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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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When Children Fall Through The Cracks (Conclusion)

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

For several weeks now I have been running a series on the plight of parents whose children who have “fallen through the cracks” and the painful ramifications both suffer.

I hope to conclude the discussion with this column.

Last week I wrote of the concerns of parents who have children of marriageable age and fear they will not be able to make shidduchim for them because of that one troubled child. This week, as promised, I will focus on the apprehensions of parents who agonize about the potential negative effects of such a child on their siblings.

My own children grew up in a totally secular neighborhood. They were the only ones who were shomer Shabbos and went to yeshiva. My boys were the only ones who wore yarmulkes and my girls the only ones to wear tzniusdik (modest) clothing.

And yet they were friends with the children in the neighborhood, who even joined us at our Shabbos table. Instead of those children influencing our sons and daughters, our children knew they had to influence them. As a matter of fact, just recently I spoke at an Orthodox synagogue in which one of those boys is very active and an officer of the board. Baruch Hashem, he is totally shomer Shabbos, as are his children, who are all yeshiva students. And it all started because of his friendship with my son.

Nowadays, however, such a situation would be a rarity. Today’s observant parents would be fearful if their children were to befriend those who are not religious lest their secular peers influence them and lead them astray.

So how did I do it?

From a very tender age, I charged my boys and girls with a mission. They had to do whatever they could to be m’karev – to reach out to – their secular counterparts. My son was four years old when he befriended the four-year-old son of our neighbor. They played together regularly. One day, my son approached me and said, “Ima, could you teach ____’s housekeeper how to bentsh licht for Shabbos [kindle the Sabbath candles]? His mommy doesn’t want to do it.”

When I explained why that couldn’t work, my little boy did not give up. Next thing I knew, his friend put on a yarmulke and then he went on to join him in yeshiva. How did that happen? As mentioned above, I had fortified my children with a sense of mission that I didn’t allow them to forget. When guests joined us at our Shabbos table, my children knew they had to be on their best behavior lest these people form the wrong impression of those who are Torah observant.

Frankly, I have difficulty understanding how it is that in families where there is one son or daughter who “fell through the cracks,” parents do not charge their other children with reaching out and influencing the rebellious sibling.

Oh, I am well aware of the arguments people put forth – “It’s easier to follow the bad than the good”; “It’s easier to fall through the cracks than to stand up straight and walk on the path of Torah”; “It wouldn’t work, my son/daughter is too far gone – he/she just won’t listen”; “If they try, they will just end up in a nasty fight”; “Rebbetzin, you don’t begin to understand what goes on in our house – my son comes home at crazy hours and don’t know where he was or what he is up to, he drinks, he smokes….”; “You can’t imagine how he/she dresses. It’s an embarrassment!”

I know all that, yet I will tell you the power of love is the only thing that can reach them. Yes, the power of unconditional love and kindness goes a long, long way – and I speak from real experience rather than from some abstract theory. And this holds true for yeshivas as well. When rebellious children are ousted and cast into a jungle, they can only fall further. When their classmates shun them and make them feel like lowlifes, they can only deteriorate and become that which they have been told they are.

I always wonder why these same classmates cannot be spoken to and told of Hashem’s sorrow when a Yiddishe neshamah is lost – when one of His children, so to speak, dies? I always wonder why these classmates cannot be told it is in their hands to try to bring this lost neshamah back to Hashem. Instead of calling this child a “bum,” why can’t we call him a “teire kind” – a precious child – embrace him with a hug and tell him, “You belong to Mamlechet Kohanim – a Priestly Kingdom; your people need you and Hashem loves you, yearns for you, and never gives up on you. You can do it!”

I know some of you may think I am living in a dream world, oblivious to reality. A gadol, a great sage, once said, “I may be dreaming, but I’m not sleeping.” Growing up under the guidance of my saintly parents, I actually saw this dream become reality.

I remember many moons ago, following my family’s internment in Bergen Belsen, we were sent to a DP camp in Switzerland. One day, a group of Polish boys, ranging in age from 17-20, was brought to our camp from Auschwitz. They had seen their parents tortured and cast into the gas chambers and crematoria. They themselves had felt the sting of the whip and had experienced starvation and torture beyond description.

They were all very angry and bitter. They threw away their yarmulkes, didn’t want to know about Torah or mitzvos, and didn’t want to hear the word “Hashem.” They were quartered in a dormitory and every night, my father, the holy sage HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, would visit them. He never admonished or chastised them. Instead, he went from bed to bed, covered them, kissed them, said the “Shema” with them, and whispered “Schluff gezunte heit mein teire kind” – “Sleep well my precious child.” And my mother volunteered for the kitchen and always managed to find something extra for them.

Many years later, I was speaking in a community in Florida when an elderly gentleman approached me. “Esther, you remember me?” he asked. Since he called me “Esther,” I surmised that our connection must go all the way back to my youth, but I didn’t have the foggiest notion of whom he could be.

“Remind me, ” I said.

“I am one of the Polish boys from Auschwitz who joined you at the DP camp in Switzerland. And these are my grandchildren.”

Before me stood seven sweet children. “They all go to yeshiva,” the man continued, “and it’s all due to your parents of blessed memory. I will never forget them!”

You might argue that this was different, that those young people went through the Holocaust. Every case is different, but there is one common denominator that applies in every generation – LOVE.

It is with this approach that I established Hineni and have reached out to our people. This teaching that my holy parents engraved upon my heart has guided me throughout my life. I have often thought how different our Jewish world would be if, instead of anger and disdain, we would learn to follow this path and envelop our children in love and kindness. If, instead of throwing out a child, we would call him aside after class, speak to him softly, embrace him, give him a berachah and tell him he has great potential, that he is a heilige Yiddishe neshamah, he would look at himself differently and not feel he is a bum.

There is yet another option for troubled children – enrollment in a “special school” where they meet other rebellious students. The down side to this is that, lacking positive role models, they very often feed off each other and fall even further.

Not long ago, a young man from a good family was brought to our office by his friend. He was involved with a gentile girl, and everything else that accompanies such a scenario. I invited him to come to my classes. Instead of admonishing him and berating him, I told him how much he was needed by our people, and how Hashem yearned for him to come home. I showed him the beauty of the Torah life he had so irresponsibly rejected.

Slowly but surely, he changed. I tried to convince him to return home. He told me he would never be accepted. I called his father, who was shocked by my call – and, I think, somewhat resentful and uncomfortable that I had become privy to this tragedy in his family. I understood where he was coming from and told him that in these turbulent, pre-messianic times, many of our families are splintered and suffer greatly. Slowly, I convinced him his son was on the mend.

To be sure, it has not all been smooth sailing, but he is on the path. Slowly the wounds are healing – another Jewish child has come home, and a family has become united.

I have dealt with many teenagers who have been cast out of their homes and schools, and once again I must emphasize that the most potent way to reach them is with berachos and love. I am not saying this is easy. It is a terrible nisayon for all concerned. I understand it is easy to be overcome by rage and lose it, but then we have to bear in mind the consequences and ask ourselves what will be accomplished if I yell and scream and call him derogatory names. On the other hand, if I hold my temper, respond calmly and show him I am sad rather than mad, I have a shot at reaching him. Not in vain did our sages teach us, “Who is wise? – He who foresees the future.”

Obviously, our sages were not referring to prophecy, but to foreseeing the consequences of our actions.

I believe there is yet one more issue that needs to be addressed. Some of our children who have “fallen through the cracks” have done so simply because they are not “learners.” They cannot keep up with the demands of the schools, so to call attention to themselves they become “clowns” and are eventually ousted.

