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A Nation Of Ballerinas


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Readers are always asking me how I have the strength to open my heart, to tell my personal story, my struggles, my pain. My saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, taught us that whenever we have difficult challenges we should share them with others, so that they will be strengthened in dealing with their own tests. My father learned this from our Torah, which relates to us all the painful struggles of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. “Ma’aseh avos siman la’banim – that which befell our forefathers is a sign for the children” – so that we too might be fortified.

Ours is a generation that has been overwhelmed by “tzarus” – real problems. And yet ours is the “me” generation. We are absorbed with ourselves. We see only our own needs. Very often it happens that when we hear about the tzarus of another, we shrug our shoulders and dismiss our neighbor’s pain.

Here is another lesson we learned from our forefathers: No matter how terrible their pain, no matter how much suffering they endured, they felt the hearts of others, prayed for them and shed tears for them. That too is part of ma’aseh avos siman la’banim. Their responses are our guiding light, teaching us that when we feel despair we are to focus on the needs of others, and this will help us to resolve and deal with our own crises.

Many of you will recall that back in April I wrote an article from my hospital bed in San Diego titled “I Will Keep Dancing.” In it, I described how the nurses had dubbed me a “prima ballerina” as they observed me take my first painful steps.

I asked myself, “Are they mocking me?” But no, they couldn’t be, they were so kind and respectful. They were non-Jews who reverently called me Rebbetzin, and made every effort to pronounce that foreign word properly.

I thought about it and it occurred to me that Hashem was sending me a message. “Esther bas Miriam – don’t you know you are a ballerina? Yes, you may be in a valley but you must skip your way to the mountaintop. Hold on, don’t lose control. Swallow your tears and keep going.”

My daughter reminded me, “Ima, you rose from the ashes of Hitler’s inferno, and so of course you are a ballerina. You will rise again, keep on dancing.”

And so I did. We Jews are all ballerinas. We may fall, but we rise with glorious strength.

I share with you now my new dance. I was on a European speaking tour. My first stop was Paris. Thousands came to listen. We had an awesome Kiddush Hashem. Jews young and old, male and female, secular and observant, all gathered under one roof. The audience was standing room only. Hearts were reawakened to a greater commitment to Torah and mitzvos.

And then there was also the pain, the terrible test that faces Jews of every generation. Our brethren in France are in need of a lot of chizuk – strength. The hatred of Jews is constantly escalating. Tragically, I found the same conditions in communities throughout Europe. Europe has become “Eurabia.”

My last stop before returning to New York was Budapest, where I had the zechus – the merit – to conduct a Shabbaton. Incredibly, three hundred seventy-five people showed up – a spectacular achievement in Hungary. After Shabbos, I was on my way to the gravesites of my holy ancestors, going back many generations, when suddenly my dance was put on hold. I became ill and ended up in a hospital in Budapest. Need I tell you, a hospital in Budapest wouldn’t have been my exact choice as far as hospitals go. But then I remembered yet another teaching from the Patriarchs.

Our father Jacob was finally on his way back to Eretz Yisrael after twenty-two years in exile. He suffered, struggling and going through all manner of trials and tribulations. And yet he never gave up his faith. He was the ultimate “ballerina.” Finally, he came home to Eretz Yisrael. He hoped, he prayed, that now in his old age he would have peace, tranquility and serenity.

But no sooner did he arrive than the most awful calamity occurred – his sons sold their brother Joseph into bondage and told their elderly father that he had been killed by a wild beast.

How could an old father survive such a catastrophe? The answer is simple. As long as we are living, there is no rest, no respite. The tests keep coming. It is for us to pass them all, and to remember that we are a nation of ballerinas, and when we fall, we stand up. We cling to our faith and become even closer to our G-d.

As I write these words, I am about to be released from the hospital and, b’ezras Hashem, with G-d’s help, will be on my way back home. Once again I hear the message: Esther bas Miriam – you are a Jew, a ballerina.

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