When the war was over my father was the ben yachid – the only surviving son of the glorious royal rabbinic house of my grandfather, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Yisroel HaLevi Jungreis, Hy”D. Prior to the Holocaust we had nearly ninety rabbis and roshei yeshiva in Hungary and now my father was the ben yachid. Think about it and think about it again.
At every yahrzeit we relate the story. It’s so easy for the next generation to forget but we are determined that it should never, G-d forbid, happen in our family. On these occasions, we not only speak of the past – of the tzaddik as a person, of what he stood for, of what his life was all about. We always speak to Zaida as well. We invite him to join us, his descendants. Not long ago there was no one left and now, Baruch Hashem, the voices of children – big ones, little ones, babies – fill the house. Tatte, Tatte, I cry out. This is the gift we offer you. Baruch Hashem, your kinderlech are all bnei Torah.
I vividly recall the day of our liberation. My parents searched for their families. My father would ask in a trembling voice, “Did anyone see my father, the tzaddik, my mother, the tzaddekes?” My father contacted every DP camp and the answer was always no. But he would not give up. He kept searching and one day he met a man from the shtetl where my grandfather had been the rebbe. And then the answer came.
“Yes, we did see your parents.”
“Where?” my father whispered in a trembling voice.
The man just shook his head and his tears told the story. But my father wanted to know and the man whispered, “At the gates of the gas chambers.”
I will never forget that day. I will never forget the sound of my father’s weeping. I will never forget the endless tears that kept flowing from his eyes. And I will never forget my father summoning all his strength and calling out to Hashem: “Ribbono Shel Olam, I plead only one thing. Only one thing. I beseech you, I beg you, that all my descendants should remain with Torah.”
I recall those words at every yahrzeit. I tell all the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that it’s their mission to fulfill this tefillah of Zaida’s and to transmit it to their children – their descendants for all time. And they all understand.
No one called my father “Rebbe” and no one called my mother “Rebbetzin.” My parents were “Zaida” and “Mamma,” not just their family but to everyone. The reason was simple. They embraced everyone like a Zaida and a Mamma would – with love, kindness, understanding, and the teachings of our Torah.
To be continued