My beloved husband, HaRav Meshulem Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, received semicha while still in Hungary and he often told me that in his yeshiva, there was one big beis hamedrash where everyone learned and the weaker students were helped by the stronger ones. One day, a well-known rabbi from Israel came to our community to raise money for his institution. My husband recalled that in his youth this rabbi had studied in his yeshiva and had difficulty grasping the Gemara, but there was always some other student who would assume the responsibility of reviewing the teaching and working with him. As a result, today he is a big talmid chacham – a highly respected scholar and rabbi with a vast knowledge of Torah.

Just recently, I was on my way to speak in Palm Beach, Florida. On the same flight was a distinguished looking man with a white beard, black hat and coat. I noticed there was some foreign object stuck to his coat. I debated in my mind whether I should approach him to make him aware of it or just remain silent. Knowing that a talmid chacham must be careful about his appearance, I decided to go over to him. I said in Yiddish, “Forgive me…” and pointed to the object.

He quickly removed it and thanked me profusely.

“Aren’t you Rebbetzin Jungreis?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Are you an ainekle of the great Czengerer Tzaddik?”

“Yes,” I said. (My great-great grandfather, the Czengerer Rebbe, was renowned throughout Hungary for the miraculous cures he was able to bring to our people.)

He went on to tell me that one of his very good friends had been afflicted with terminal cancer. The doctors did not give him long to live. Someone told him to go to Czenger and pray at the gravesite of the tzaddik. “Today, ten years later,” he continued, “he is well and enjoying his beautiful mishpacha.”

He paused before continuing. “I will tell you another story, and this one is about me. I give you permission to repeat it because I think it will help many families, but please do not use my name. As a young boy studying in cheder in Hungary, I had much difficulty. I simply couldn’t get it. No matter how hard I tried, the teachings could not penetrate my head.

“My father, of blessed memory, just didn’t know what to do with me. He was full of anguish over it, and my rebbe was very frustrated with me but he always encouraged me and told me to keep trying. He told me to daven that Hashem should help. But still I couldn’t get it. The other boys were advancing and I was nowhere. Then, one day, when no one was around, I went to the Aron HaKodesh and I cried bitterly. I begged Hashem to please help me and pleaded with Him to open my mind and my eyes so that I might understand His holy words – and miraculously, it worked!

“But I couldn’t have done it,” he added, “if not for the support and encouragement of my rebbe.”

I have often thought how different things would be today if we would learn to adopt some of the ways that came so naturally to our zeides and rebbes of yesterday.

Avi Mori – My Father, My Teacher

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

This past week was the yahrzeit of Avi Mori, my dearly beloved father, my teacher, my guiding light, the eminent sage, HaRav HaGaon HaTzadik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l. It is difficult to believe that 18 years have already passed since he was called to the Heavens above. In my mind’s eye, I hear his kind, gentle voice; I see his magnificent, holy countenance and his loving smile, and yet, the years have passed. Eighteen is not an ordinary number…. 18 is chai – life – so I would like to recall some of the memories from the exemplary life of my saintly father, Avi Mori.

In all my years I never heard my father raise his voice, say an unkind word, or lose his temper…. not even during the most trying periods of his life – the Holocaust, the Displaced Persons Camps that followed, the trials and tribulations of adjusting to a new life in America (in a neighborhood that had never seen Orthodox Jews, how much more a rebbe of my father’s caliber). Throughout his life, his calm, loving, compassionate demeanor remained constant. Even during his final years, when he had to battle devastating illness, my father’s chesed – goodness prevailed.

Hungary was the last country to be invaded by the Nazis, but as Hitler’s armies conquered Europe, persecution of Jews became a way of life. Young Jewish boys were conscripted for slave labor – a torturous experience from which few returned. Our city became a collection point from where these boys were deported. As the Rabbi, my father was able to obtain permission to conduct services for them, but he was always carefully searched – he could not bring anything into the camp.

My parents, however, thought it unlikely that I, a little girl, would be searched, so I accompanied my father, and my mother sewed medications and whatever else was critically needed into the lining of my coat. Thus, I had the merit of witnessing how a mere human being can be “higher than the angels.”

My father had the most beautiful voice. When he davened, the walls themselves shook. I will never forget my father’s prayers in the detention camps, for while he was permitted to conduct services, he was not permitted to have private conversations with the boys. Undaunted, he wove into the prayers a message for every person and those messages spoke volumes, entered every heart, and imparted courage, faith and hope.

Many years later, I was speaking in a community in New Jersey when a young man approached me and related that his father had told him that while he was in a detention camp, a Rabbi Jungreis would come to visit, bring messages to all the boys from their families, strengthen them with prayers and impart a brachah to each and every person. He added that the rabbi’s little daughter would accompany him and bring much- needed medication. “Could that rabbi have been your father? Could you have been that little girl?”

Tears choking my voice, I nodded my head.

Quickly, he ran to the phone and called his father, who now lived in Belgium and handed me the receiver.

“It was your father’s brachos that kept me going,” he told me. “I will never forget him.

Whether in Bergen-Belsen or in a DP Camp in Switzerland, my father’s sacrifice, commitment and love, never wavered.

In 1945-47 following the Holocaust, we were placed in DP camps in Switzerland. A group of Polish young men between the ages of 17 and 22, who had survived the hell of Auschwitz and whose parents had been slaughtered, arrived at my parents’ DP Camp. The young men were all very angry – they had thrown away their yarmulkes and openly expressed their disdain for religion.

My father did not argue with them or admonish them. Instead, every night, he went to their room and said the Shema with them. He would go from bed to bed, tuck them in, plant a kiss on each forehead, and say in Yiddish, “Shlof gezunt heit, lichtige kind – Sleep well, my precious child.”

My mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, A.H., volunteered for kitchen duty, and she always tried to make something extra for them. Slowly, my parents removed the bitterness from their hearts and brought them back to Torah and Hashem.

For some unfathomable reason, the authorities in Switzerland separated us children from our parents. My older brother was sent to a school near Zurich in German Switzerland; I was sent to a place near Montreux in French Switzerland, and my parents, along with my younger brother, were in yet another area. It was a very trying time. Battered and scarred, we yearned for the warm, loving presence of our parents, but it was not to be.

There was a Yiddish song that we sang in those days, “Vi Ahin Zol Ich Gayen? Ver Ken Entferen Mir? – Tell me where can I go? Who can answer me?”

For my father there was only one answer to that question – Eretz Yisrael! Unfortunately however, we could not obtain the necessary papers to make that dream come true. The British, who then ruled our Holy Land, limited Jewish immigration to a trickle, and anyone who dared to defy their quotas was sent to a detention camp in Cyprus. My father refused to chance that. We had experienced one concentration camp too many – it was enough, so we waited patiently for our papers. The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months into years, and there was still no sign that the fulfillment of our dream was at hand.

In the DP school to which I had been assigned, I had a roommate who became a good friend. We did not have permission to keep the lights on at night, so my little friend and I made up a game – before going to sleep, we would identify every object in the room: “This is a chair…. this is a table….” so that during the night, when we became terrified by nightmares and those pieces of furniture appeared to be Nazis, we would reassure one another, “It’s only a chair…It’s only a table.”

But then, one day, my little friend (whose parents had been killed in the Holocaust) received papers for Eretz Yisrael. Orphans were given priority by Aliyat HaNoar, and were granted the few visas that were made available.

My father came to visit and I cried bitterly. I told him that, since I was alone in my room, my fear of the night intensified. My father assured me that I was never alone – that Hashem would always be watching over me, and that he himself would always be at my side.

Then he took out his pen and wrote the beautiful passage from our Torah, from this week’s parshah, depicting the unique relationship that our father Jacob enjoyed with his son, Benjamin. “V’Nafsho keshurah b’nafsho – His [Jacob's] soul was bound to his [Benjamin's] soul.” The father’s soul was bound to his son’s soul.

