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November 29, 2015 / 17 Kislev, 5776
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Just A Little Lollipop

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

As I’ve written over the past few weeks, my husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, ztl, was a blessing to one and all. Whoever came in contact with him glowed in his sunshine.

As a matter of fact, I am currently writing a book, Be A Blessing, inspired by the man I’ll always call My Rabbi.

A few weeks ago a handsome young fellow came to see me at Hineni. “Rebbetzin,” he said, “I have a question. Am I duty bound to invite my father to my wedding?”

I looked at him. It was not a question most people would ask. He noticed my quizzical expression and proceeded to explain.

“Rebbetzin, my father abused us. He left my mother when I was just a little boy of five. There were all kinds of problems. He left deep scars on our hearts and souls.”

And then this young man went on to describe some of the things his father had done.

“So tell me,” he said. “Do I have to invite him to my wedding?”

“Why do you ask me this?” I asked. “Are you engaged?”

“No,” he replied.

“Are you dating anyone seriously?”

He shook his head. He wasn’t dating anyone seriously.

“So why don’t we defer this conversation to a time when you’ll be planning your wedding?”

Even as I said that I realized how deeply hurt he was. His soul just wanted to scream his outrage. He wanted to cry out and express his anger and he couldn’t think of anything more dreadful than a son rejecting the presence of a parent at his wedding.

“Do you know what kept me going all these years?” he asked. “The year my father abandoned us, my mother was ill. She was struggling to make ends meet. Although we belonged to a synagogue, no one in our shul reached out to us.

“One day as Mom was searching the papers looking for bargains, she noticed an advertisement for a bazaar at a synagogue. ‘Maybe we’ll go to the bazaar and find something to buy,’ she said to me.

“The synagogue she was referring to was Congregation Ohr Torah of North Woodmere, Long Island.”

My heart started beating faster and I wondered where this story was going. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, Ohr Torah was the shul my husband and I established in what had been a spiritual wasteland. I remember well those days of fundraising bazaars. My husband would always stop in to thank the volunteers and greet the people who came to browse.

“I saw a very tall person,” the young man continued. “He had the nicest face, the kindest eyes. Suddenly he stopped to greet me. He smiled at me, patted my cheeks, and asked, ‘What is your Jewish name?’

“I told him ‘Michoel’ and the man said to me, ‘That is the most beautiful name. Michoel was an angel of G-d. He was the angel of blessings, and that’s your mission – to be a blessing and share that blessing with others.’

“At the time I didn’t quite understand what the rabbi was saying but I did understand that he was the kindest man I’d ever met. He gave me a yarmulke and a lollipop and said, ‘Let’s make a berachah, a blessing.’ And he taught me the berachah for candy.

“His message kept me going. ‘This is one of the first teachings you have to remember,’ he said. ‘Always try to be a blessing. Thank G-d and thank all people – and be a blessing.’

“I never saw the rabbi again. But the sweetness of the lollipop and the yarmulke that covered my head went a long way. It penetrated my heart and mind. To this day when I think of a yarmulke I associate it with protection and the sweetness of that lollipop remains on my palate.

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