Photo Credit: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

 

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After liberation the Jungreis family came to the United States and moved into a small basement apartment in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. There were plenty of Jewish children in the neighborhood but they barely knew they were Jews. Rabbi Jungreis bought lollipops and distributed them to the children who eagerly accepted the treats from this man who must have looked like a fairy-tale figure to them.

Rabbi Jungreis encouraged young Esther to invite children into their home. She was reluctant, as it was a small basement apartment without any luxuries. But her father urged her to do her part to save these Jewish souls, assuring her that Hashem would help. She soon discovered that all the children wanted to come. It seems the magic of a Shabbos table was more enticing than fancy furniture or games outside.

Eventually Rabbi Jungreis built a shul and a yeshiva in Canarsie so that American children could learn about their heritage. Rebbetzin Miriam cooked lunch for all the children and baked cookies she would give out every morning as she welcomed each child to school. She would greet the students with a smile and tell them to make a berachah over the cookies.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis recalls those days with great pride. “I meet people all over the world,” she says, “who remember the love they received from my parents.”

The years passed and Esther became a bride.

“My husband, Rabbi Meshulem, came to the United States as an orphan who had lost his entire family in the Holocaust,” she says. “He was a third cousin of mine and I was honored to marry him.”

He was a learned man, tall and handsome with a twinkle in his eye. People referred to him as the Gentle Giant, due to his height and gentle nature. His first position was in Paterson, New Jersey, where the family lived in a small apartment above the shul. Some time afterward they moved to Long Island and Rabbi Meshulem built a Torah community in North Woodmere. He was the much-loved rabbi of Congregation Ohr Torah and the chaplain of the local police department.

Esther, who had been in training for the position of rebbetzin all her life, was the perfect helpmate to him. He was very proud of his famous wife, and would refer to himself as “the rebbetzin’s husband.”

Sadly, Rabbi Meshulem died nearly 20 years ago, leaving a great void in the lives of the Rebbetzin, the rest of the family, and his beloved congregants.

Rebbetzin Jungreis described his last days at Memorial Sloan Kettering. True to his considerate nature, he didn’t want to bother the nurses and seldom asked for anything. But when Rebbetzin Jungreis came to visit he would give her lists of people he thought might make a good shidduch for people they knew.

When their friend the police commissioner came to visit him in the hospital, he told the Rebbetzin, “I always wondered what the meaning of G-d was but since I met your husband I know. G-d comes from the word ‘goodness’ and your husband walks with that goodness reflected in his eyes, in his gentle words and in his loving, warm ways. I will be forever grateful for having had the privilege to know him.”

At the rabbi’s funeral the entire police department joined the congregation to honor his memory. “At one point,” recalls Rebbetzin Jungreis, “the procession came to a halt. It seems the ducks and geese my husband had been feeding for years at a nearby pond came out through the locked fence and walked along the road, in silent tribute to the person who had fed them for so long. And then almost as suddenly as they had come they turned around and went back into the pond.”

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