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August 1, 2015 / 16 Av, 5775
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One Woman’s Journey (Part One)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Over the years I’ve received letters from all over the world in which people share feelings and thoughts they’ve experienced upon becoming became Torah observant. Usually these letters arrive not long after the writers had heard one of my speeches. No matter where a particular speech took place, and no matter whether I spoke the language or had to use a translator, the magic always works. In reality, it’s not magic at all but a little voice in the soul – the “Pintele Yid,” that spark of G-d’s Word engraved on all our neshamahs. Here is one recent letter.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I have been on a long journey that started a few years ago when I met my husband in Jerusalem. We were both studying in Israel. My husband was already a ba’al teshuvah and I was on the road to becoming one. We traveled from a small suburban town outside Los Angeles to consult with you last year at the Hineni Center in New York.

There is a huge difference between a committed ba’al teshuvah and someone who is still struggling with some of the mitzvot. To my husband it was all clear and simple – Torah was the only way to go. But to me it was still not so clear-cut.

Both sets of our parents were secular and resentful of our commitment to Torah. My husband’s parents, however, had sort of adjusted to the new reality. My parents could not come to terms with it. My mother thought I’d lost my mind. Nevertheless she loves me and I love her and thank G-d our relationship was never threatened.

We would visit my parents regularly. At first these visits were a little uncomfortable. Their house wasn’t kosher so we’d bring our own paper dishes, plastic utensils and food. My parents took umbrage to that as well.

We had been blessed with a harmonious life, more or less, and now that harmony was threatened. Just the same, my husband and I were careful to maintain our relationships. Every Erev Shabbos we would call to wish them a Good Shabbos and our adorable little girl would get on the phone to wish them one as well.

As you may recall, what prompted us to take that long trip to New York and consult with you was my husband’s request that I take another step in my Torah journey and cover my hair. I have always tried to be careful in my observance of Shabbos, kashrut, and family purity, but covering my hair was just too much. In our community women don’t cover their hair – we are members of a small Orthodox synagogue and even the rebbetzin doesn’t cover hers. How would my friends react? Additionally, my hair is one of my best features and to cover it was just too much of a test. In other words, my vanity was involved.

Your Thursday night Torah class greatly inspired us. After that session you invited us to your office to discuss our problem. Your words entered my heart. I came to understand that I should be so grateful to have a husband who was inspiring me to go higher and higher on the ladder of Torah. Even so, that little voice kept saying “No, no, no!” and presenting me with all kinds of rationalizations as to why I should not take this step.

And now to my good news: A few weeks ago I covered my hair for the first time all day on Shabbos. You had told me that if nothing else I should at least cover my hair in honor of that sacred day. This is meant not only as a letter of appreciation but also of “nachas” – so that you may know how your words changed me, as they have changed so many others.

I’ve been researching sheitels but so far haven’t had any luck in finding an affordable one in my blonde color. So I wore a beautiful tichel that Shabbos when I took my weekly walk to my parents’ house. I was self-conscious, walking with my hair visibly covered in the neighborhood I’d grown up in, but I did it.

To my surprise, my father, who was the first one to greet me didn’t notice anything different. My mother, however, asked, “Why are you wearing that scarf on your head like a Muslim woman? Your hair is so beautiful, why would you want to do that?”

I said I was grateful for the blessing of beautiful hair that G-d gave me. And yes, logically, it made no sense. But I went on to tell her that “many things don’t make sense” but we nevertheless do them. As Jews, our legacy comes from Sinai and in the depths of our souls we can hear G-d’s voice, provided we have the courage and desire to hear it.

What I learned from our ensuing conversation was that my preconceptions of my mother’s feelings and thoughts had been unfair. We just had to speak to one another with kindness and patience. More significantly, my fear that my mother wouldn’t approve of my covered hair was based on my own fears and biases.

When I visited my mother on a Shabbos not long after that, I proudly told her, “I did it, Mom – I’m covering my hair all day and every day.” She smiled. I admitted it was hard, and that at times it still felt awkward and I knew I looked so much better when I took my tichel off. She reassured me and said, “You look lovely, and if this is what you want to do, don’t allow others to shake your confidence.”

Today I understand that covering my hair can be like placing a beautiful royal crown around my head. It’s just a matter of seeing the Torah as G-d’s Word.

My husband and I thank you for spreading Torah in such a refined, dignified and strong way. We find your Torah classes enriching and rewarding. We listen to your live webcast every Thursday night and thank you for the continuous inspiration you provide.

May Hashem bless you always.

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