“Never forget that lichtig kind – my precious light (my father always called us precious lights). My soul is forever connected to yours.”

The years passed – 1945…. 1946… 1947… and there was still no hope of our being granted permission to go to Eretz Yisrael, and then, one day, we received papers for the United States. My parents decided that our family had been fragmented long enough, so with G-d’s help, we would go to America and build a new life.

It was the dead of winter when we set sail. It took us four weeks to cross the Atlantic in a small Italian freighter. The seas were rough and as our ship was tossed back and forth, we wondered if we would ever make it. When we finally docked, instead of the port of New York, we found ourselves in Norfolk, Virginia.

But whether we were tossed by the stormy waves of the ocean or whether we had to struggle with the challenges of our new life in America, my father’s message from the Torah was forever with me, “Nafsho keshurah b’nafsho.”

And now, on this eighteenth yahrzeit, I would like to say to my father that my soul is bound to his.

L’Ilui nishmas Avi Mori, HaRav HaGaon Ha Tzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis ben HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Yisroel HaLevi Jungreis, Hy”d.

Learning To Play A Sacred New Song

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

       The conductor gazed down at the orchestra, waved his baton and the stirring sounds of Grieg’s “Triumphal March” began to fill the air. As Max Beker guided the bow over the strings of his violin, Fania Durmashkin’s fingers moved expertly across the piano keys. But on May 27, 1945 these accomplished musicians from Vilna, Lithuania, who had contributed so much to the classical and Yiddish musical traditions of their culturally rich city, weren’t performing in the rarified atmosphere of the Vilna Concert Hall. Today they were playing the familiar melodies of home, recalling the life they had lived before the world descended into madness, on a makeshift stage erected on the grounds of the St. Ottilien Monastery in Bavaria, Germany.

 

         Seated among the hungry, the sick, and the broken, who had gathered for a concert by survivors for survivors to commemorate their liberation, was Robert Hilliard, a 19-year-old American GI who was stationed on an army base located a few miles from the St. Ottilien Displaced Persons’ Camp. As the editor of the base newspaper, he had come to the Liberation Concert in pursuit of an interesting story. Little did he realize on that fateful day, that he would become a vital link in a miraculous chain of events that would ultimately span over 60 years.

 

 


Fania Durmashkin Beker

 

 

         Hilliard described the performance as “A liberation concert at which most of the liberated people were too weak to stand. A liberation concert at which most of the people still could not believe they were free…. A concert of life and a concert of deathThe movements and faces of the musicians were cramped, tight, fearfulas if they momentarily expected guns and clubs to tear apart what, after so many years, must have felt to them like only a dream. When the concert ended many people were crying, few more openly than I.”

 

         But Hilliard did more than just cry. Overwhelmed by the misery he had just witnessed he returned to the base determined to correct the abysmal conditions in the DP camp. He enlisted the help of a fellow GI, E. Edward Herman and together, they devised a plan that not only alleviated the suffering of survivors at St. Ottilien but eventually succeeded in changing the U.S. military’s policy toward all of the DP camps. The details of their courageous efforts are revealed in Hilliard’s memoir, Surviving The Americans: The Continued Struggle of the Jews After Liberation.

 

 


Max Beker

 

 

         Although they had left Germany by the time that I was born in the DP Camp, I finally met these two men who had made such a major impact on the lives of survivors when they reunited with St. Ottilien alumni in the year 2000. Footage of the emotional reunion was included by John Michalczyk, co-director of the Film Studies Program at Boston College, in his award winning documentary, “Displaced: Miracle at St. Ottilien,” which was based on Hilliard’s book.

 

         It is at this point that the past and the present converge – when paths cross, lives intersect and fate reveals its guiding hand. While Sonia Beker was doing research for a book she was writing to honor the memory of her parents, Max Beker and Fania Durmashkin, the Vilna musicians who met at the St. Ottilien DP camp, she learned of the existence of the documentary. This discovery led her directly to former GI, E. Edward Herman, who immediately recognized the need for a sequel based on the wealth of material in Sonia’s newly published book, Symphony on Fire: A Story of Music and Spiritual Resistance During the Holocaust available from Amazon.com.

