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.
In preparation for the Yamim Noraim, last week I focused on Mitzvos bein Adam L'Chavero - interpersonal relationships that are often overlooked, such as the escalation of chutzpah, that has become emblematic of our society.
There's a popular adage that tells us not to sweat the small stuff. I always thought that it meant we should not make an issue out of insignificant incidents that impinge on our kavod. When we are victims, we should categorize all this as "small stuff" and the best way to deal with it is to forgive, forget and move on.
With every passing day our world becomes more menacing. Events are unfolding so rapidly that we can't absorb them. The news is mostly ominous, be it local or international, situations are occurring that could not possibly have been anticipated.
Our Sages teach, "There is no comparison between hearing and seeing." To be in Eretz Yisrael is not only to pray at the holy sites or go touring, but to be in Eretz Yisrael also demands that we express solidarity with our beleaguered brethren, and demonstrate our support so that they may know that we are with them.
I have just returned from Eretz Yisrael. Hineni tours are life-transforming experiences - those who are secular become Torah committed, and those who are already observant reach a new plateau in their emunah and love of Hashem. The change commences from the moment we set foot in the Holy Land.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis: I come from a solid, yeshivish family. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are all "Torahdik" people. Most of my friends have similar backgrounds, and when the time came for me to go to seminary in Yerushalayim, I was most fortunate to be accepted with my friends at a great school. I had an amazing year in learning and in inspirational experiences. An entire new world opened up and I loved every minute of being in Yerushalayim. Now that I am back in New York, I truly miss Eretz Yisrael and feel sad not to be there. It was probably one of the happiest years of my life.
Special Note: In last week's column I wrote about the seemingly inexplicable events that are unfolding throughout the world. How do we understand the demonization of Israel, the new escalation of anti-Semitism, and the preponderance of Islamic terrorists throughout the world?
As I write these words I am on my way to Toronto for a commemoration of the martyrs of Mumbai. Rabbi Moshe Steiner, the local Chabad Rabbi who organized the program, informed me that Rabbi Holtzberg, the father of Gaby and father-in-law of Rivkah Holtzberg, martyrs of Mumbai, would also be there for the occasion.
I feel privileged to share with you the story of the creation of our new film, "Triumph of the Spirit." For the longest time I have felt that there is a terrible void in Holocaust films and memorials. The epic story of the mesiras nefesh, the boundless sacrifice, that our people made in clinging to Torah and mitzvos - the devotion with which they served Hashem during one of the darkest moments in the annals of mankind has yet to be told.
Special Note: Several weeks ago, I published a letter from a young father, Akiva Shapiro. Many years ago, Akiva discovered the world of Torah through Hineni. He not only became part of our organization, but a leader and an activist. I was also privileged to introduce him to his aishes chayil- his soul mate, and today, he and his lovely wife are the proud parents of a beautiful family.
The beautiful Yom Tov of Shavuos has passed, but our Yamim Tovim never fade. We are charged to carry them with us throughout the year. While this holds true for all our Yamim Tovim, it is especially valid for Shavuos. This is the one day for which our Torah does not designate a specific time or date. Shavuos is "Z'man Matan Toraseinu," the season of receiving our Torah, and that is an eternal happening, which every one of us must re-experience and relive every moment of our lives. "Not with our forefathers alone did Hashem seal the Covenant, but with us, we who are here, all of us alive today (Deuteronomy 5).
In last week's column I responded to the mother/grandmother who wrote about the escalation of chutzpah on the part of the young vis-à-vis their parents. In my answer I suggested that we have adopted some 21st century attitudes that not only countenance this obstreperous behavior but actually endorse it. I also mentioned that while we may take certain consolation in knowing that our sages predicted what we are experiencing today, nevertheless, it does not mean that we of the Torah community should countenance it. Chutzpah toward parents/grandparents, teachers and elders in any shape or form is unacceptable.