Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder and president of Hineni, the Jewish outreach organization, addressed an overflow crowd recently at Congregation Shaarei Tefila in Los Angeles. Yeshivat Yavneh Executive Director Lev Stark and the event’s sponsor, attorney Andrew Friedman, introduced the rebbetzin. Among the attendees were Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, and Germany’s consul general in L.A., Wolfgang Drautz.
Posts Tagged ‘Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis’
I was on a city bus as it stopped for a young boy frantically waving his arms, fearful the bus might not stop for him on this snowy February afternoon. As the boy, wearing a thin jacket, boarded the bus, he searched his pockets for bus fare, found nothing, and told the bus driver he had left his money at home. “Could you please let me ride this bus?” he asked. “I promise to give you the money tomorrow. It’s so freezing outside, and it’s such a long walk home.” The bus driver refused, ordering the boy to leave the bus immediately.
The intensity of the snow increased. The thought of this young boy, clutching his schoolbooks, walking home through a freezing snowstorm, compelled me to give the boy a dollar for bus fare. None of the other passengers, sitting stone-faced, seemed to care about the boy’s plight – nor did anyone offer to help him. “Thank you, lady, so much!” he responded with a big smile. “If you give me your address, I’ll mail a dollar to you.” “That won’t be necessary,” I replied. “I’m just glad you’re going home in a warm bus.”
That evening, my daughter called me from her college dorm room to share an uplifting account of a kindness extended to her earlier in the day by a stranger.
“I was standing in line in the college cafeteria, with a sandwich on my tray, as I approached the cashier. ‘That will be two dollars’ she said. All I had in my pocket was one dollar, as I realized I had left my wallet in my dorm – and with only about 10 minutes until my next class, and my dorm room a seven-minute walk, I realized there wasn’t any time for me to return to my dorm for the money. I asked the cashier if she would let me give her the dollar after my class, and she refused. ‘I have to follow the rules,’ she said.”
My daughter told me how dejected she felt because if she had no lunch, she would not eat anything until evening, when her last class would end. “Mom, I’d feel so starved; the last time I ate was 7a.m.!” My daughter continued: “Just when I felt there was no hope, and I was about to return my sandwich, a lady suddenly appeared in my line and offered to give me the extra dollar I needed for my lunch. I hadn’t noticed her before, and she didn’t look like a student. As she handed me the dollar, I promised to pay her back, and asked her for her name and address. She smiled. “Don’t worry about paying me back, just enjoy your sandwich. I’m happy to help you.”
I mentioned to my daughter how I had helped a young boy on the bus earlier that day by giving him the dollar he needed to avoid a long walk home through a snowstorm, that he had offered to repay me, and that I said that I was happy to help him. Suddenly, I realized that my giving the boy a dollar and the lady giving my daughter a dollar were parallel events of kindness. “What time was it when the lady gave you the dollar?” I asked my daughter. “Oh, about 2:30 p.m.,” she responded. I realized that it was also at 2:30 p.m. that I had helped the boy. We were both amazed. I didn’t realize that at the same time I had helped the boy, a kind stranger had helped my daughter.
Hineni founder Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, who provides great spiritual inspiration through her books and talks, stresses the Torah belief that every time you do a good deed, you create a good angel who walks with you throughout your life, guarding and protecting you. She states that the Hebrew word for good deed, “mitzvah,” means “connection”: “Every time you do a mitzvah, you connect to G-d.”
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:
I am not Orthodox, nor am I actively involved in Jewish life. My background is Reform. My family attends High Holiday services; we are not kosher, but my parents have a seder on Passover – though we don’t strictly observe the law of not eating bread during the entire holiday. My parents would never consider bringing really non-kosher food like ham or bacon into the house, though they do eat everything in restaurants. They are devoted to the land of Israel and they raised us with good Jewish values, and I visited Israel with our Temple youth group.
I have an uncle who became Orthodox and lives in New York (he sent me your column last week). He calls himself a “ba’al teshuvah.” I don’t quite know what that means, but I do see that his new identity has made him a fanatic. We rarely see him, except when we visit New York or he comes to California. He keeps in contact with my father and always tries to convince him to become religious. My father indulges him by pretending to listen to his arguments, but of course he always dismisses them.
When my brother married a gentile girl, my uncle really became an annoyance. Not only did he barrage my parents with letters and phone calls, he got on my brother’s case with a vengeance. He wouldn’t let go. He pushed and pushed and he even asked a local Chabad rabbi to intervene, but he only succeeded in making our family angrier.
When my brother got married, my uncle didn’t attend the wedding and that caused a very big rift in our family. My parents were very hurt – I don’t think they ever got over it. They are still in contact, but the relationship has become very strained. And now he has gotten on my case. He just never gives up.
I am a student at UCLA. I go to High Holiday Services here and attend programs and an occasional Shabbat dinner at our local Hillel. At present, I don’t have a serious girlfriend, but my uncle keeps writing to me about the importance of marrying a Jew. I don’t want to be disrespectful to him, but I hardly ever respond to his letters. To be honest, they irritate me.
You might ask at this point why I am writing to you. I have no problems. I am not seeking your guidance and I understand that is largely the focus of your column, but my uncle sent last week’s column thinking it might cause me to change my way of thinking – that I would realize that we, the Jewish people, are alone in the world, that our lives are once again being threatened and we are living in an environment similar to pre-Holocaust Europe.
Frankly, I find that comparison far-fetched, totally unrealistic, bordering on Jewish paranoia – and I wrote the same to my uncle. Of course he was unreceptive and told me I just don’t understand. He suggested that in my present environment I am so far removed from reality that I don’t have a clue as to what is going on in the world.
I feel prompted to write this letter now because I think it is time to address this “Jewish paranoia.” Yes, the Holocaust occurred. Yes, it was an unbelievably horrific time. Yes, mankind descended to the level of the jungle. But genocide has not been limited to Jews. Tragically, it has been the lot of many people in many parts of the world.
I’m not trying to whitewash that cataclysmic, hellish nightmare, but I think it is time for us Jews to move on. We can’t forever live in the shadow of the Holocaust. We have to understand that the world today is different. In most countries, democracy prevails. Certainly, in our own United States we have a democratic government that is not tolerant of racism or anti-Semitism. What we are witness to today is not bias against Jews but an objection to the policies of Israel and the Zionism it represents. So when I read those letters you published in your column – letters that promote scare tactics and constantly recall the Holocaust – I said to myself that I would not only respond to my uncle, but to you as well.
I have many Arab friends on campus, and believe me they have no bias against Jews. Their only problem is with the Zionist state, which they feel is the cause of all of the suffering in the Middle East. While I do not take their side and am a supporter of Israel, I also feel compelled, as a fair-minded individual, to appreciate their point of view, which would be wrong to ignore. Objecting to Israel’s policies does not mean one is biased against Jews. I truly believe that here in the United States anti-Semitism is a thing of the past and that it is time for us to free ourselves of the sinister shadow of the Holocaust.
I very much doubt you will publish my letter since it doesn’t reflect your point of view or that of the publication for which you write. Nevertheless, I have written to express my opinion.
A Jewish Student at UCLA
My Dear Friend:
Not only am I publishing your letter in full but, please G-d, I will also respond to it. Watch for next week’s issue in which I will address your concerns in full.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
Having been raised in a home where Yiddish was spoken as often as English, I can say with some confidence that I understand mamaloshen quite well. But I have to admit that the first time a friend, “Chaya” in a tentative, hushed voice, stated that a mutual acquaintance had “yene machlah,” I was confused. I knew that she unfortunately had cancer, so why was “Chaya” saying in Yiddish, THAT illness? Why the reluctance to use the actual medical term for the disease. Why not just say it – like when someone has a stroke or a heart attack.
I quickly realized that when referring to cancer, many people are afraid to say the word out loud – and so they use a euphemism in Yiddish that translates to meaning, “the sickness”.
I found myself being very annoyed, even saddened by this refusal to say the word “cancer.” I understand that there are certain bubba-meises (the English equivalent of old wives tales) ingrained in our collective psyche that warns us that vocalizing something bad is like opening a locked door, and releasing the evil, which can then envelope you. It’s almost as if people think saying “cancer” makes it contagious, with the one uttering this dreaded word becoming its victim as well.
In a very recent column, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis wrote about a shidduch she was instrumental in making between a young man and woman whose mothers had both died of cancer. I was so gratified that she had used the word “cancer” instead of saying they had succumbed to “yene machlah” or a “debilitating illness” or some other phrase that was unspecific and avoided mentioning the actual illness.
What’s the big deal, you may ask, if someone alludes to something that is difficult for him or her to express? I asked myself the same question – why does someone’s preference to “beat around the bush” regarding cancer disturb me so much? Who made me the word police?
I came to realize that not being frank about a serious or unpleasant topic or situation such as cancer was indicative of an unfortunate mindset that is prevalent in our community – one that I believe can and has led to serious consequences. This way of thinking is an across the board unwillingness, even a resistance to being upfront and open about problematic issues that have beset various members of our community.
For many years, grave problems like spousal abuse, various forms of child abuse by parents and teachers and immoral behaviors werefor the most part swept under the rug; or at best furtively whispered about – but never brought to the fore. The attitude was that it was shameful to admit that the distressing social issues that affected “yenem” – the secular communities outside our pristine, Torah observant ones, had surfaced amongst frum Yidden. By not acknowledging that there were ruinous, soul-destroying machlahs in our midst, we could fool ourselves into believing that it couldn’t and wasn’t happening to us. Drug addiction – oh, that’s yenem’s problem. Cancer? That’s yenem’s machlah.
By not being truthful about a debilitating crisis – whether physical, emotional or spiritual in nature, and willfully putting our “heads in the sand,” individuals and the community as a whole denies itself the opportunity to learn about “the nature of the beast,” and to acquire the crucial information and tools necessary to empower and protect ourselves from being torn apart by its cruel claws. Awareness is the first crucial step to resolving a problem; educating yourself as to what it is all about is the next important step, both of which will lead to your ability to network and brainstorm with others which can lead to a possible solution.
When you refuse to name the problem – when you avoid its reality because you are afraid that acknowledging its existence or presence will somehow taint you, or stigmatize you – or make you vulnerable to “catching” it too, then you fortify its negative hold. Darkness prevails if your eyes remain shut. And darkness permeates everything if you refuse to open the light.
The fact is there is no such thing as “yenem.” There never was. It has always been you, me, your neighbor. We are all vulnerable to life’s woes and disasters. That is why we daven and cry and tremble during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But as we all know, Hashem, for reasons that are unfathomable to us, will inflict us with burdens, both individually and as a community.
Cancer is one of those peckels that the Master of the Universe created and has decreed on young and old alike. Refusing to call this test – as harsh as it may be – by its real name, trying to camouflage its existence with a vague description, just might be a mockery of G-d’s inscrutable judgment.
In addition, when you are scared and can’t bring yourself to say the word “cancer,” you unwittingly make it seem as if having it is something to be ashamed about – much the same way as in the old days when people would whisper that an unwed girl was “in the family way” as opposed to saying she was having a baby. It seemingly minimized the shame of it all. People coping with cancer have a heavy enough load to carry, without having to also feel stigmatized – after all, they have something so bad that most people can’t bring themselves to say the actual word.
No one knows if and when Hashem will choose them to undergo this nisayon. But like any “test,” being open about it, talking about your reality, asking questions and sharing answers, and generally educating yourself and others, will help you get a “better grade” – no matter what the outcome.
Following in their mother’s footsteps, Rabbis Yisroel and Osher Anshel Jungreis just published their first book (ArtScroll), Torah for Your Table, a collection of essays on the weekly parshah. Hineni founder and longtime Jewish Press columnist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis compiled the essays, which were originally delivered as lectures at Hineni’s Torah classes.
The Jewish Press recently sat down with the book’s authors.
The Jewish Press: Why did you publish Torah For Your Table?
Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis (RYJ): My brother and I have been teaching weekly parshah classes at Hineni for many years, and our students expressed an interest in having our lectures published in book form so they can refer to them at their Shabbos tables.
Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis
Rabbi Osher Anshel Jungreis (ROAJ): I started teaching Torah classes at Hineni in 1993 and for years now I’ve noticed that people were really yearning for something tangible they could hold on to in life, and that is Torah.
Many people tell me that while riding on the subway or bus to work every morning they’d like to review my class but other than their written notes have nothing to refer to. So I thought gathering these lessons in book form would be a good idea.
Rabbi Osher Jungreis
Since most of those who attend your Torah classes are non-observant, would you say you wrote this book mainly for them?
RYJ: We wrote this book with a great love for all of Klal Yisrael irrespective of backgrounds and I think it will enhance Torah learning for Jews on all levels of observance.
Rabbi Elya Svei, zt”l, rosh yeshiva in Philadelphia, once said that when a person davens he is speaking to Hashem, but when a person learns Torah Hashem is speaking to him. We all want to hear Hashem’s voice in our lives.
ROAJ: This book not only discusses the parshiyos in depth; it also explores how Torah concepts relate to our day-to-day life. We discuss how a person can really improve his life and become closer to Hashem, and that’s something that is universal and applies to those from diverse backgrounds.
Many Jews, especially observant Jews, often tell me that although they gain a great deal from advanced shiurim, they find themselves searching for a personal connection to Hashem, which they can deeply feel each day of their lives.
Your mother often speaks and writes about chevlei Moshiach, the difficult era preceding Moshiach’s coming, and the need for Jews to return to Hashem. What are your thoughts on this topic and do you address it in your book?
