, says the Rebbetzin, with life’s tests. The most important ones are those that require the greatest effort. If one is addicted to smoking, giving up smoking is an ultimate test. If one is constantly losing one’s temper, resolving to be tolerant and understanding is an ultimate test. If one is naturally stingy, giving tzedakah is an ultimate test.

It was a test that led the Rebbetzin to create Hineni, the outreach organization she founded and leads. When she was yet a child, after suffering through Auschwitz, her family made its way to America. Her parents settled in a secular Jewish community where the observances, dress and general conduct of the family were objects of derision rather than admiration.

Had the family lived in a chassidic neighborhood they would have blended in and there would have been no test. In their secular neighborhood Esther Jungreis’s parents urged her to bring her classmates home from school to experience Shabbat and Yom Tov. She began right then to explain to the uninitiated the beauty of Judaism, of Torah, the Sabbath, festivals and prayer. That was the beginning her lifelong occupation: building lives.

Her beloved husband, Rabbi Meshulem Ha-Levi Jungreis, z”l, had the most extraordinary relationship with his wife. Their one area of disagreement, she confesses, was his penchant for collecting papers, notes, speeches, articles and all kinds of written memorabilia. After his passing, she went through his papers and discovered among the many gems the following: “A long life is not good enough, but a good life is long enough.”

Her latest book, like everything else she does in life, demonstrates that she is truly living a long life.

About the Author: Rabbi Haskel Lookstein is spiritual leader of Cong. Kehilath Jeshurun on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Watching An Extraordinary Rebbetzin Build Lives”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
PM Binyamin Netanyahu lights Hanukkah candles in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu Warns Israel ‘Will Not Allow’ PA’s UN Resolution to Endanger Israelis
Latest Indepth Stories
Russia Cuba relations

Obama obtained NO verifiable commitments from Cuba it would desist from acts prejudicial to the US

No one would deny that the program subjected detainees to less than pleasant treatment, but the salient point is, for what purpose?

For the past six years President Obama has consistently deplored all Palestinian efforts to end-run negotiations in search of a UN-imposed agreement on Israel.

It’s not an admiration. It is simply a kind of journalist fascination. It stands out, it’s different from more traditional Orthodoxy.

For Am Yisrael, the sun’s movements are subservient to the purpose of our existence.

Israelis now know Arab terrorism isn’t caused by Israeli occupation but by ending Israeli occupation

Anti-Semitism is a social toxin that destroys the things that people most cherish and enjoy.

Amb. Cooper highlighted the impact of the Chanukah/Maccabee spirit on America’s Founding Fathers

Zealousness has its place and time in Judaism; Thank G-d for heroic actions of the Maccabees!

Israel and the strengthening of the Jewish people in faith and numbers has brought a growing light

“Can you hear what the dead are whispering? Leave Galut, escape to Eretz Israel-Lech lecha!”

3 main messages emerged from this conference: Communications, Community, and Collaboration.

In his short time with the shul, he has managed to activate a Hebrew school with now over 50 children and five teachers.

Recent headlines show escalation of the same attitudes and actions as existed during the Holocaust

More Articles from Rabbi Haskel Lookstein

A few years ago at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, we held a Friday night dinner for Beginners, a monthly activity that usually draws about 150 people. On that particular night there were 250 people who packed our Heyman Auditorium. The reason was that Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis joined us for dinner.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/watching-an-extraordinary-rebbetzin-build-lives/2007/03/07/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: