As I write these words I am still in my new adopted home. Originally I came to my wonderful friends’ warm apartment with the intention of staying just overnight and I did not even bother packing. My children kept pressuring me – “Ima, you have to go!”
My daughter who lives just a few blocks from me was going to move in with a friend who had a generator and she asked that I come with her. But I planned to wait Hurricane Sandy out. I was confident that while it would be a very intense storm it would not require evacuation. Just the same, all my children kept pressuring me. “Ima,” they pleaded, “you cannot stay in the house.”
My son who lives in a neighboring community was going to Brooklyn to my children there. Baruch Hashem, they all have large families, children and grandchildren. Their houses were full but they lovingly insisted I join them. I was debating in my mind what to do when my very kind talmidah – my Torah daughter – called and begged that I come to her. Not wanting to place added pressure to my children, I decided to accept her loving invitation.
When morning came it was not the dawn’s light that awakened me but the nightmarish news that my community and countless others were under attack by the merciless Frankenstorm that was leaving total devastation in its wake. I heard that ten feet of water flooded the lower level of my home but that was the least of my concerns. There was only one concern in my heart, and that was for my children who stayed behind and the countless other children and families there. I kept repeating to myself, “Ribbono shel Olam, Ribbono shel Olam.” Every few minutes I called my children, though usually I could not get through.
So it was with a trembling heart and tears flowing down my face that I davened and then davened some more. As the days passed and more and more painful and horrific stories emerged, my tears and my fears also increased.
Many of you know that every Thursday night I teach Torah at the Hineni Heritage Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was now Wednesday and the immediate dilemma facing me was whether we should close down or keep our doors open and the classes going.
It wasn’t a hard call. Of course we would have to stay open. If ever there was a time we had to gather together, it was now. It did not matter how many or how few would come. We had to raise our voices in prayer, with Tehillim and the study of Torah. No matter what is going on around us, davening and Torah study must continue. Those are our only weapons, our only salvation, our only hope for help.
I have had good training; I know from whence I speak. I learned in the best of universities that majored in cruelty – Hitler’s concentration camps. My daughter once said, “Ima, no matter what the topic, no matter what the situation, you always go back to those days of Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen.”
I had never been consciously aware of it, but as soon as she mentioned it I realized she was so right. Sadly, most of us who were there are no longer here to tell the story, and most of those who are here are elderly or infirm and can no longer speak out. So yes, I do go back and I do tell the story and I can never forget.
In that dire darkness, in that pit of hopelessness, my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, taught me to never to give up, never to forget that prayers can awaken the dawn and Torah can be brighter then the sun. Through Torah and prayers the sun can shine again and our worlds can be illuminated.
Our Sages teach us “ein doma – there is no comparison to that which you hear and that which you see.” My daughter, who was there with her family, saw the terror and devastation with her own eyes and experienced it with her own heart and mind. Next week I will share excerpts from her diary.Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis