I write this column during Parshas Yisro - the portion that focuses on Matan Torah -The Giving of the Torah. Paradoxically, the parshah is not entitled Matan Torah or Aseret HaDibrot - The Ten Commandments, or even Moshe Rabbeinu, who brought the commandments down from Sinai. Amazingly, the parshah is named for Yisro, the heathen priest. What did Yisro do to merit such distinction?
Most of you, my dear readers, are aware that many moons ago I was privileged to establish Hineni -the first kiruv (outreach) -movement, with the exception of Chabad. However, what many of you may not know is the extent to which Hineni mushroomed throughout the years and how it has expanded its activities to include many areas of outreach that range from beginners' Torah classes to in-depth study of the Talmud, from small tots programs to shidduch introductions, from young couples to parenting seminars, from Shabbatons to High Holy Day Services, and from in-house to office and home study classes, to live webcasts that reach Jewish communities throughout the world.
In response to my recent articles describing the odysseys of secular Jews who found their way home, I received much e-mail. One is the story of a young woman whose journey is typical of the angst with which assimilated Jews often struggle. But what is obvious in this woman's journey is Hashem's Providence. We need only open our eyes to discern it.
I have often been told that, when it comes to Jewish self-discovery -teshuvah, it is easier to reach out to females than to males and, indeed, there are some indications of this. But I have found this theory to be wrong. If, in some circles, there are more females attending Torah study programs, it is only because the men have not yet been tapped. The truth is that the pintele Yid is as potent in males as females and is able to ignite the heart of a man even as that of a woman. Just as the pintele Yid is not affected by the ravages of time, so it is not subject to gender differences.
As I indicated in my last column, there are a thousand-and-one inspirational stories that I could share with you, testifying to the pintele Yid embedded for all eternity in every Jewish heart. It might be a book, speech, Shabbos experience, a hug, kind word, or a blessing from a bubby, zeidy, rabbi or Torah teacher. In an instant, that pintele Yid can come to life, make a journey that spans thousands of years and reconnect the soul to Sinai - and thus, every day, Yiddishe neshamos are reborn.
I write this column during the week of Parshas Vayechi, in which our father Yaakov imparts his blessing to his descendants. The Torah teaches that as he was about to give the brachah to Ephraim and Menasheh, the sons of Yosef, he suddenly posed a very strange and troubling question. "Mi eileh? - Who are these?"
Many moons ago, when our children were small, my husband and I would spend our summers at Liebowitz's Pine View Hotel in the Catskill Mountains. It was a special time - before today's technology -when people actually talked to one another and were happy just to get away from the city and breathe some fresh country air. To me, however, that which was most special was that I had the zechus to host my dear parents every Shabbos. Then my talks took on an added dimension because my beloved, honored parents were there. Many amazing miracles occurred during these Shabbosim.
This past week was the yahrzeit of Avi Mori, my dearly beloved father, my teacher, my guiding light, the eminent sage, HaRav HaGaon HaTzadik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt"l. It is difficult to believe that 18 years have already passed since he was called to the Heavens above. In my mind's eye, I hear his kind, gentle voice; I see his magnificent, holy countenance and his loving smile, and yet, the years have passed. Eighteen is not an ordinary number.... 18 is chai - life - so I would like to recall some of the memories from the exemplary life of my saintly father, Avi Mori.
For the past few weeks my column has focused on the tragic reality of internal strife within families. The response has been overwhelming. It appears that countless numbers of our families are suffering from this fragmentation and are in urgent need of help.
Special Note: For the past two weeks my columns have focused on the sad state of contemporary family life - controversies between siblings, parents, and children. Unfortunately, however, this deplorable state of affairs is not limited to families. Our communities and our institutions are all ridden by "infighting."
Special Note: It appears that my articles on the pain of a family torn apart touched sensitive nerves. Sadly, too many of our families have become fragmented; too many are suffering from a lack of shalom bayis. The e-mails and letters that I received are all painful testimony to this breakdown of traditional family life. The following is just one of these letters.
In last week's column, I published a very sad letter from a young woman who wrote that two of her sisters were not on speaking terms and had splintered the family with their animosity.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis: I feel embarrassed to write to you about the conflicts that are tearing our family apart, but I have no recourse. I have tried many avenues; however none have worked and I am hoping that, if you publish my letter, the people involved will recognize themselves and perhaps get the message.
If you love Eretz Yisrael, you must also feel overwhelmed by a sense of frustration. Why is Israel demonized all over the world? Why has she become the new source for the age-old canard of anti-Semitism? And why is it that Israel cannot present itself in its true light? The question is all the more puzzling, since we, the Jewish people, are renowned for our fidelity to justice, righteousness and truth. And more so, how is it that Israel has such dismal, horrible PR? How is it that we, who are masters of language, are so inept at imparting the glorious history and priestly calling of our nation? After all, we are the "People of the Book." Who, if not we, should be able to address the nations of the world and communicate our true essence?
Are you one of those people who were outraged at the bias, the libel and the naked hatred evidenced in the Goldstone Report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland? Were you stunned by the blatant lies? Were you left shocked and speechless at the sad realization that the author of this venomous report was Goldstone - yes, a Jew!
In last week's column I published a letter from a young woman who was raised in an assimilated, Reform home, but something in her soul always yearned to make a connection with Hashem and her Jewish roots. Unfortunately however, despite the fact that she grew up in a predominantly Orthodox community in New York, no one reached out to her. None of her neighbors ever thought of inviting her for a Shabbos meal, to shul, or their sukkah, and the yearning in her heart remained unfulfilled. And so it was that she became easy prey for an evangelical missionary who enticed her into being baptized and joining a Messianic Christian sect.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis, I have wanted to write you for a long time because you helped me in such a profound way. I am so very thankful for your work, your message, your books, and your unapologetic call to all Jews to return to our Torah and heritage.
Special Note: The author of the following letter is well- known to me. He is a trustworthy young man who had an impressive secular education in the States and gave it all up when he became a ba'al teshuvah and decided to pursue a life of Torah learning in Jerusalem. His wife, who comes from a fine American family that made aliyah many years ago, is equally committed. I know them and can vouch for them. I also know for a fact that this young man is a serious, sincere "learner" whose parents experienced tremendous financial reversals and are not in a position to help in any way, shape or form.
For many years Hineni has had the zechus of holding Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur davening in the beautiful ballroom of the Plaza Hotel. As if by magic, we quickly transform the banquet room into a majestic synagogue. By the time the Aron Kodesh is in place, one has difficulty remembering that just hours earlier, this was a wedding hall.
"Happenings" are not every-day events. There are classes, programs, seminars and lectures - but happenings that leave an indelible mark on the mind, heart and soul are rare. During this past Aseret Y'mei Teshuvah (the 10 preparatory days before Yom Kippur), we of Hineni were "zocheh" - had the merit - to experience a happening that was nothing short of a Kiddush Hashem - Sanctification of G-d's Holy Name, and for that I would like to publicly proclaim my total gratitude and indebtedness to the Almighty G-d.
In my last column, I published a tragic letter from a young woman who, after a painful bout with terminal illness, departed from this world. She attributed her plight to her abandonment of the Torah way of life, specifically to the laws of tznius. Her letter evoked much response. One of the writers wrote that she had a similar experience, but Baruch Hashem, with a positive ending. She too, had been rebellious, she too, had turned a deaf ear to the pleas of her family, but she never had to struggle with illness. Her sister however (an embodiment of everything that a yeshiva girl should be), was in a very serious car accident and had to undergo several surgical procedures and rehab, which plagued her with feelings of guilt and made her feel somehow responsible.
Special Note: In last week's column I published a tragic letter from a young Israeli girl who was at death's door. Subsequently, I received much e-mail in response to her painful cry, and I will share one of them with you. Next week I will respond to the letters.
Special Note: A young girl, struggling with the Angel of Death, wrote the following letter. At her request, the letter was sent to many rabbis and rebbetzinsin a position to disseminate her message among our people. Tragically, she is no longer here to see her letter published, but as we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, her neshamah will surely have an aliyah in the knowledge that her request has been fulfilled and her message read and taken to heart by many.
You may recall that not too long ago, after returning from a tour of Europe where I spoke in a different country every day, I wrote in this column that Europe 2009 is reminiscent of pre-Holocaust Europe. Anti-Semitism is once again raising its sinister, ugly head, not only in Europe, but throughout the world, and we, the Jewish people, are sleeping, even as we did in the early 30s.
A few weeks ago, while I was in Yerushalayim, we had the privilege of premiering our new film, "Hineni's Triumph of the Spirit." The Jerusalem Plaza, where the film was screened, had lines that snaked up the stairs and through the lobby. Over 1,000 people had gathered; unfortunately we couldn't accommodate everyone. People were standing and sitting on the floor, but you could have heard a pin drop as the story unfolded. The film depicts my family's experiences during the war years - Hungary, prior to the Nazi occupation, the ghettos.... and our deportation to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.