Photo Credit: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

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.

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For decades I crossed continents and addressed Jewish communities virtually everywhere. People always asked, “Rebbetzin, how do you do it? People younger than you can’t keep up with such a schedule. Travel is so difficult. Don’t you find it exhausting?”

“Exhausting? It’s far beyond that,” I would reply. “Travel nowadays has become a nerve-wracking nightmare.”

I must admit I usually ran late. My schedule was so tight it was impossible for me to be early. In addition to packing, there was much to do before I departed, not the least of which was writing this column.

All my trips were fraught with tension, but here’s one that really stands out in my memory:

We arrived at Kennedy Airport in the nick of time. We went through the endless security checks, removing our jackets, shoes, etc., and finally, when we arrived breathless at the gate, we discovered our flight to Paris had been delayed two hours. We tried to explain to the agent that we had to make a connecting flight.

“Don’t worry,” she assured us, “they know that. You’ll have plenty of time.”

Finally, we boarded the plane and it started to taxi down the runway. Suddenly it came to a stop. “We are very sorry for any inconvenience,” came the polite announcement, “but there will be a further delay.” And with that, we were consigned to sit on the runway for another hour.

Would that be enough to aggravate you? Wait; that was just the beginning.

Finally we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris – and of course missed our connecting flight. The airport is one of the biggest and most difficult to navigate in Europe, and we were sent from gate to gate, airline to airline, even to Malev, the Hungarian national airline, only to discover there was no longer a Malev desk.

Not only were the distances between these gates enormous; the agents were, for the most part, discourteous and arrogant. We called our hosts in Budapest, Adrienn and Robie, who had visited our Hineni organization in New York and become inspired and committed. They were at the airport awaiting our arrival and had been worried about what might have happened to us. They suggested we take a flight to Vienna where they would pick us up by car.

There were only two problems with that suggestion – our luggage, which was ticketed for Budapest, had yet to be located, and heavy snow was falling in Vienna as in most of Europe.

At another airline counter it was suggested we buy new tickets that would perhaps get us to Budapest on time. We called our travel agent in New York, but there was not much he could do. And before we could even consider purchasing new tickets, we were informed there were no seats available on that flight. The web of aggravation tightened around us.

We finally arrived in Budapest at 1 a.m. – only to discover to our dismay that all our luggage was missing. We were directed to Lost and Found where the agent searched the computer and curtly informed us that she was very sorry but had no idea where our luggage might be.

“If we find it, we’ll let you know,” she said.

Bear in mind that while we were supposed to arrive in Budapest on Thursday morning, it was now erev Shabbos. I did not have a change of clothing or shoes (I always travel in sneakers).

How could I go into Shabbos wearing these crumpled clothes? How could I speak before a large audience?

On our way to the hotel we were told that while it had snowed the entire day and stopped on our arrival, heavy snow was forecast through Shabbos. Now I had a new concern. Would people show up?

“Oh, Rebbetzin, don’t worry,” Adrienn assured me. “Everyone will come. Nothing will keep them away.”

Just the same, I couldn’t help but worry because I knew that under the best of circumstances, Jewish awareness in countries like Hungary is so minimal you can consider yourself fortunate if forty or fifty people show up.

We fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. In the morning, to our relief, we saw the sun trying to emerge and melt away the snow. We called to see if there was any news of our luggage.

“No,” they told us, “we’re still searching, but if we locate it we’ll contact you.” At this point we had no choice but to resign ourselves to reality and try to clean and iron our clothes in honor of Shabbos.

When I arrived at the synagogue, it was packed with countless secular young people – a rare sight in European countries where Judaism is disappearing. I very much wanted to address my audience in Hungarian, but while I do speak the language my vocabulary is limited as I was deported to the concentration camps at a young age.

I told our hosts I would make a few introductory remarks in Hungarian but would then continue in English, pause after every few paragraphs, and have a translator convey my thoughts. Miraculously, however, Hashem gave me the words and I was actually able to dispense with the translator and speak freely.

The response was electrifying. Suddenly, the loss of luggage, the aggravation in Paris, the stress at Kennedy Airport, all disappeared. Nothing was important except the Jewish light sparkling in their eyes. This blessing was repeated at the Shabbos seudah and again motzaei Shabbos when we had a huge gathering in one of Budapest’s theaters, which was filled to capacity. We showed our film “Triumph of the Spirit” that portrays my experiences during the years of the Holocaust.

Young and old, men and women – all were awakened. The pintele Yid in their souls became a flame from Sinai.

Would I do it again?

Of course. When you weigh the joy and berachah of seeing Jewish people who only yesterday were on the brink of spiritual death come to life again – when you see our Torah saturating their hearts, kindling their souls with commitment and faith – aggravation is replaced by spiritual joy, exhaustion by exhilaration, despondency by energy.

Was I tired? You can’t imagine how tired. But the fulfillment in my heart was much more powerful than any exhaustion, and I believe this holds true for all of us. It’s all a matter of looking beyond the moment and seeing the greater picture of our life’s journey.

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