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July 28, 2014 / 1 Av, 5774
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My Rabbi

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

For the time being I will set aside my series on “Dusty Windows.” It’s not because the windows have been cleansed or because we can now look out and see the world in all its reality. No, the windows are dustier then ever. Our minds are blocked. Our eyes are blind. Our ears are deaf. Just the same, I’m concerned that after a while people say “Enough already – write about something else!”

The “Dusty Windows” message remains critically important, but I’ll take a short break so that we can catch our collective breath. In the meantime, I’ll share some beautiful stories that take me down memory lane and bring tears to my eyes.

On June 1, b’ezrat Hashem, I will be speaking at Congregation Ohr Torah in North Woodmere, the pulpit where my revered husband, Rabbi Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, was the beloved spiritual leader for more than 33 years.

My husband and I were pioneers. When we came to North Woodmere it was a community of Jews but not a Jewish community. We faced an uphill climb demanding much sacrifice, struggle and pain. The sacrifice was not only ours but our small children’s as well. We charged them with the same responsibility: “Go out there, make friends, and bring them home for Shabbos.”

We were determined to kindle the light of Torah that had faded in the darkness of assimilation. Slowly but surely we put together a congregation and, with G-d’s help, eventually built a magnificent shul and a community of families. My husband also became the popular chaplain of the Nassau County Police Department. Though there were few Jews on the police force, everyone loved the man referred to by all as “the Rabbi.”

And then one day a nasty visitor came calling. Cancer. In an instant our lives changed.

Throughout the seven weeks of my husband’s ordeal, which included three surgical procedures and horrific treatments, he never lost his faith. His love and concern for others overcame all else. He blessed and strengthened whoever came to visit him.

On Shabbos afternoon, members from my Hineni Young Leadership group who lived in the neighborhood would come to visit. The Rabbi didn’t want them squeezed into his tiny hospital room. He was determined that they be able to sit comfortably and ask questions. So with the help of nurses he would slowly make the trek from his room to the solarium just two rooms away. Sometimes it would take almost 30 minutes to complete that walk but my Rabbi insisted on making it. Connected to IVs and a host of other bags and lines, he would join the young people and teach.

“These lines that I am attached to are my lifelines,” he told them. “I cannot afford to be detached from them lest I endanger my physical existence. Similarly, you must be ever vigilant in making sure you never detach yourselves from your spiritual lifeline, which is our connection to G-d and is guaranteed to give you eternal life.” And he would proceed to talk about the ingredients of our life-saving Jewish elixir – our Torah.

To his very last day he struggled to transcend his pain so that he might impart Torah to all who visited him.

One day the police commissioner came to visit him at the hospital. He was a pious Catholic, a very kind and gentle man. When he departed I accompanied him to the elevator, as it is a tradition in our Torah to see visitors to the door. At the elevator doors opened he turned to me, his eyes full of tears, his voice choking with emotion.

“Rebbetzin,” he said, “I always wondered what the meaning of G-d was – but since I met the Rabbi I know. G-d comes from the word ‘goodness’ and your Rabbi walks with that goodness reflected in his eyes, in his gentle words, in his loving, warm ways. So those who walk in his light are a reflection of goodness, and that is your Rabbi.”

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