web analytics
October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



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
IDF soldiers are evacuated to a hospital after a terror attack.
Photo credit: Smiley Hafuch / Rotter.net
IDF Soldiers Injured in Terror Attack From Sinai
Latest Indepth Stories
Noah and his Family; mixed media collage by Nathan Hilu. Courtesy Hebrew Union College Museum

Myth #1: It is easy to be a B’nai Noach. It is extraordinarily hard to be a B’nai Noach.

Sweden prefers to ignore its own problems and make trouble elsewhere.

The question of anti-Semitism in Europe today is truly tied to the issue of immigration.

256px-Israel-Palestine_flags.svg

Polls indicate that the Palestinians are much more against a two state solution than the Israelis.

Map of Syria-Turkish border area, pinpointing Kurdish border town of Kobani, just taken by ISIS terror forces Oct 7, 2014.

Turkey and Iran the 2 regional powers surrounding the ISIS conflict gain from a partial ISIS victory

Emigration from Israel is at an all-time low, far lower than immigration to Israel from Europe.

Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters: “‘Klinghoffer’ is justified as ‘a work of art’…This is an outrage.”

Do you seriously think that as you kidnap our children we should medically treat and help yours?

Sometimes collective action against the heinous acts of the majority is not enough. The world should not only support the blockade of Gaza; it must enforce the dismantling of Hamas.

The Arab Spring has challenged Jordan with the task of gradual reform with regard to its monarchy.

Israel offered Syria the entire Golan Heights, only to find that the Syrians were demanding MORE!

Israeli hasbara too can be described at best as pathetic, at worst non existent.

A ‘good news’ story from the Nepal avalanche disaster to warm your heart. Take out your Kleenex.

Journalists see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as morality play: Israel=evil; Palestine=innocent

Warsaw Ghetto: At its height, the Nazis walled in some 500,000 Jews within the1.3 square mile area.

While police officers face dangers every day on the job, Jews also face danger in their daily lives.

Carter developed a fondness for Arafat believing “they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God”

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: