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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis’

More On Family Breakdowns

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

For the past several weeks this column has featured letters from parents who have experienced rejection and hatred from their children – as well as my suggestions on how to cope with such situations.

This week I would like to share a letter that adds another dimension to the breakdown of so many families in our community. In this instance it’s not the children who have rejected the parents but a parent who has rejected her child.

It is with much sorrow that I publicize these letters, though I feel it is important to do so. It is simply unbelievable that our family life, which was always held sacrosanct and had been a model for all nations, has fallen in so many cases to such a low.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

We live in Los Angeles. My parents moved here when I was born. Your name was very much a household word in our home. My grandmother of blessed memory was your greatest fan. She always spoke about you with much admiration and respect. She even had the record you made of your Madison Square Garden gathering when you sounded the call to our timeless Torah. She played that record often and I can still hear your electrifying words – “You are a Jew” and “Shema Yisrael” – which ring in my mind and heart to this day.

Since my Bubbie is no longer here to give me advice, I’m turning to you, the Rebbetzin she trusted so much.

My family was no different from others. I have one sister and two brothers. My mom and dad had their issues, disagreements, which at times were very tense. They quarreled – sometimes so loudly that even if we children tried to find sanctuary in our rooms, we still could hear it. However, even with all that discord they never divorced. There were times when there was a cold war between them; nothing was said but the tension was palpable and we were all victimized by it. Even so, they always maintained a home for us, and for all intents and purposes we were a family.

My father had a real estate business and did fairly well. I wasn’t much interested in it since I wanted to go into medicine. Then my father suddenly became ill and I had to help him out. I learned the business easily and came to like it. I especially enjoyed working with my father and we always had a good relationship. He never questioned my integrity and things went well. My younger brothers made their careers in the world of finance and my sister got married and moved to Arizona, where her husband joined his family’s business.

As my father’s illness progressed, I had to take on more and more responsibilities. In my personal life many changes occurred as well. I met a beautiful girl who became my life partner. G-d blessed us with three great kids. Life seemed good, with the exception of my father’s deteriorating health.

The doctor told us my father would need open heart surgery but he assured us that nowadays these procedures were not life threatening. Sadly, the operation was not a success. My beloved father passed away and there was a terrible void my life. True, he had been sick for a long time, but his presence had always been there and that presence was very powerful and strengthened me. My father was not only a parent, he was my mentor and best friend. He was the person who guided me and taught that which I could never have learned at any university. My father was a mighty role model to follow and I will always thank G-d for the privilege of having been his son.

Three years after his passing my nightmare commenced when I received a letter from an attorney whom my mother had engaged. I was shocked. She claimed I had tampered with assets that rightly belonged to her and accused me of theft.

I kept rereading the letter but could not believe it. I could not sleep. I could not eat. Again and again the question kept repeating itself in my mind – how could a mother do this to her son? If she had any grievances, why couldn’t we just talk? Despite everything I swallowed my feelings and called her – but she wouldn’t take my call.

Family Breakdown (Part Two)

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

The response to my columns regarding family breakdowns has been explosive. It is evident that the unfortunate stories touched some sensitive nerves. It was my intention to continue on the theme of last week’s column in which I offered my thoughts on this crisis, but the latest letters and e-mails I’ve received have put a somewhat different twist on the subject.

What has emerged from these communications is a very sad reality: It is not only contemptuous children who are abusive and denigrate their parents; very often parents are guilty of the same thing, as are members of the extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

From early childhood I was aware of the dilemmas, challenges, and struggles that people contend with. My saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, was not only an eminent sage, he was also a man of great compassion who understood the yearnings and fears in every heart. People sought his guidance, his Torah wisdom. I was privileged to hear his compassionate counsel as well as his loving, disciplinary mussar – words of admonishment always dispensed with love. My work in outreach, imparting guidance and advice to people, has always been very much influenced by the teachings I absorbed from my father.

In more than half a century of active outreach I have heard almost every imaginable sort of difficulty, but the cruelty and hatred that lately has infiltrated our family life is a tragedy seldom before seen in our Jewish community.

I wish to share – though I do so with a heavy heart – excerpts from a letter that recently came to my office. Baruch Hashem, we live in a land of bounty. We have been showered with gifts that past generations could only dream of. But instead of being grateful we have become more greedy, more arrogant, more selfish, more demanding, more self-centered. Instead of inspiring members of our family to “fargin,” to be happy for someone else’s attainments, we have encouraged jealousy, which by its very nature converts itself into meanness of spirit.

This meanness is so widespread that we have come to regard it as the norm. But there are times when the stories are so outrageous that even the blind must see and the deaf must hear.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I am 84 years old. I am a Holocaust survivor, as was my husband, a”h. We both survived Auschwitz, but our families disappeared in the crematoria. We met in a displaced persons camp, and it was there that we were married. I don’t know if people today understand what that meant. We had no possessions. We didn’t have a penny in our pockets. I didn’t even have a wedding gown. But we had a dream of recreating our families and our people, and despite the fact that we didn’t have a home or a means of earning a living, we prayed that Hashem would bless us with children.

After the birth of our first child, we received a visa to the United States. Our hearts filled with hope, we boarded a ship that would take us to New York.

Soon after we arrived, we learned that my husband’s older brother was alive, and we moved mountains to bring him here. We rejoiced in the knowledge that someone else from the family had survived. Both my husband and I, as well as my brother-in-law, went to night school to learn the language. We worked hard and took any job as long as we could earn a livelihood and support our families. My brother-in-law was also married to a survivor. We saw each other regularly. Our children were not only cousins, they became close friends. We spent all the Yom Tovim together. Pesach was an especially meaningful time.

The jobs my husband and brother-in-law had paid very meager salaries. Then one day my husband came home with good news. One of his friends had told him about this wealthy man who was retiring and looking for someone to take over his business. His only son, a physician, was not interested.

My husband told his brother, and they explored the situation. It’s a long story, but bottom line, the two brothers became partners. Slowly but surely our lifestyles improved. We bought a house we could never have afforded in the past, and a few years later we sold the house and moved to an even better neighborhood.

A Parent’s Anguish

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

This is the most painful letter I’ve ever written. I’ve been through many horrific experiences. My parents were survivors of the Holocaust; they were shattered people. I know you will understand this since you too are a Holocaust survivor.

The scars of that period never heal in those who went through it. As much as my parents celebrated, as much as they laughed and rejoiced, the nightmare was forever with them. My parents raised us with much love. They literally lived for us. They saw their entire families wiped out and now their children represented all that was lost. They never felt a need take a vacation alone – when they did go away it was always with us, their children.

This was the nurturing I was exposed to, and I brought up my own children the same way. They were always my first priority. I was always home for them. I was always there for them. This was equally true of my husband.

As we know, at the bris of every baby boy we say a berachah that the child may merit to enter the covenant of Torah, chuppah and ma’asim tovim. Yes, the dream of Torah-committed parents is different from that of secular parents, whose hope is that the child will grow up to be successful, which in our society means to make loads of money.

Every Friday evening when I lit Shabbos candles I took an extra few moments to pour out my heart and beseech Hashem to grant my husband and me the privilege of seeing our children under the chuppah embracing a genuine Torah life.

Hashem blessed us with eight children – six boys and two girls. Baruch Hashem, all our children found good shiduchim and we saw them all under the chuppah. But very soon everything fell apart with one of them.

I once met a woman from Jerusalem who had five children, one of whom was killed while serving in the army. An insensitive person visiting her during the days of shiva foolishly said, “Thank G-d you still have four children.” She told me that remark was like a knife in her heart. If somebody has five fingers and one is amputated, would you say to that person, “Your hand is fine – after all, it’s just one finger that’s been severed”? If you lose a finger your entire hand is damaged and can no longer do that which seemed so simple only yesterday.

I often think about that woman’s story. In a way I too have lost a finger have been offered foolish consolation. “Don’t get upset, you still have seven children from whom you have nachas.” They can’t comprehend that I go to sleep and wake up with just one thought: “My child, my child, my child is missing.”

My other children are exemplary in their commitment to Torah, their devotion to mitzvos and the respect and love they show us, but this one son and his wife have caused us terrible anguish. And that anguish has taken over our lives and gives us no peace.

This one son married a girl who has agendas. I do not pretend to be a psychologist so I will not even attempt to analyze the situation. But this little wife has made a great breach in our family and destroyed our harmony, our unity. She does not talk to or recognize any of my other children, her husband’s siblings. She does not visit them and does not communicate with them. She will not allow my son to see his siblings or to visit and talk to them.

My son gives the impression that he is in accord with this. The cousins do not know each other. They are not permitted to spend time together.

Why does my son allow this? I don’t know. We all live in the same community and our family tragedy has become public knowledge. Our entire family has suffered. A hundred and one times I have tried to reach my son and daughter-in-law but it has been to no avail. The same holds true for the attempts made by my other children.

My husband and I begged, cajoled, and compromised our dignity – and our children did the same – but our son and daughter-in-law snubbed all our efforts. They locked their doors and their hearts.

‘My Joy In Judaism Has Disappeared’

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Last week I shared a letter from a disillusioned 38-year-old single woman. Raised in a secular family, she followed the usual pattern of the last couple of generations, placing marriage on the back burner in favor of relationships.

Having gone through many boyfriends, she experienced the painful futility of investing many years in “relationships” only to discover it was all for naught. The final step of marriage and raising a family never happened.

At thirty-eight she is a successful junior partner at a law firm but, she wrote, it’s all meaningless. Her dream of becoming a wife and mother never materialized. A friend invited her to come to my Torah classes where she discovered the Jewish way of family life based upon the sanctity of marriage. She is deeply pained and frustrated that she made this discovery too late. If only she had been raised with such values, how different her life would have been.

The letter evoked much discussion and I received many e-mails. The following is one of them.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I am addressing this to the woman whose letter you featured in your column last week:

Like you, I grew up in a Reform home. Like you, I have been in and out of relationships since high school. Like you, I have also achieved professional success. Like you, I am thirty-eight years old and lament the fact that my biological clock has ticked away as I remain single. Yet, unlike you, I am an Orthodox Jew.

At the age of twenty-nine I met a man who was Orthodox. I liked him, but he gave me the “buts” as to why it would never work – one of which was the fact that at the time I was not Orthodox. I tried to prove him wrong and started attending classes. And pretty soon I recognized that my connection to Judaism and spirituality had less to do with him and more to do with the fact that I thought I had found the truth. I thought that by becoming religious I had found the blueprint of the universe that would lead to the happiest life I could live, which included something fundamental to being an Orthodox Jew: a beautiful husband and family.

At the age of thirty-two I quit a lucrative job to learn full time in Israel. After a year I returned home and went back to work – crying every day because I wasn’t fulfilling my potential as a wife and mother.

Years ticked by and most of my friends got married. One by one they left me behind, entering a world I only hope to know, leading me to make new friends again. As I get older, my friends get younger as there are fewer and fewer women my age who are single. These younger friends are also getting married and they feel guilty for even telling me they are engaged.

I have been to countless rabbis, received berachot, davened, etc. I have seen countless therapists – some religious, some not – trying to “fix” whatever is wrong with me that has rendered me single. I have read countless books on faith, trying hard to believe that G-d actually loves me and somehow this will all work out – that going to other people’s families for Shabbat and Yom Tov meals is somehow good for me; that some way, somehow, all this pain is good for my soul.

I wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t become religious. By secular standards I am still what people call “a catch,” but with every passing day I become less and less marketable in the frum world, with ages of suggested men exponentially increasing – fifty five has recently become an “appropriate” suggestion, along with the seemingly obligatory warning that I shouldn’t be so “picky.” If you knew me and my dating history, you’d know I was anything but picky. I just feel unlucky in this area of my life.

You, at least, can be angry at yourself or angry at your ex. I have done everything “right” according to rabbinic tradition and am just left with anger at G-d.

It is embarrassing to admit I am angry with G-d when so many people have suffered so much more than the pain of despairing over not having a family. And yet, just as you regret your choices, I am starting to regret mine. I feel G-d has forgotten me.

Leaving The ‘Zero’ Life Behind

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I grew up a secular Jew in a Reform home. Once a year, on the High Holidays, I attended temple. My brother married a non-Jew and no one in the family was upset about it. As a matter of fact, most of my cousins are intermarried. I am thirty-eight years old, a litigation attorney who works for what most people regard as a prestigious law firm.

I have been in and out of relationships going as far back as my senior year in high school. Marriage was something I felt had to be put on the back burner until I was established and successful in my career. When I was thirty-two I was promoted and became a junior partner in my firm. I told my boyfriend I was ready to get married.

He said he, too, wanted to get married but wasn’t quite ready. He wanted to make some more money and achieve the goals he had set for himself in business. My boyfriend was in finance, and as you know the stock market is a roller coaster, so while he agreed we should get married there was always some reason to delay. If it wasn’t money it was something else.

