Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.
* * * * *
We hear so much about the hopeless predicament of our assimilated brethren. The latest statistics show that our young people are indifferent to their faith and their heritage and would not be unduly perturbed if, G-d forbid, Israel ceased to exist.
I have never believed that to be true. My father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, would always remind us that in every Yiddishe neshamah there is a holy spark from Sinai – a jug of pure olive oil that, in an instant, can become an eternal flame, capable of kindling the menorah (the symbol of Torah).
You might argue that the statistics contradict this belief. But numbers don’t always tell the whole story. The Yiddishe neshamah can be likened to a computer. If you can’t find the pintele Yid, it’s only because you don’t know how to bring up the program – but you can rest assured the program is there.
This truth was brought home to me on a visit I made to Eretz Yisrael a number of years ago when my book Life Is A Test was translated into Hebrew. I was scheduled to speak to audiences running the gamut from the right to the far left. At all my programs, except for one in English that took place at our Hineni Center in Jerusalem and one near Tel Aviv where I spoke to 1,000 religious high school girls, the audiences were secular.
On one of those occasions, prior to addressing a group of university students, a campus rabbi asked to speak with me.
“These students are alienated from religion,” he warned, “so please be careful not to use words like ‘Torah,’ ‘Hashem,’ or ‘mitzvot’ lest we be accused of proselytizing. Secular Jews regard such talk as brainwashing. We have to tackle these subjects in a subtle, inoffensive manner.”
“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “My weaknesses are my strengths, so I can get away with many things: I’m coming from outside; my Hebrew is far from perfect; I’m a woman rather than the typical Orthodox rabbi they anticipate; and I have, Baruch Hashem, reached eit ziknah, my senior years.”
He looked at me somewhat quizzically as I made the latter point, so I elaborated. “I learned from my mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis of blessed memory, who in her eit ziknah would say ‘Baruch Hashem, I have reached the stage where I can say whatever I wish and no one can take umbrage.’ ”
With that, and the prayer I always whisper to myself prior to speaking – “Hashem s’fasai tiftach” (“Hashem, open my lips”) – I took the mike.
I spoke to the students for ninety minutes, and they drank in every word of Torah. When I finished, their eyes were brimming with tears and they lined up to speak with me individually. I gave them copies of my book along with a berachah, and many of them confided that this was the very first time anyone had given them a personal blessing.
The rabbi who had been so worried apologized to me, and the following day he sent a whole new group of university students hear me speak.
The scene was repeated in the army and everywhere else I spoke. But it wasn’t only in public forums that I discovered the pintele Yid in the souls of our people. I had the same experience in one-on-one encounters. Baruch Hashem, the pintele Yid has not died in the neshamos of our people. You just have to find it.
But perhaps the high point of our trip was the inspiring Torah dedication in Yerushalayim. While we had a Torah at our Hineni Center, we did not have a scroll written in the Sephardic tradition, although we service a very large Sephardic population. So one of our devoted friends in the U.S. offered to commission a Sephardic Torah.
Our march with the new Torah took us through Kikar Zion, a neighborhood with more than its share of alcohol and drugs and aimless young people hanging out on street corners and in bars.
There, an astonishing miracle took place. Those young people joined us and danced with the Torah – something they had never before experienced. Along the parade route people threw open their windows and doors and stood on their balconies and joined us in celebration. Jews who just minutes before had been living lives cut off from their Torah heritage suddenly discovered that inner light in their souls – that light from Sinai.
That is the eternal, magnificent story of our people. Statistics can be daunting, and, yes, we have a lot of work to do with irreligious youth in Israel and our assimilated young people here in America, but the Jewish spark is there and we can rekindle it by bringing them the unvarnished truth and beauty of Torah.