Once again, I am on a plane. I am returning to New York after a long, two- week journey. It has been a grueling, but exhilarating tour. Each day, I addressed the Jewish community of another European country. The first stop was Paris. I was forewarned that in Europe if you draw an audience of 100-200 people, you could regard yourself successful, so my expectations were not very high. But when I arrived at the huge synagogue it was crowded wall-to-wall. There wasn’t a seat to be had, and people were still coming, not only residents of Paris, but from as far away as Strasbourg.
This was my first-ever speaking engagement in France, so I was astonished to be greeted by this outpouring of multitudes that all seemed to know me. One of my books had been translated into French, and as a result, many had been impacted and became committed to Torah and mitzvos. The Jewish neshamah is remarkable.
Although I do not speak French and most of the audience had to rely on simultaneous translations with earphones, and I spoke for more than an hour…no one moved; you could have heard a pin drop. People lingered on long into the night posing questions and asking for brachos. Nowadays, who does not have a problem? Who does not carry a burden?
Early the next morning, I arrived at the Gare du Nord to catch a train to Antwerp and was delightfully surprised to be greeted by a large contingent who had come to see me off and request just one more word of Torah, one more brachah. The rebbetzin of the community was also there, and she gave me some wonderful news. She had already received phone calls from many who had attended the program and now pledged to become Shomrei Shabbos and scrupulous about keeping Torah and mitzvos.
My audience in Belgium was totally different. Antwerp has a beautiful chassidishe heimish community, but no matter what type of community, I long ago discovered that, if you speak Torah, neshamos respond and open up. It has the power to touch every heart. This principle holds true for every country in which our people reside; Berlin, Budapest, London or Paris, the Yiddishe neshamah is very much alive.
A journey such as this, with a program in a different country each day, is physically and emotionally exhausting. To get up early in the morning after just a few hours sleep and race to the airport to catch yet another flight is no simple matter, even for a young person, how much more so for someone who, Baruch Hashem, has reached my age. So, first and foremost, I would like to publicly thank Hashem for the merit that He granted me that allowed me to make this awesome journey without any major mishaps.
I had only one glitch. When we arrived in Budapest, my luggage was missing. Five-hundred people (including a bus-load of yeshiva students from Vienna) were waiting in the beautiful ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel, a spectacular feat for the small, assimilated Jewish community of Budapest. For this accomplishment, I owe a debt of gratitude to Adrienne and Robie Deutsch, an amazing, lovely, young couple who became part of our Hineni organization when visiting New York and were determined to share their love of Torah with their fellow Hungarian Jews.
To return to the glitch – there I was, in a crumpled travel suit and sneakers, my luggage lost and 500 people waiting at the hotel. At the lost luggage counter they informed me that the suitcase had probably been left in Zurich (where we made our connection). Then, 20 minutes later I was told that, indeed, the suitcase had arrived in Budapest, but for some reason, it had not been unloaded and was on its way back to Zurich. They further told me that it would arrive in Budapest by seven or nine p.m., too late for my speech. With nothing further to be done, I decided to make the best of it and hoped that Hashem would regard it as my kapparah.
Adrienne very kindly tried her hardest and brought me a selection of her blouses and shoes. I felt like Cinderella, except in Cinderella’s case, the shoes fit perfectly… but no matter, it would have to do.
After my program, while I was greeting the people, answering questions and signing copies of my book, my friend, Barbara, whispered in my ear that she had been in touch with the airport…the suitcase was nowhere to be found, and more, they had no idea of where it could be! At midnight, our friend Robie Deutsch informed me that the suitcase had been traced back to London and it would soon arrive from Heathrow! The “soon” turned out to be 5:00 a.m., just in time for us to catch our flight to Bucharest for the next program.
When relating the “saga of the luggage” by phone to my daughter, she wisely reminded me how fortunate it was that the kapparah was only that which was material. “Do you remember, Ima, how, when you led a group to Auschwitz, you fell and broke your shoulder? At that time you said that, in countries like these, where so much holy Jewish blood was spilled, where so much pain, suffering, and agony had been inflicted, of course there had to be a kapparah, but Baruch Hashem, this time it was only that which was material!”
“How right you are, zees kind,” I agreed. “How right you are!”
The most significant gift that I was given on this trip, for which I will be eternally grateful, is to have had the merit, the zechus, of witnessing the light of Torah in Yiddish neshamos. No matter how assimilated or alienated the audience may have been, no matter how demanding or uncompromising my message may have been, the people embraced every word. Eyes that were cold and distant became moist with tears as the Pintele Yid resurfaced.
I also had an added bonus…. in every community I visited I discovered that the singles crisis, which we are witness here in America, has become global. Young people simply cannot find shidduchim and with the ever-shrinking Jewish population of Europe, the dangers posed by intermarriage are very grave, so I tried to connect singles from the different countries that I visited. Whether or not these shidduchim will materialize, remains to be seen, but the very fact that someone is trying to help, gives singles hope.
The shidduch crisis in our turbulent world is real, and it behooves all of us to address it. My father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, never left the house without his little black notebook. “Men ken kein mol nisht vissen…. You never know who you meet and for whom you can perhaps make a shidduch.” This is a responsibility that we should all take seriously, to help establish yet another Jewish home and give life to a new generation of Yiddishe kinderlach.
To be sure, I discovered many other real problems; the sinister shadow of anti-Semitism is hovering over every Jewish community even as Israel is being demonized. But the good news is that Pesach is here and this great Yom Tov heralds our redemption speedily in our own day.
May it come soon!