Long ago I discovered that Jerusalem is an intoxicating city. It actually propels us to a different planet.
Rationally, it doesn’t make sense.
Of all world-famous cities, Jerusalem is probably the least likely candidate to be labeled “intoxicating.” Perhaps Paris, maybe Rome, possibly Madrid – but Jerusalem? Compared to the world’s great metropolises, it is essentially a small village. The streets are narrow; many of the houses are old and should long ago have been rebuilt or demolished but instead they still stand, paying witness that which once was and that which will be.
In Yerushalayim, past, present and future merge. Contemporary time does not exist.
It’s not that time stands still, for Israel is a state of the art country that in the span of a few short years has become the envy of the world in terms of its high-tech accomplishments. In the words of veteran business journalist and author George Gilder, “Israel…is second only to the United States in technological contributions. In per capita innovation, Israel dwarfs all nations.”
You have to concede it’s mind-boggling. Was it not just yesterday that the fathers and grandfathers of today’s Israeli innovators lived in primitive conditions in countries like Yemen and Iraq, or were living skeletons crawling out of Hitler’s satanic concentration camps?
And yet, despite all the advances, Jerusalem has managed to maintain its sanctity of yore.
I am in the Holy City. I walk its streets. I speak at gatherings. I catch a few minutes in a restaurant and people rush over – some who heard me years ago and others who heard me just today or yesterday.
Amazingly, I’ve discovered that those who cannot find meaning in their countries of exile find it in this ancient city. Whatever the town or city or world capital our people temporarily call home, a Jew rediscovers himself or herself here in Jerusalem.
I visit my aunt, Rebbetzin Zeesi Kohen, techya. She is the sister of my saintly mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a”h. My aunt is 100 years old (to 120) but her mind is clear and she is truly amazing. My tears come gushing. I can’t control myself. I see my aunt and I see my beloved mother. The similarity is overwhelming. Her face, her eyes, her hands, her voice, her sharp wit – they all bring to mind my mother, whom everyone lovingly called Mama.
My mother was known as a “verbal surgeon.” She had this uncanny ability to cut to the chase. She was a no-nonsense person – a straight shooter. At 100, Aunt Zeesi is an exact replica of her. We hug. I kiss her hands. In the world where I grew up we always kissed the hands of our parents, elders, rabbis and rebbetzins. I ask for Aunt Zeesi’s berachah and she blesses me in the very same manner Mama did.
I see my cousins. They are all grandparents now, but as we hug and kiss we are back to the days when were small children visiting one another on Shabbos afternoons and playing together at family gatherings. Mishpachah, mishpachah – family, family. How sad that so many of us have lost that precious link.
Next, I go to an orphanage to visit little boys from the age of 6 to bar mitzvah. They are so beautiful, so respectful. They stand at attention. They are waiting with rapt attention.
I wonder: What can I say to them? It’s not consolation these children need but words of strength, strength that inspires, strength that will enable them to rise above their loneliness and overcome the many struggles of life. I share with them stories of my childhood. I tell them that once I too was alone.
I tell them just a little bit of my concentration camp experiences. I do not want to overwhelm them but I do want to give them a vaccine that will immunize them from all the evil of this world – a vaccine that will allow them to believe that no matter where life launches them, there is nothing to fear because above them is our Father and He is always there. “The Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.”
Each one of them, I say, is Superman, an image they all identify with. “You are Superman and I am Superlady because we stood at Sinai and our loving Father spoke to us and promised to always be with us – to accompany us wherever we go and in whatever situation we may find ourselves.”
I tell them I love them, that they are the future of our people – and I challenge them to bring our forefathers to life again, to follow in their footsteps. I assure them that if they do so, everything will fall into place.
I tell them I brought them little pekelach, bags of delicious candy so that they may always remember that even as candy is sweet, the words of Torah are even sweeter. My friends give out the pekelach and something strange occurs. The boys shake their heads. At first we don’t understand but then one of them says they want the pekelach with a berachah.
Think about that. These are boys without parents. (Some of the parents are alive but they cannot care for their children.) In any other society, in any other city, the chances are great that children like these will grow up angry and destructive, a menace to others. But these little boys, though they love candy as much as any other children, are prepared to return their pekelach unless they receive them back with a berachah.
I’m speechless. “Father in Heaven,” I say, “look upon your little children, sons without fathers and mothers, sons who have suffered so much, saying no to candy if it does not come with a berachah.
“Surely, Hashem, in their merit You must give us a berachah even if we as a people are no longer sweet. Make us Your sweet children again and inscribe us for a good, sweet new year.”
Kesivah v’Chasimah Tovah.Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
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