One of my close friends became observant, and it was you who influenced her to make that change in her life. We come from the same background; we were high school friends, grew up in the same community and our families went to the same temple. While we attended different universities, we always kept in touch and went on many double dates. On weekends we played tennis. But then we grew apart and – I write this with the utmost respect – it was you, Rebbetzin, who caused the rift.

My friend stumbled upon your classes purely by accident and she started to go regularly to the Hineni Heritage Center. It seemed that overnight she started to behave strangely. She refused to eat at the restaurants we’d always enjoyed. She refused to have dinner at our home. She told us she had decided to keep kosher. I couldn’t believe that my friend, who was such an enlightened person, would get bogged down with all that nonsense. I always believed this kosher business was some ancient superstition, but I couldn’t convince her and she stubbornly clung to her new way of life.

When we were discussing it one evening, she challenged me: “What difference does it make to you whether I eat seafood or not, or whether I eat pork chops? Are you telling me you are willing to terminate years of friendship because I changed my choice of food? What if I went on a diet and limited myself to what a doctor prescribed? Would that bring an end to our relationship? So if God, whom I believe to be the Doctor of all Doctors, prescribed His diet for me, why should that bother you?”

I didn’t have any good answers. Nevertheless, I felt angry and couldn’t explain why. I decided to try to bury my resentment and take a tolerant view of her diet. But it didn’t end there. Whereas in the past we would have so much fun on Saturdays shopping and picking up great bargains, she now stayed home, went to her synagogue and had Sabbath meals with her new friends. She had become a person I no longer recognized. We still had some uncomfortable conversations in which she presented me with arguments I had difficulty responding to but rejected just the same.

“Are you telling me our friendship is based on Saturday shopping sprees?” she asked. “Is that what it’s all about? Are you prepared to end our relationship because I believe Saturday is the holy Sabbath, a day on which I want to connect with G-d rather than go to Bloomingdale’s? Is that so terrible?”

Our friendship became increasingly strained, and she tried to persuade me to attend your Hineni Torah classes. I refused. But my friend didn’t give up. She kept badgering me to go just once and listen to you. So I finally went. I was prepared to hate it, to tell her that, just as I had thought, this whole thing was superstition. But you were totally different from what I had anticipated. Your words spoke to me. I felt as if you knew my life.

‘Learn From The Rebbetzin, Mom’

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I have been overwhelmed by the e-mails and letters I’ve received in response to my series of articles focusing on my recent accident and surgery – so much so that while I wrote last week that the subject would be closed with that column, I feel compelled to share some of these communications with you.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I have been a fan for many years. A week does not go by without my reading your column. It has become part of my Shabbos. My entire family has become addicted, and very often we have lively discussions around your articles.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and to tell you how much the series of columns on your hospitalization and rehabilitation has meant to us, and what an incredible impact they have had on me and I’m sure on many others.

I realize how difficult this must have been for you. To share such personal experiences in a public forum is not easy. You are high profile – your name is known throughout the Jewish world, and people in your position are careful to preserve their privacy lest they expose their vulnerability. I know many individuals in your position who when ill try to keep everything “hush-hush.”

I write this not to be critical of those people but to commend you on your candor, your courage, and the love of our people that prompted you to make your own struggle public.

You wrote that your father, Rabbi Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, of blessed memory, imparted to you a lifetime lesson: “The trials, the tribulations and the tests of life that come our way become easier to bear if we share our pain, our suffering, our struggles with others, and thus help them deal with their own life tests.”

Those words resonated with me as I marveled at your courage in sharing personal experiences so that others might learn from them and carry their own heavy loads with greater ease.

Every one of your articles in that series touched a sensitive chord, particularly the first one, in which you described your fall and the major surgery that followed in a hospital far away from family and home. I was awed that in that totally non-Jewish environment everyone referred to you as “Rebbetzin” and that the CEO of the hospital, as well as the doctors and nurses, imparted kindness and respect, and that while your pain was severe you found the strength to convey to them the wisdom of our Torah. But what actually brought tears to my eyes was the April 27 column in which you told the story of the prima ballerina. You related that you were walking down the corridor of the hospital, dressed in a hospital gown and robe, agonizingly learning to take your first steps as the nurses cheered you on. One of them called out, “You look like a prima ballerina” – and that became your calling card.

