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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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‘Learn From The Rebbetzin, Mom’


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

I have been overwhelmed by the e-mails and letters I’ve received in response to my series of articles focusing on my recent accident and surgery – so much so that while I wrote last week that the subject would be closed with that column, I feel compelled to share some of these communications with you.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I have been a fan for many years. A week does not go by without my reading your column. It has become part of my Shabbos. My entire family has become addicted, and very often we have lively discussions around your articles.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and to tell you how much the series of columns on your hospitalization and rehabilitation has meant to us, and what an incredible impact they have had on me and I’m sure on many others.

I realize how difficult this must have been for you. To share such personal experiences in a public forum is not easy. You are high profile – your name is known throughout the Jewish world, and people in your position are careful to preserve their privacy lest they expose their vulnerability. I know many individuals in your position who when ill try to keep everything “hush-hush.”

I write this not to be critical of those people but to commend you on your candor, your courage, and the love of our people that prompted you to make your own struggle public.

You wrote that your father, Rabbi Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, of blessed memory, imparted to you a lifetime lesson: “The trials, the tribulations and the tests of life that come our way become easier to bear if we share our pain, our suffering, our struggles with others, and thus help them deal with their own life tests.”

Those words resonated with me as I marveled at your courage in sharing personal experiences so that others might learn from them and carry their own heavy loads with greater ease.

Every one of your articles in that series touched a sensitive chord, particularly the first one, in which you described your fall and the major surgery that followed in a hospital far away from family and home. I was awed that in that totally non-Jewish environment everyone referred to you as “Rebbetzin” and that the CEO of the hospital, as well as the doctors and nurses, imparted kindness and respect, and that while your pain was severe you found the strength to convey to them the wisdom of our Torah. But what actually brought tears to my eyes was the April 27 column in which you told the story of the prima ballerina. You related that you were walking down the corridor of the hospital, dressed in a hospital gown and robe, agonizingly learning to take your first steps as the nurses cheered you on. One of them called out, “You look like a prima ballerina” – and that became your calling card.

The words reverberated in your mind and heart and you asked yourself, “Could they be mocking me?” But of course that could not be. They had so much respect and kindness. And then you wrote that it occurred to you that Hashem was sending you a message: “Esther Jungreis, learn to leap and hop. Yes, now you may be in a valley but you must skip your way to the mountaintop…. Swallow your tears and keep going – practice and practice again and keep fit. Remember who you are – you are a prima ballerina.”

I believe that story is a classic and hope you will include it in the book you mentioned you are determined to write. I shared that story with so many people who are wrestling with personal trials, but most importantly I gave it to my mother who is struggling with her own illness and, sadly, has given up the fight. She is depressed and tells us she wants to die.

She is not that old, and even if she were, a wise lady once said to me, “Age is just a number. It is what you do with your life that counts.” Her doctors have told her the most important factor in her recovery is her willingness to fight, but if she throws in the towel she ruins her chances of returning to a normal life.

I read your article to her and started to call her “Mom, the Prima Ballerina.” Whenever she is in a mood I say, “Learn from the Rebbetzin, Mom. Stand up on your tiptoes and turn and spin. Remember, you are our prima ballerina.”

Those words are changing her life. I am not saying she is totally free of depression, but for the first time since her illness there are hours and sometimes even a full day when she stands up and makes an attempt to dance to the music of her life. And I know your story has had the same impact on others.

So thank you for sharing. Thank you for your courage and your willingness to give of yourself, to give hope to so many and imbue them with the strength to fight.

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