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October 23, 2014 / 29 Tishri, 5775
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Have We Turned Into Wood?


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Parshas Ki Tavo has come and gone. The tochacha – the curses – were read in our synagogues, but who was listening? Who heard them? If you were among those who did listen, the words had to have a chilling, eerie effect. Alas, they were not far-fetched predictions, but had an all-too familiar ring. We are the generation that can vividly recall the Holocaust. We are the generation that lives with the constant nightmare of yet more carnage. It is with trepidation that we tune into the news from Israel. Who and what will be next?

In his eulogy, the grandfather of Nava Appelbaum said that whenever he heard or read of one of these attacks, in the back of his mind he wondered how it would be if, G-d forbid, it was his family. And now, it was his family.

The tragedies that are befalling us are just too pat to be random happenings. How can the celebration of a father toasting his daughter’s wedding become an orgy of blood? How can a bride’s wedding day turn into her funeral? Is it not written that before our nation goes to battle, the Kohen has to address the soldiers and announce: ‘If there is a man who had betrothed a woman and not married her, let him go and return to his home’ (Deuteronomy 27).

How could the bride be taken from her husband to be? How can it be that the ring meant for her finger is now placed in her coffin? How can it be that the bridal bouquet that she was to carry in her hands is now covering her grave? How can it be? How can it be that holy people, who went to the Kotel to pray with their babies and children became living torches? And there are so many more ‘how can it be’s.’ Mothers and fathers who witnessed their children set ablaze; children, who with their very eyes, saw the torturous deaths of their parents - there are so many orphans; so many widows and widowers, and so many parents whose lives are forever destroyed because their little ones have been murdered.

And then there are the wounded. We read and hear the announcements - 16….25….40 wounded, and we, who just hear those statistics heave a sigh of relief and whisper, ‘Thank G-d they weren’t killed.’

But have you stopped to consider what ‘wounded’ means? A baby who will now grow up without eyes, a young father whose legs were blown off, a mother without arms; men, women and children who are maimed by shrapnel and consigned to a lifetime of debility and pain. Who can comprehend it all? More than a hundred incidents of carnage in a few short years ? we echo the words of Jeremiah, ‘For these do I weep…’

Yet somehow, we go on. It’s almost as if we have become numb to our suffering, to our pain.

Allow me to relate some personal stories.

My maternal grandmother perished in the flames of Auschwitz, and my grandfather, the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Tzvi Hirsh HaKohen, zt’l, remarried. His new rebbetzin was also a survivor who had lost most of her family in the camps. She had a one and only daughter who had a one and only son, Moishele, ‘Oh,’ a gifted, brilliant student. Tragedy struck - a few weeks before his bar mitzva, he died of leukemia.

I remember visiting the shiva house. My grandmother was sitting next to her daughter. As I entered the room, she beckoned to me and said in Hungarian: ‘Esterke, my child, come here. I want you to touch my arm and tell me whether you feel flesh or wood, because if I could survive all this, surely I must have turned into wood.’

As we are assailed by barrages of catastrophes, my grandmother’s words keep echoing in my mind: ‘If we have survived all this, surely, we must have turned into wood.’

My husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l, also a survivor of the Holocaust, was the youngest in his family. My in-laws, HaRav Osher Anshil and Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Jungreis, HY”D, were blessed with magnificent sons who were affectionately referred to as ‘Arzei Levanon’ – ‘the Cedars of Lebanon.’ They were all great Torah scholars, embodiments of chesed and impeccable midos.

In the early years of the war, prior to the Nazi occupation and our deportation, the Hungarian anti-Semites conscripted Jewish young men into slave labor. My husband often recalled the agonizing day when they came to take away his brother, Yosef Dov, HY”D, who already had semicha and was awaiting the birth of his first child. From the moment he was loaded onto the truck and driven away, my mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Chaya Sora, refused to sleep in her bed.
When night fell, she would sit in her chair, recite tehillim (psalms) and, from time to time, doze off.

My husband, who at that time was still at home, would plead with her, ‘The Mama needs her rest. The Mama should lie down in bed.’

His mother would respond in a voice choked with tears, ‘Vee a zoy ken ich schloffen in ah bet oib Yosef Dov iz nisht du?’ ‘How can I sleep in a bed if Yosef Dov is not here?’

That story has always haunted me. No one expects us to refrain from lying down in our beds…but shouldn’t we feel a little bit more? Shouldn’t we pray a little bit more? Shouldn’t we beseech G-d a little bit more? Shouldn’t we do a little bit more? And shouldn’t we give of ourselves a little bit more? Shouldn’t we commit to Torah a little bit more? Are we not all responsible one for the other? Do we not all share the same destiny? Is this not what being a Jew is all about?

Our rabbonim have asked that we all recite the following three psalms on behalf of our people daily: 83, 130 and 142. Surely, that is the very least that we can do. Our Hineni organization is prepared to send you laminated Hebrew prayer cards with these three psalms free of charge upon receipt of a self addressed, stamped envelope. But whatever you do, wherever you are, don’t sleep while the blood of your people is spilled.

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