The words reverberated in your mind and heart and you asked yourself, “Could they be mocking me?” But of course that could not be. They had so much respect and kindness. And then you wrote that it occurred to you that Hashem was sending you a message: “Esther Jungreis, learn to leap and hop. Yes, now you may be in a valley but you must skip your way to the mountaintop…. Swallow your tears and keep going – practice and practice again and keep fit. Remember who you are – you are a prima ballerina.”

I believe that story is a classic and hope you will include it in the book you mentioned you are determined to write. I shared that story with so many people who are wrestling with personal trials, but most importantly I gave it to my mother who is struggling with her own illness and, sadly, has given up the fight. She is depressed and tells us she wants to die.

She is not that old, and even if she were, a wise lady once said to me, “Age is just a number. It is what you do with your life that counts.” Her doctors have told her the most important factor in her recovery is her willingness to fight, but if she throws in the towel she ruins her chances of returning to a normal life.

Singles In Crisis – A Reader’s Thoughts

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Last week’s column was meant to be the last, for now, on the subject of shidduchim. Because of the problems singles experience in finding their soul mates, I had devoted several columns to the subject and was prepared to move on – until I received an e-mail I feel is a must read in order for us to gain a better understanding of the pain some of our singles are experiencing.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis, I read with great interest your series of columns on shidduchim. The subject is very close to my heart. At 36, I have been on more dates than I care to admit, but have yet to find my bashert. Most of my friends are in the same boat – they too are frustrated and hurting. When we get together we try to avoid discussing it. It’s too painful, so we try to bury the loneliness we feel – we go out to dinner, laugh, and try to have fun. But it’s all a pretense. Our classmates are all married and have beautiful families while we sit alone in our apartments.

When Shabbos or holidays come, the sadness is even more piercing. My options are to stay home and have Shabbos/holiday meals by myself, accept an invitation from a family member or a friend, attend a singles Shabbaton, or go to my elderly parents. The choices are not very attractive.

To stay at home by myself is to sit in darkness. To go to others is to seem like a charity case or feel obligated to baby-sit or offer some other service. When I visit families with children, I am ashamed to admit, I have a battle in my heart. I don’t want to be jealous. I don’t want to be bitter. Just the same, there is no sense denying the feelings are there and very difficult to overcome. I keep asking myself why I have been denied the simple gift of building a home and raising a family.

I have four siblings. My older brother and I are still single and I know this is a worry that plagues my parents, which is why I cannot bear the thought of going home for Shabbos or Yom Tov. So I do not have many options.

Wherever I go, whatever I do, I always see a shadow hovering over me. And this shadow is not silent. It whispers by day and by night and it whispers as I attend to the daily needs of my clients.

The whisper is constant and doesn’t let go, and its message takes on many shapes and forms. When I see other people’s babies and children, the whisper says, “Your biological clock is ticking away; you will never have children!” On other occasions I hear the whisper of a shadchan whom I recently consulted: “You have to be more realistic,” she said. “You are not exactly Miss America, you know, and the type of man you described wouldn’t want you. And then she recommended some men who were, to be blunt, real losers – men who needed someone to support them or who had other problems.

I told her that while I may not look like Miss America, I do not know anyone who does. My married friends don’t, and yet they are married and raising children. But my words fell on deaf ears and the shadchan clung to her position. “Well,” she finally said, “if you refuse to face reality, there’s very little I can do to help.”

I’ve been to more singles weekends and more Shabbos dinners than you can imagine. I live on the Upper West Side and the reason I chose to take an apartment there – though it’s more expensive than other areas and I could barely afford it – is because everyone told me it’s a haven for Jewish singles and there are myriad places I would be able to go on Shabbos and Yom Tov and feel comfortable. There are invitations galore from families who host singles, and there is always some organization or synagogue that offers Shabbos dinners. It’s alive, it’s friendly and it’s the place to meet. So, full of hope, I moved there.

In my mind’s eye, I saw a wonderful image of myself walking down the aisle, rejoicing and dancing at my own simcha. But real life brought its disappointments and my hopes were dashed. I soon realized that all this camaraderie was counterproductive. The stock answer to shidduch recommendations was, “Oh yes, I know him/her – we are good friends.” And that was the end of a shidduch or even a date opportunity.

I come from a very religious family and I now realize how right they were and how foolish we are. In the community in which I grew up, friendship between the sexes was simply off limits. Dating was only for tachlis – for marriage. Even prior to a boy and girl going out, families investigated very carefully and if the person who was recommended seemed appropriate, the dating process commenced – but would be quickly terminated if either of the parties felt there was no potential for marriage.

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