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A Living Megillah (Part Three)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

As I indicated in my last column, there are a thousand-and-one inspirational stories that I could share with you, testifying to the pintele Yid embedded for all eternity in every Jewish heart. It might be a book, speech, Shabbos experience, a hug, kind word, or a blessing from a bubby, zeidy, rabbi or Torah teacher. In an instant, that pintele Yid can come to life, make a journey that spans thousands of years and reconnect the soul to Sinai – and thus, every day, Yiddishe neshamos are reborn.

This miracle of Jewish survival has been demonstrated time and again. But not everyone realizes that it’s not only the young, but that every Jew is capable of making this journey. The pintele Yid was given to us at Sinai and is as vigorous and vital in middle years and old age as it is in youth.

I make a point of saying this because in our youth-oriented society, many of us believe that is only the youth have the energy to make that leap of faith. So let me share with you the miracle of the pintele Yid igniting the sparks in the hearts of those who have reached their middle years.

The Professor and the Student

It was Thursday night and I was teaching my usual Torah class at the Hineni Heritage Center in Manhattan. One of the remarkable things about these classes is that in one room, people of all ages and backgrounds can be found. They all share the magical power of Torah that speaks to every heart and evokes a responsive chord in all neshamos.

Chaya, one of the lovely young students who attends my class comes from an observant, Yeshivish family, is the graduate of a very fine girls seminary. At present, she is studying in a local university for an advanced degree. When Chaya enrolled in her course, she had no idea as to the religious affiliation of her professor – neither her name nor her appearance gave Chaya any indication of her teacher’s faith.

Then, one day, she noticed a little Torah among the charms on her necklace, and that was enough for Chaya to initiate discussion. Discovering that her professor was, indeed Jewish, but totally secular, Chaya invited her to visit my Torah class. “Come meet the Rebbetzin, and she will give you a blessing,” she urged.

So one Thursday night, Chaya showed up with her professor.

“Rebbetzin, could you meet with us after the class?” she asked.

“Absolutely, it will be my honor,” I assured her.

When Chaya and Dr. Paula Lester made themselves comfortable in my office, it was easy sailing. I didn’t have to do much convincing – the parshah did it all. That is one of the reasons I like to meet people after my class.

The reason I do this is simple. Early on in my outreach work, I discovered the magic that Torah generates in even the most alienated, secular heart – a magic that cannot be duplicated in any other forum. G-d’s wisdom speaks to every person and strikes a responsive chord in every soul, and ignites the pintele Yid buried in its crevices.

I am proud to share with you that, since that evening, Dr. Lester has not missed a Torah class, has kashered her home and become Shomer Shabbos.

Why do I make mention of all this? So that yeshiva students who attend universities may learn from Chaya – and more – so that all of us who are committed to Torah may follow her example. Wherever life takes us, whenever we come in contact with our secular brethren, be it in the halls of a university, at work, or even in chance encounters, let us never forget our higher calling. Hashem has given us life for a purpose – so that we might live by His Word and share that Word with all our brethren.

To be sure, as a student, Chaya could have felt intimidated at the thought of approaching her professor, but when it comes to disseminating Torah, we should never feel inadequate; we should never feel hesitant about inviting a fellow Jew to a Torah class or for a Shabbos. As long as that invitation is extended graciously, with kindness and without a holier-than-thou judgmental attitude, it will work.

I have discovered that people appreciate such caring invitations even, if initially, they may be reluctant to accept them. The main thing is not to give up.

Should you decide, after reading this article, to bring your friends, acquaintances, relatives, fellow students, professors, or bosses, to our Hineni classes, either on a Thursday (232 West End Avenue, 8:30 p.m.) or Tuesday (125 East 85 St. 7:30 p.m.) I will be very happy to speak to them one-on-one following our Torah study. There is a whole world out there waiting to be awakened – we need only invite them.

Today, Dr. Peninah Lester is continuing to share that which she discovered when she first came to Hineni. She proudly speaks of her journey to Torah and happily shares her experiences with others. We are living in exciting times. Jewish hearts are ready to be sparked and inspired. Ours is a generation that the prophet Amos described, “Hineh yamim ba’ im – Behold, days shall come upon you, [and I shall send a hunger into the land, not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for water, but a hunger for the word of G-d.]”

Yes, people are hungering for nourishment for their souls. Our materialistic, hedonistic culture has left them empty, depressed, anxious and troubled. We need only reach out to them, and we can change the world.

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