 

         In her profoundly moving memoir, Sonia Beker chronicles the lives of her parents from their musical beginnings in Vilna, their incarceration in the Vilna ghetto, the concentration, labor and Nazi POW camps, their meeting at the St. Ottilien DP camp and finally, the new life they built together in America. Rich in personal photographs, letters and documents, she paints an intimate and loving portrait of both the Durmashkin and the Beker musical family dynasties against the historical backdrop of the thriving Jewish community of Vilna.

 

 


St. Ottilien Displaced Persons’ Orchestra.

 

 

       Sonia writes of her parents: “When the Holocaust destroyed their nurturing, loving families and came close to destroying them as well, music was their passport to survival and transcendenceThey performed as members of a Jewish orchestra for the Nuremberg tribunal, for David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, and for DP camp inmates throughout Bavaria. Their reputation was such that, when Leonard Bernstein learned of the remarkable Jewish survivor orchestra who performed in their striped concentration camp uniforms, he was inspired to conduct them.” Sonia’s aunt, her mother’s only surviving relative, Henny Durmashkin, a talented singer who was also a member of the orchestra, was personally accompanied by Bernstein on the piano as she performed songs in Hebrew to honor the newly founded state of Israel.

 

         Symphony on Fire is a valuable addition to the expanding library of books on the Holocaust, detailing both the horror and the heroism. As Sonia Beker notes, “our survivors are slowly leaving us and, just as I’d feared, with their departures, the conscience of the world is dimming. New and bizarre international atrocities and accusations against the Jews fill the news. As a result, there cannot be enough of these memoirs in print or in the electronic media to touch the minds and hearts of everyone who will read and absorb the lessons from the past.”

 

         The remarkable story of the St. Ottilien Orchestra, who toured throughout war-torn Europe giving hope and inspiration to survivors like themselves, might have been relegated to a mere footnote in history. But through the efforts of Sonia Beker, Henny Durmashkin’s daughter, Rita Lerner, E. Edward Herman, and filmmakers John Michalczyk and Ronald Marsh, the documentary, “Creating Harmony: The Displaced Persons’ Orchestra at St. Ottilien” celebrates the resilient, courageous and determined nation that not only rose like a phoenix out of the ashes but learned to play a magnificent new song.

 

         When the documentary had its world premiere in New York on June 10, 2007 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial To The Holocaust, the audience was visibly moved by the heroic story of the Jewish musicians who created music that was truly sacred. Each time the members of the St. Ottilien Orchestra reunited with their violins, their clarinets and their cellos they not only healed their wounded bodies and souls but they also reaffirmed the spiritual harmony of creation.


 


 


 


Helen Zegerman Schwimmer is the author of “Like The Stars of the Heavens” to be published the summer of 2007. She can be contacted at: hzs8@aol.com.

Gemachs – Giving With A Full Heart

Friday, August 1st, 2003

Special Note: In last week’s column, I published two letters regarding gemachs. For those who may not be familiar with the term, gemachs are services established to meet people’s personal needs, ranging from loans of gowns, fine costume jewelry for weddings, tables and chairs for simchas, and financial loans for those in difficulty, and recently, I read about a gemach that even provides sheitlach for those who cannot afford to buy them.

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.  While women generously donate the gowns that they wore at their simchas, they often do so years after the event has taken place, which means that the gowns lose their freshness, become oxidized, and look dated and out of style – hardly the kind of apparel that someone would be proud to wear for their simcha. Our letter writer makes an appeal to women to donate their gowns soon after their weddings or Bar Mitzvas, and not procrastinate until their gift loses its value.

To make her case, she points out several strong considerations. 1) Most of these dresses are elaborate and it is unlikely that the wearers would put them on again, so they just sit in the closet, taking up space. 2) Since they are very costly, the owners would feel better about themselves if they knew that the large sum of money spent for just one night, would also benefit someone else. 3) It is a zchus - a great merit, for the ba’alas simcha to share her simcha with others.

Our second letter writer voiced a complaint about those who come to gemachs to borrow. She finds that many people abuse the merchandise loaned to them and return them broken, torn, and lacking parts. The following is my reply:

Dear Friends:

Firstly, allow me to extend a yasher koach – appreciation – to both of you for giving of your time and energy and for making your homes a place for gemachs. It is certainly a great mitzvah to help people celebrate their simchas in a bechovidik (respectable) manner. The points that you make are valid, and should give people pause… and because of that, I am publishing your letters in the hope that people will reconsider their manner of giving as well as of receiving.

I believe that it is not ill-will or lack of consideration that is at the root of this problem, but rather, thoughtlessness. Very often, after a simcha, women hold on to their gowns for sentimental reasons, and precisely because they spent so much money on them, they are loathe to part with them. Still others think that they might be used again on some future occasion. Whatever the reason, it’s more likely that it’s negligence rather than miserliness that makes people hold back from giving.

In a sense, this attitude is a reflection of our times. People are so wrapped up in themselves that they never stop to contemplate the needs of others, especially if that someone else is anonymous and not part of their social circle.

As for the abuse of merchandise by the borrowers, that too is symptomatic of our generation. People take things for granted, especially when they don’t pay for them. There is this “It’s coming to me,” “I’m entitled” attitude, but none of us are entitled, and we are all indebted. No matter who we are or what we have, we all have a responsibility to give back and think of the needs of others.

I grew up with gemach in our home, although in those days, my parents never labeled it as such ? they just did what came naturally to them. In Hungary, in the concentration and DP camps, and later in America, they always extended a helping hand. No sooner did we arrive to these shores (in 1947) than my parents sought ways and means of reaching out to newly arrived fellow immigrants. We lived in a small basement apartment in Brooklyn, and my parents collected clothing, linens, blankets, furniture - whatever they could – so that they might give them to those who were just arriving. To this day, in my mind’s eye, I can see my father, the Rebbe, zt”l, my mother, a”h, the Rebbetzin, shlepping furniture for strangers. But it never occurred to them that they were shlepping. They never felt demeaned by it. Whatever they did, they did with a joyous heart, grateful for the privilege of helping someone in need.

Once my father had established a shul, my mother posted announcements in the hallway. “Needed: - baby carriage, crib, bassinet, suitcases, a winter coat” — whatever the requirements of those who knocked on her door may have been. Our home was always open, and she would invite people to help themselves, and they did! Several times it happened that when Pesach came around, her dishes were missing.

“I can’t find my dishes,” she would say.

“Mama,” I would respond, “you must have told your ‘visitors’ that they could take them!”

“Oh yes,” she would reply laughingly. “Baruch HaShem, let them enjoy it gezunteheit ? in good health!”

My mother washed and ironed the clothing she collected, so when people came, they wouldn’t feel degraded. In her old age, when illness took over her life, she still insisted on sorting clothing for her many Russian immigrant friends and continued to do so until the day she died.

But perhaps what is most relevant to the problems aired by our letter writers were the weekly visits of Mama to my home after my marriage. Invariably, Mama would go through my closets. “I haven’t seen you wearing this for a while now,” she would say, pulling out a dress or a skirt. “It’s time to give it away. Somebody could be happy with it.”

It’s almost six years now since my mother was called on high, but every time I go to my closet, I still hear her voice: “It’s time to give it away. Someone would be very happy with it.”

I think we all need “Mamas” to go through our closets to remind us that there is greater joy in giving away a dress than in seeing it gathering dust in a closet.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/gemachs-giving-with-a-full-heart/2003/08/01/

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