RYJ: This concept is mentioned on numerous occasions in the book. The Gemara in Meseches Sotah says that in the times before the coming of Moshiach, many strange phenomena will occur. All we need to do is look around, listen to the news, observe the frequency of hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. to know that this is very true.
People are looking for something that will give them stability and a sense of permanency because they’re nervous and anxious about their future. The Gemara says the greatest antidote to fear or the power of the yetzer hara – the evil inclination – is the study of Torah, and we’re seeing people coming back to Hashem on a scale that we never imagined.
ROAJ: We know the prophecy that in the days before Moshiach, young children are going to bring their parents back to Hashem. Throughout our generations it was always parents who were leading their children on the proper path, but today it’s just the opposite. We want young people to read and learn from this book and share it with their elders.
Is there a parshah insight from the book particularly appropriate for this time of year?
RYJ: In parshas Noach, Noach and his family are confined to the tevah, the ark, facing a great nisayon. Inside the tevah was a “tzohar,” which according to Rashi means either a window or a diamond. The lesson inherent in this is as follows: Even when we’re going through a crisis, we must always look out our windows to see what we can do to help others. If we do so, that window of opportunity will transform into a precious jewel, a diamond that will brighten our lives and the lives of those less fortunate.
ROAJ: The tevah that Noach and his family lived in served a double function. It protected Noach from the great flood and it also allowed him to grow spiritually. I think that is a relevant message to this generation because there are so many influences around which are impacting us negatively.
Not only do we need to protect ourselves from outside influences with the cloak of Torah but we also need the Torah, at the same time, to uplift ourselves to a higher level of spirituality.
Title: Raising a Child With SoulAuthor: Slovie Jungreis-WolffPublisher: St. Martin’s Press
Many a parent would like to see their child follow in their footsteps. Sometimes it is a very hard act to follow, but in the case of Slovie Jungreis-Wolff it is a nachas to all of us to see her following the path of her world-renowned mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.
Jungreis-Wolff has just published a book, Raising a Child With Soul, that mirrors her mother’s easy style and excellent life lessons. One doesn’t usually hear it said of a non-fiction book, “I couldn’t put the book down,” or “One page flowed into the other until I had finished the whole book.” But it can be said of this one – and so much more. It is a tribute not only to her mother, but also to Slovie’s father, the late Rabbi Meshulam Jungreis, zt”l, to whom she dedicates her book, that all of their teachings inform her very life.
We live in a time when children are given permission to “do their own thing.” Respecting parents is considered old-fashioned and even in our own Orthodox society “off the derech” children are all too common. Jungreis-Wolff reminds us that the key to our survival is the Jewish home, a mikdash me’at, a sanctuary. “Children who grow up in a home where the Presence of G-d is consistently acknowledged are spiritual children.” They are not afraid because they have been given a strong foundation of faith. Children who observe the strong faith and deep commitment of their parents to G-d, grow up with soul.
How many of today’s children are taught to express gratitude? Jungreis-Wolff reminds us that Judaism teaches us that saying thank you is a means of building character. It keeps us humble. If children hear their parents saying thank you, they will learn to do so as well to their parents, teachers, etc.
We thank G-d in our daily prayers, an act of hakaras ha’tov – recognizing the good bestowed on us by our Creator and also by people. We teach our children to begin each day with the Modeh Ani prayer in which we thank G-d for giving us another day of life. And we let them hear us express gratitude to our spouses, our parents, our friends - and anyone else who shows us kindness.
Where is the road to happiness? Slovie Jungreis-Wolff gives us the key to helping our children find true happiness in discovering a sense of mission and purpose in life. If we arm them with the tools and skills that are inscribed in the pages of this book, they will be well prepared to deal with life’s ups and downs.
Raising a Child With Soul is written in anecdotal style similar to the books by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. Real life stories are used to convey the wisdom on each page. There is a beautiful chapter on nighttime rituals and especially the recitation of the Shema. The section on priorities will give everyone pause. And there are the very personal stories of Slovie’s life that she freely shares with us.
There are chapters that will make you smile and chapters that will bring tears to your eyes, but all who read this book will gain tremendous insight into raising a child with proper Torah values – raising a child with a beautiful soul.
On Monday evening, February 23, Slovie and her mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis will discuss the art of childrearing at Barnes and Noble at West 82 Street and Broadway at 7:00 p.m. The public is invited. A second symposium will be held on Thursday, February 26, at The 92 Street Y at 8:15 p.m. Slovie will be available to sign books after the programs. For information and tickets to the Y program please call 212-415-5500.