Many readers are no doubt aware that our Hineni organization has for many years been holding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at one or another of New York’s most well-known hotels – The Plaza, The Pierre and, of late, Essex House.
On each of these occasions miracles occur – miracles that may appear to be little but are in fact huge. Our davening is always powerful and inspirational, the ambiance elegant and royal. The speeches enter one’s heart and the festive meals are delicious.
Some years ago I wrote about a 99-year-old man who had last heard the blowing of the shofar more than 70 years before he joined us. It was an amazing experience. His daughter, a member of Hineni, prevailed on him to come to our shul. He was of German extraction and was angry at G-d – angry that He had allowed the Nazis to murder six million Jews. Despite his advanced years his mind was razor sharp. When he entered our dining area I asked everyone to rise and sing “Heveinu Shalom Alechem,” our traditional song of welcome.
Early on in my outreach work I learned never to enter into debates or prolonged discussions with those who left the fold. If we want to reach the hearts of our detached people, love and prayer are the best formulas. From that Rosh Hashanah on this elderly man joined us every year and became part of our Hineni family. When G-d called on him to return his soul, he went with faith and commitment.
We see from this experience that even when dealing with people in their senior years who find it difficult to make life-changing decisions that overturn long-established convictions, one must only know how to unlock hearts. There’s a key to every Jewish heart, and that key is the song of Torah.
I could share with you many more stories. I could tell you, for example, about a successful middle-aged couple visiting New York who, having heard about our minyan, came out of curiosity – and never left. The connecting link between these stories is that there is no such thing as a “coincidence” or a “random happening.” It all happens by the guiding hand of Hashem.
We have a berachah we recite every morning, “Hamechin mitzade gover – blessed be He who arranges our footsteps.” Obviously it is our choice to accept or deny that G-d is leading us on our path. Yet that choice will determine the meaning of our lives.
Our Hineni davening each year brings its own miracles – miracles that have the power to illuminate even the darkest homes with the light of Torah. The miracle of our people reinventing themselves through Torah is an eternal phenomenon that we at Hineni have been privileged to witness on a regular basis.
As I mentioned earlier, we were at Essex House this year. Central Park is right across the street, so went there for tashlich at the lake. I had always made that walk in a few minutes but this time it took somewhat longer. As most of you know, I broke my hip not all that long ago and the walk that was once so easy is now a bit more arduous.
By the time we got to the park I was tired and wanted to sit down. We searched for a bench in a less crowded area; it was Rosh Hashanah and I wanted to daven even while resting. Just the same, people found me and asked for berachos. On Rosh Hashanah, what else can a Jew ask for?
I was buoyed by the great zechus to share berachos with my brethren. My saintly father, HaRav HaGoan HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, gave berachos all his life. When he was ill he called me to his bedside and told me in Yiddish, “Never forget to give berachos.” And so no matter what I’m doing I never hesitate to stop and give a berachah with all my heart.
My father’s mandate is rooted in our history. When Hashem spoke to the Patriarch Abraham He declared, “Heyeh Berachah – be a blessing to others.”
Prior to our deportation to the concentration camps before the Nazi invasion of Hungary, the Belzer Rebbe, who was at the top of the Gestapo’s wanted list, was smuggled from Poland into Budapest. His wife, children, grandchildren and in-laws had been brutally murdered by the Nazis and the Rebbe himself was marked for deportation to the death camps.
But a Hungarian counterintelligence agent who was friendly to Jews whisked the Rebbe, his younger brother and his gabbai into Hungary. Beards and side-locks shaved off, they were disguised as Russian generals who had been captured at the front and were being taken to Budapest for interrogation. Throughout the drive across German-occupied Poland to Hungary they had one close call after another but miraculously evaded detection. At one checkpoint they were detained and almost exposed, but then, as if from nowhere, a high-ranking Hungarian official appeared and ordered that their vehicle be let through.
There was great excitement when news of the Rebbe’s arrival in Budapest reached the Jewish community. My father, like many others, sought a meeting with him. When it became known that my father was going to Budapest to see the Rebbe, countless Jews came to our home with kvitlech – petitions – asking the Rebbe for his berachah.
So it was that my father arrived at the Rebbe’s dwelling carrying a suitcase filled with these kvitlech. When the Rebbe beheld the suitcase and its contents he said, “Believe me, I simply have no strength, but I give over to you all the berachos. Whomever you bless will be blessed.”
This was the mandate my father entrusted to me.
(To Be Continued)
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