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March 28, 2015 / 8 Nisan, 5775
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From Csenger To Jerusalem

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

I am interrupting the sequence of my articles to share with you some of my experiences in Europe. During the past few days, I have had the privilege of addressing the members of the Jewish communities of Amsterdam, Budapest, Berlin and London. While each community has its own unique character, there is a common denominator that connects them all, and that is the “pintele Yid,” that spark from Sinai that HaShem engraved on the heart of every Jew,  which, if ignited, can become a glorious flame of Torah. In future columns, B’ezrat HaShem, I will relate some of their amazing stories, but for now, I would like to share with you, my readers, a bracha from my Zeides.

Some years back, I made myself a promise that whenever HaShem grants me the privilege of being invited to speak in Europe, I would make a stop in Hungary to visit Kivrei Avos – the grave sites of my saintly ancestors. This year I was granted an extra blessing – my invitation coincided with the yahrzeit of my saintly ancestor, the Menuchas Osher, HaRav HaGaon HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, the Tzaddik of Csenger, who was visited by Elijah the Prophet and was renowned throughout the world for his miraculous brachas.

I was a young child when the Nazis invaded Hungary, and deported us to Bergen Belsen
concentration camp. I never had the opportunity to study the geography of Hungary, nevertheless the names of the cities and villages are deeply ingrained in my memory, for they represent places where my grandfathers, uncles and cousins led congregations with devotion, love and sacrifice. Prior to the Holocaust, there were more than 85 rabbis named Jungreis in Hungary, all descendants of a great rabbinic dynasty. My father, zt”l, was the chief Orthodox Rabbi of Szeged (my maiden name was also Jungreis – I married a third cousin).

We arrived in Budapest at noon on Friday, erev Shabbos Kodesh after a most meaningful program in Amsterdam sponsored by Bnai Brith of Holland and Rabbi Spiero. On Friday night, in Budapest, I had the honor of speaking to a large group of young Hungarian Jews in the synagogue of Rabbi Baruch Oberlander. To be candid, I was somewhat nervous because I was unsure whether my Hungarian vocabulary would suffice for a speech, but HaShem gave me the words and we had a most inspiring evening in which I truly connected with the wonderful young people in the audience.

Shabbos morning, following davening, I spoke in the Kazinci Shul to the members of the Kollel which is led by Rabbi Pashkes. On motzei Shabbos I once again had the z’chus – privilege of speaking at a melave malka for the women of Rabbi Oberlander’s shul. This
was especially meaningful to me since that motzei Shabbos was the eve of the yahrzeit.

At the crack of dawn, we started out for Csenger. It’s about a four hour drive from Budapest, but we commenced our trip early because we planned to stop at the grave sites of many of my zeides on the way. Our first stop was Gyongyos, where my father-in-law of blessed memory, the eminent sage, HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi Jungreis, who authored the scholarly work, Zachor V’Shamor is buried. He was born on Shabbos, died on Shabbos, in the year of Shabbos (right before our deportation), and wrote a sefer – book – demonstrating that every parsha in the Torah is somehow connected to Shabbos. Gyongyos, where he had served as the rabbi for over forty years is a charming city. Once there was a thriving Jewish community there which my father-in-law led with love and devotion, but now, the only indication that Jews ever lived there is the cemetery.

It had rained throughout the night, and as we started off, it was still raining. Visiting cemeteries in drenching rain is not pleasant, so we were most grateful that, as we neared the city, the rain stopped and we arrived without incident. We were determined to reach all the grave sites and villages on our list, so it was important that we keep to a schedule. There was yet another factor which mandated speed – my recently married granddaughter and her husband, who is learning in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, had flown in from Israel to join us for the yahrzeit and were scheduled to catch a plane back that night.

But my relief was short-lived. As we approached the vicinity of the cemetery, our driver took a wrong turn onto a road at the back end of the cemetery that was little more than a dirt track. Within minutes, we were mired in mud. Our driver tried to pull the car out by rocking it in reverse and forward gear, but the more he persisted, the deeper we sank into the mud. “Oy,” my grandson-in-law said, half laughingly, “this reminds me of the time we were visiting kevarim – graves in Israel and got stuck!”

I didn’t want to give voice to my fears, but there was no escaping the reality we were deep in mud.

“I think it would be best for everyone to get out of the car. Perhaps if it’s lighter, I’ll be able to
maneuver it better,” the driver said.

As we exited the car, we sank into the mud, and it took great effort to lift each foot. As for our driver, no matter how he tried, he could not extricate the car. We started to walk, thinking that perhaps we might find some help, but with each step, we picked up additional pounds of mud which weighed us down and made walking that much more complicated. From down the road our driver called to us that he had no option but to search for someone to help, and that he’d return as soon as possible. The raw Hungarian wind blew through us, and we thought of going back to the car to warm up, but the driver, in his nervousness, had locked the doors and taken the keys with him. So there we were in no-man’s land, covered with mud in the freezing cold.

As we waited, many voices and memories came to mind. I recalled when, about twenty eight years ago, my beloved, revered parents, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Avraham Jungreis, of blessed memory, went to Israel for the very first time for the wedding of my cousin who lived in Netanya. Their trip coincided with my lecture tour in South Africa, so I decided to return to the States via Israel in order to treat my parents to a stay in a hotel in Jerusalem. Since I could
be in Israel for only one night before catching my connecting flight to New York, we had to pack everything into a few short hours. I knew that my parents would want to visit the grave site of my holy grandfather, HaRav Tzvi Hirsch Kohn, zt”l, who is resting on Har HaMenuchos, so my friend Barbara rented a car to make it possible. By the time we reached the cemetery however, it was well after midnight. Finding a tombstone in a cemetery is, at best, complicated, but to do so at midnight is well nigh impossible. Nevertheless, we made the attempt, for we had no other option, so off we drove to Har HaMenuchos. No sooner did we arrive at the cemetery than our car sputtered to a halt, and no matter what Barbara did, it just wouldn’t start.

“Now we’re stuck in a cemetery in pitch dark in the middle of the night! How on earth are we ever going to get out of here?” Barbara exclaimed. This was in pre-cell phone days, and for a moment, I did panic, but then I heard my father’s calm voice. “If the car got stuck on this spot, then it’s a siman – a sign, that the zeide’s grave is here.” It seemed like a long shot, but we could not argue with my father, so armed with flashlights we got out of the car, and sure enough, we discovered that our car had broken down in front of my grandfather’s tombstone! You can only imagine our feelings and how we prayed. Our hearts filled with gratitude and awe at G-d’s awesome ways. And perhaps most amazing of all, when we got back into the car, my father said, “Now the car will go.” And incredibly, it did!

My reveries of that time so long ago were interrupted by my granddaughter. “Bubbe,” she said, “why don’t we go through these bushes? There must be some graves behind them. Maybe we’ll find Zeide’s resting place.”

The bushes did not look any too inviting, and the mud beyond them seemed to be even more ominous, but I felt that since my recalling the story of the cemetery in Jerusalem coincided with my granddaughter’s suggestion, there had to be a message therein – it could not be mere coincidence. Perhaps now, just like 28 years ago, our car had broken down because we were near the grave sites, – so we started to make our way through the bushes, stumbling in the mud and catching our clothes on all kinds of brambles. Still, we forged ahead. Suddenly, we came to a clearing, and there, right in front of us was my father-in-law’s kever – grave. We poured our hearts out. We had an incredible davening, for we couldn’t help but feel a sense of Divine providence.

Slowly, we made our way back, and lo and behold, there was our driver with some local
townspeople who had come with a jeep and some heavy rope. Within minutes, they pulled the car out of the mud. From that moment on, everything went smoothly. We stopped at the villages in which my ancestors had been rabbis, found their tombstones, and arrived in Csenger while it was still light, in time for the yahrzeit. Whenever I come to Csenger, to the
gravesite of my grandfather who died one hundred and thirty years ago, I like to come fortified with regards from all of his children and grandchildren whose grave sites I visited along the way. I was grateful that this day, which began with such difficulty, was no exception. There is something about visiting the grave sites of tzaddikim. It fortifies you; it energizes you; you feel connected; you feel blessed.

We returned to Budapest in time for my grandchildren to make their flight back to Israel and
before the night was out, they called to tell us that they had arrived safely. All in one day, from Csenger to Jerusalem – the miracle of Am Yisrael.

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