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September 3, 2014 / 8 Elul, 5774
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Our Lives Have Been Turned Upside Down


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Special Note: Many have asked where I will be speaking this Pesach. I am happy to relate that I will be at the Fairmont Banff Springs in Alberta, Canada.

I have just returned from an exhilarating visit to Costa Rica and I can attest that the pintele Yid, the tiny spark that Hashem embedded in our souls is very much alive. In every Yiddish neshamah, that pintele Yid is so powerful that it breaks down all barriers, cultural or linguistic. The language of our Torah overcomes all.

As I prepare this column, once again, I am traveling. This time, B’Ezrat Hashem, on a speaking tour of Europe, culminating with a program in Jerusalem.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of all this heavy scheduling, my column arrived late at The Jewish Press and missed the publication deadline, but I guess that everything is basherte- for as a result, I was inundated with communications from many kind readers, for which I am deeply grateful.

If you recall, in my previous column I invited you to share the challenges you’re experiencing in these difficult times, and how you are overcoming them. I am now pleased to share another letter with you.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I can’t begin to tell you how important your column has been in this most trying period. To one extent or another, everyone has been tested by the financial meltdown…. some of us more than others, and I’m afraid that my family falls into that category. Allow me to give you some background:

My husband is 40 years old, and I am 36. We have three adorable children and always had a good life, which, in retrospect, I realize I never fully appreciated. My husband was a successful investment banker and earned a very good living; I had a full-time housekeeper, a nanny, and a car service at my disposal. I never thought twice about the cost of things – my credit card was always available, and if I liked something, I bought it. In the winter, we vacationed in Florida or skied in Aspen. Life was good, although, as I said earlier, I never really appreciated it. Somehow I thought that was the way it had to be.

Then, a year-and-a-half ago, our world crumbled. The unbelievable occurred… Overnight, my husband’s company collapsed, and literally disappeared. Our stocks became worthless, and suddenly our lives turned upside down. We panicked, and our emotions ran the gamut from anger to depression. I couldn’t sleep, and when I did drop off, I had nightmares and woke up in a sweat a few minutes later. My husband was even more troubled. We sought help from our therapist, but then quickly realized that we could no longer afford the luxury of her services…. so even that solace was denied us.

My husband tried desperately to find a job, but there was nothing available. We were living on our savings, and very quickly, that too vanished. Our nerves were on edge, and we fought continuously. To say the least, our home, which had always been more or less serene, became a tumultuous place. My husband told me that we would have to let the housekeeper and nanny go and use public transportation. I was devastated.

To be candid, I had never done laundry – I didn’t even know how to use the washing machine. Our children were in private schools and we could no longer afford the tuition. We didn’t have religion or faith to sustain us. Neither my husband nor I came from observant homes, and our Jewish connection was, at best, minimal. We went to Temple on the High Holy Days and contributed to U.J.A…. and that was about it. No one ever taught us how to turn to G-d in prayer. My husband was Bar Mitzvah in a Reform Temple, and I received no Jewish education at all.

We soon realized that we had to give up our apartment in Manhattan. No matter how diligently my husband searched for work, there was nothing available. Our lives became a nightmare. Neither my parents nor in-laws could help us since they too were hard hit and lost much of their retirement money.

I just couldn’t adjust, and then, one of my friends, who had been going to your classes, gave me a set of your books. In The Committed Marriage I read the story of Jackie and Michael, and I saw myself. I wept through every page and re-read every chapter. Then I read The Committed Life and that book opened up a beautiful Jewish world to me and I clung to it tenaciously. But your book, Life Is A Test made the biggest difference. Suddenly I saw my trials and tribulations as tests and challenges that I could either win or lose.

I was determined to win – to be stronger than the material possessions that we lost. I made my husband read your book as well, and in my mind, I kept repeating your words: “Instead of battling each other, help and encourage each other; Instead of shouting and screaming, impart kind loving words and protect your children from further pain.” Your story of the couple who lost all their holdings and were determined not to lose its shalom bayis (a new term that I learned from you), impacted on me in a really strong way.

I guess by now you recognize who I am, because, not too long ago, my husband and I came to see you, and you advised him to take any job… and you emphasized “any” just so that there could be bread on the table. You told us to start coming to classes and discover the “life- transforming” teachings of Torah, the language of prayer and the beauty of Shabbos – and we did.

My husband still has not found employment in his field, but he did find some work which he never would have considered had you not encouraged it and shared with us how your revered father and husband, eminent rabbis, did just that when they arrived penniless in America. We try not to miss your classes.

Our difficulties have not abated, but we keep reminding ourselves to be strong for each other and our children. As challenging as it is, we made up our minds to pass this test. To all those who have had similar experiences I can only say, “Don’t give up! Don’t allow your anger or depression to take over your life. Such an option is self-destructive. Try the Torah way, and please forgive me if I sound preachy, but Torah is a powerhouse that imbues us with faith that is stronger than any adversity.

This is not to say we don’t have our dark moments, but faith gives us something to fall back on…to cling to. Of course, we are still novices and taking baby-steps, but just the same, we are on the path and for that, I am eternally grateful to you. Please keep writing and speaking.

In appreciation,

Your Student

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