It is 30 years this month since I spoke in Madison Square Garden and had the zchus (merit) to launch Hineni, our Kiruv-Outreach organization. In those days, the Jewish world was very different. Kiruv - outreach was virtually unknown, so I knew that something different had to be done to awaken our people.
In last week's column I published a letter from a mother who was concerned about the school pressures with which her 14-year-old yeshiva student son had to contend.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis: I am not a native New Yorker. I was born and raised in a small out-of-town community. We were the only shomer Shabbos family in the neighborhood, and I never had friends. My parents struggled to give us a Torah education - it wasn't easy. When it came time to attend high school, we were sent away, and that was tough. I always envied my classmates who were able to return home from school every night to be with their families.. How lucky they are, I would think, since I was able to go home only on Yom Tov and other special occasions. I would tell myself that one day, with G-d's help, when I married, I would make certain that my husband and I would live in a community that provided a good choice of yeshivot so that our children would not be deprived of living at home and the pleasure of having friends with whom to socialize.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis: I am writing to you from Jerusalem. My family and I made aliyah 15 years ago. One of the reasons why we took this step was because we wanted our children to be raised and nurtured in the holy air of Jerusalem, in a Torah atmosphere, and above all, to share in the incredible return of our people to the land.
At the genesis of our history, we encountered the heathen prophet, Bilaam, who was bent upon cursing our people. But despite himself, G-d placed blessings on his lips, and to this very day, we repeat those blessings in our prayers. Many centuries have passed since Bilaam spoke, but alas, evil people remain - people who are determined to curse us. But like Bilaam of old, despite themselves, they sing our praises. So it was when Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir, one of the third world's most popular statesmen, addressed the leaders of 57 Islamic nations at a conference that he was hosting.
Special Note: In last week's column I published two letters from disenchanted singles. They expressed their concern, their loneliness, their pain - but more significantly, they blamed family members and friends for lack of chizuk - sympathy, understanding and support. The female writer complained that at family simchas, her suffering intensifies because no one bothers to acknowledge her presence, and she becomes invisible.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis; I won't be seeing my husband and children this Shabbos. I won't see them next week either. As a matter of fact, I won't be seeing them next month either. That's because I don't have a husband or children yet.
This is a season when memories crowd my mind - so many memories that are bittersweet -bitter, because they are now only memories, and sweet, because just recalling them infuses me with strength. I rush to the cemetery - I pronounce a prayer, I spill out my heart, I wash the grave with my tears, and I depart with an ache in my soul. If only they could be here.... if only I could see their saintly faces and hear their wise gentle voices.
In my last column I wrote of the anguish and sorrow that fills the hearts of our brethren in Israel nowadays, and I wrote of the all-too-real curses that are enumerated in Parashat Ki Tavo. There is one curse however, that at first glance, may be difficult to understand, but if you take a moment to think about it, you will realize how poignantly it speaks to us: "And it shall be, if you will not hearken to the voice of the L-rd your G-d to observe and perform all His commandments and all His decrees that I command you today, then all His curses will come upon you and overtake you" (Deuteronomy 28:58).
Parshas Ki Tavo has come and gone. The tochacha - the curses - were read in our synagogues, but who was listening? Who heard them? If you were among those who did listen, the words had to have a chilling, eerie effect. Alas, they were not far-fetched predictions, but had an all-too familiar ring. We are the generation that can vividly recall the Holocaust. We are the generation that lives with the constant nightmare of yet more carnage. It is with trepidation that we tune into the news from Israel. Who and what will be next?
Special Note: In last week's column, I published a letter from a ba'alas teshuva of Russian descent. She wrote that her parents, having been raised in a communist totalitarian society, were atheists. In Russia, her parents were professionals, but here in the United States, they were unable to find employment in their given fields. This made them very bitter, and was the cause of much anger in her home.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis: I discovered your book, The Committed Life and I must tell you that it changed my own life. I come from an atheistic background and never gave Judaism a second thought until a Christian friend bought me your book as a gift. Since reading it, I have embarked on a quest to find out more. I guess I'm still not totally observant, but I am definitely heading in that direction. Most recently, I read your new book, The Committed Marriage, and that was an amazing experience. I only wish that I lived in New York City so that I could come to your classes and study with you. In any event, thank you for writing and sharing so much wisdom with us.
A basic tenet of our faith is that there are no random occurrences. The Hebrew word "mikreh" - something that happens coincidentally, also spells the words "karah me'HaShem" - happened by the will of G-d. To be sure, we never know definitive reasons for occurrences - they are beyond the scope of our human minds. But one thing is certain - nothing, but nothing, happens capriciously. It therefore behooves us to at least make an attempt to listen and try to discern the meaning of the messages that HaShem is sending us.
In last week's column, I published letters from two women who complained that they were experiencing crises in faith. One, a single woman in her early forties, an only child of Holocaust survivors, was devastated by the illness and subsequent death of her mother (her father had passed away some years earlier). 'What happened to all my prayers?' she asked.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis: I was referred to speak with you by Rebbetzin _________________, wife of the late Rabbi ________________________ of ___________. The rabbi, zt'l, was my spiritual mentor and good friend, and prior to his unfortunate passing at a young age, I found solace and comfort in his wisdom and advice.
Those of you who have been following my columns will recall that, time and again, I have pointed out that one can always find a correlation between the parsha and events that unfold before our very eyes. And this past week, Abu Mazen's visit to the White House was no exception.
A few weeks ago, I published a story entitled "Will Your Grandchildren Remain Jewish?" In that article I reported on a TV program that focused on intermarriage. As offensive as that situation was, nothing quite compared to an article that came to my attention through the good offices of Mr. Andrew Friedman, who is a prominent attorney and a leader of the Los Angeles Jewish community.
Dear Rebbetzin: Thank you for publicizing the very difficult issues facing our young teenage girls. While the at-risk behavior of boys has leveled off somewhat, there has been a dramatic increase in the at-risk behavior of girls. I have some insights into the problem that may be of interest to your readers.
Sometimes, messages come to us from the most unexpected sources. While, Baruch HaShem, there is currently a substantial upsurge in commitment to Torah and mitzvos, and statistics demonstrate that the Orthodox community is experiencing an unprecedented resurgence, sadly, there is also a flip side to this story.
As I write this column, it is motzei Shabbos, parshas Shelach, and the parsha demands that I address a subject which I have of late refrained from writing about.
Our first letter writer established a gemach for simcha gowns which she runs from her home. She has undertaken this mitzva with dedication and love, and gives of herself with a full heart. However, in order for a gemach to operate successfully, it is important that they be well stocked with quality merchandise... and here is where our letter writer has met with frustration.
Special Note: Several weeks ago, I received two letters regarding gemach problems. For those of our readers who are unfamiliar with the term, gemachs are organizations found in every Torah community to help families who are in financial straits. Interestingly enough, the two letters that I received describe gemach problems from different perspectives - one speaks about the responsibilities of the donors, and the other about the responsibilities of the recipients. They each make valid points that should be addressed.
For the past several weeks, I have published letters that focus on the problems of children and teenagers who, despite the fact that they are yeshiva students and come from good Torah homes, are nevertheless deprived.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:I am a 14-year-old teenager. I read your column regularly, as do all the members of my family. The letter that you published from "A Concerned Mother" who described the goings-on amongst teenagers struck a sensitive chord. Unfortunately, she was right on target.
Special Note: For the past few weeks, we have been discussing the sad state of little children who are abandoned to the care of maids.