This is a season when memories crowd my mind – so many memories that are bittersweet -bitter, because they are now only memories, and sweet, because just recalling them infuses me with strength. I rush to the cemetery – I pronounce a prayer, I spill out my heart, I wash the grave with my tears, and I depart with an ache in my soul. If only they could be here…. if only I could see their saintly faces and hear their wise gentle voices.
I cry for what was and is no more. I feel so badly for my grandchildren, who never knew Zeide, zt”l, and Mama, a”h, and the younger grandchildren who never knew my saintly husband, their loving Abba Zeide, zt”l. I am keenly aware that as many stories as I tell them, it can never be quite the same. How can I describe the tzidkus – the righteousness of my revered father, his pure chesed, his boundless love? He was a great Rebbe, but all who met him lovingly called him “Zeide” because they felt his enormous love, and it was that love that made him everyone’s Zeide. Without saying a word, Zeide always understood the burdens that weighed on every heart, and his brochos were like balm that healed the pain.
My mother, the rebbetzin, was adoringly referred to by everyone as Mama, because that’s what she was, a warm, caring mama who found room in her big heart for each and every person.
There were always dozens of people who were bereft of family who came to my parents for the seudahs – the meals before and after the fast. My mother had no household help, and she did not avail herself of ready-made products. She did it all by herself, but always with a song. Nothing was too much for her. In addition to preparing for the seudahs in her own home, she somehow managed to prepare a care package for every child as well – and as I said, “she was a mama to everyone,” so whoever entered her kitchen was treated as her child. Her supply of goodies was endless, her pots bottomless.
My husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, was a spiritual giant. He too, was a survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He came to this country alone – his entire family had perished, but he always had a smile on his face – a smile that penetrated your heart and a positive spirit that buoyed and uplifted you. Just talking to him made you feel better. He had infinite patience, and he lived his life to help others.
On Rosh Hashana, he would come home from shul drenched with perspiration. He gave all his strength and energy to leading the services and inspiring his congregation. Although our shul was filled to capacity during these days, he always knew if someone was missing, so before he allowed himself to relax, he went to visit the sick to blow the shofar for them. It was only when he was confident that every one had heard the sound of the shofar that he felt comfortable about sitting down at the table.
In addition to his many rabbinic responsibilities, my husband was also the Chaplain of the Nassau County Police Department. During his illness, the Police Commissioner came to visit him in the hospital. I walked him to the elevator and thanked him for coming.
“Rebbetzin,” he said, “don’t thank me. It’s my greatest privilege to visit the Rabbi. You see,” he went on to explain, “I never understood the connection between goodness and G-d until the Rabbi became a bridge for me.”
As I write these lines, Yom Kippur is quickly approaching. I see their holy faces. On erev Yom Kippur, we would rush to my parents’ home for a brocha – blessing. My father would don his Shabbos rabbinic hat and coat. Lovingly, he would place his hands upon our heads, and as he blessed us, we felt his body tremble; his tears would flow freely down his long white beard. My father’s brocha emanated from his innermost soul. How I wish I could receive that brocha again! How I wish my children and grandchildren could be in his presence! How wonderful it felt to kiss his hand, and how loathe I was to leave that little house in Brooklyn.
As we prepared to leave, my parents would accompany us to the car and stand there until we turned the corner. I can still see them in my mind’s eye – their hands raised, waving, and whispering blessings.
As the years passed and illness took its toll, they would wave from the porch, and still later, they would wave from the front window, and later still, their eyes would follow us from their sick beds. And now, I hope and pray that they whisper their blessings from the heavens above.
When my parents passed on, it was my husband who would bless and wave, and now, that too has become a memory. Now I go with my children and grandchildren to the cemetery.
We stand in awe in front of these giants. Oh G-d. please let them hear us. Please let them know that we are here… Please grant that we be worthy of them. Memories, memories, memories…. It is Yom HaKippurim.
A gutt gebensht yahr to all of you my dear readers and friends, and a gutt gebensht yahr to K’lal Yisroel. We are a nation that lives on memories – Zchut Avot – may the merit of our forefathers sustain us.