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.
I am most grateful to Hashem for granting me the merit of making a contribution, however small, in that direction and relating the story of my holy Zeide and Bubba, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Yisroel HaLevi Jungreis and his Rebbetzin, H”YD, who were killed al Kiddush Hashem in Auschwitz, as well as the story of my holy parents, who, even in that horrific time, in the midst of savage brutality, tenaciously clung to Hashem, and lovingly kept the light of Torah burning in our hearts.
But allow me to begin at the beginning and share with you how all this came about. As many of you may be aware, our Hineni organization has a chapter in Yerushalayim. Our Israel branch is somewhat different in its thrust from our American program. In Yerushalayim, in addition to offering seminars, classes, shidduch opportunities and general outreach, we also address the sad reality of life in Israel.
We run a soup kitchen for the indigent and an outreach program for victims of terror. We take those who have been wounded in body and soul and try to imbue them with renewed strength and hope. We offer them visits to various European countries where the local Jewish communities host and honor them.
At the same time, we provide job training and counseling, and in time of crisis, such as during the period of the war in the North, when Kassam rockets rained down day and night on our brethren in the Galil, we brought countless families to Jerusalem. We provided them with food, shelter, Torah study and schooling for their children, and more recently, we have been hosting our brethren from Sderot.
This year the director of our Hineni Israel Chapter, Benjamin Philip, introduced yet another project. He acquired the exclusive rights to the Anne Frank exhibit, which was hitherto housed in Amsterdam, Holland. We were deeply honored at this opportunity to memorialize the life of this beautiful, sensitive young soul who suffered so much and whose poignant diary captured the imagination of the world.
At the same time however, I was once again reminded of the painful void that exists in the memorials for out holy martyrs. Their burning faith that was more powerful than the fires that raged in the crematoria, had yet to be related. “They were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions to fulfill the will of their Creator.” Through their abiding, immutable faith, they transcended the barbaric inhumanity of their tormentors, sanctified the Name of G-d, and gave life to a new generation of Torah committed Jews.
The Nazis were able to rob them of their homes, strip them of their rights, torture them with starvation and constant beatings . they could shove them into gas chambers, incinerate their bodies, but they could not snuff out their Yiddishe neshamos.
Over the years, I have often written and spoken about this, and time and again shared these thoughts with my children and grandchildren. And now, as if on cue, my granddaughter, Shaindy Wolff Eisenberg, who, Baruch Hashem, lives a beautiful Torah life with her family in Jerusalem, and who conducts many of our Hineni programs, called me with an idea.
Bubba,” she said, “if we are to have an Anne Frank exhibit, why don’t you create a parallel exhibit to relate all the stories about Zeide and Mamma, and all the Kedoshim, holy people, who gave their lives al Kiddush Hashem? You really must do it, Bubba,” she went on to say. “Whenever I heard you speak, I thought about it, but now, the time has come. There’s a whole new generation out there that doesn’t know, that has to be taught to understand and remember.”
And so it was that “The Triumph of the Spirit” was born. We premiered the film last week at our annual Hineni Dinner and the reaction was beyond anything we could have anticipated. Young and old, secular and religious, were all equally affected. There was an overwhelming demand to have the film seen by everyone. I am pleased to share with you that we plan to do just that.
B’Ezrat Hashem, on Tuesday evening, September 22, during Aseres Y’mei Teshuvah, we will have a showing of the film for the general public (at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on 85th and Lexington). To assure your place, you can reserve now by calling our Hineni office (212-496-1660) or e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I write these lines, I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I was invited to address the beautiful Jewish community. We decided to bring a copy of the film with us. My first speech was to college-age young people, most of whom were secular. A large hall had been reserved for the occasion, and in no time at all, it was filled to capacity, but the young people kept coming until there was no place to even stand.
In Buenos Aires the language spoken is Spanish – our film is in English. I wondered how they would react. Would they be able to follow it? Would they lose interest? But from the opening moment, a silence descended on the audience. I looked out at the beautiful young faces – their eyes were glistening with tears. The “pintele Yid” that lies dormant in every neshamah was reignited.
At the end of the film, the young people approached me declaring their determination to walk on the path of Torah and give new life to the legacy of the holy martyrs. Can such a transformation occur instantaneously? Can people change so radically in an instant?
Of course they can, because they are not changing – they are not transforming. They are just returning to their true selves – the invincible pintele Yid that is always there, forever waiting to be rekindled.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis