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I ask the Rebbetzin how the idea of starting an organization like Hineni came about.
“The idea of bringing people back to Yiddishkeit was inside me from my childhood days. It really started back when my father would encourage me to bring in the neighborhood children. But the older I got the more I realized how great the mission really was. I was asked to speak at a Young Israel collegiate convention. I looked out at the audience and told myself, ‘If I were to have an organization, I would speak to reach people, to wake people up. I would even speak in Madison Square Garden to students and young people. I would call it Rock and Soul, to wake up their souls.’
“From there the idea grew. My father was always encouraging me to reach out and before I officially started Hineni I asked him to take me to all the rabbanim for a berachah. He took me to chassidic rebbes and yeshivish rabbis, to Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yosef Soloveitchik, among others, and all gave me their blessings.”
Someone suggested that Rebbetzin Jungreis contact a man named Joseph Wohl who had built Long Island Jewish Hospital. If she could convince him of the importance of her cause, he would probably underwrite her grand Madison Square Garden plan. The only problem was, she didn’t know anyone who knew Mr. Wohl. She spoke to her father and he blessed her and told her that if she tried, Hashem would help her succeed.
“With my father’s blessings I looked up Mr. Wohl in the phone book and called him. I asked to meet him about a lifesaving idea. He invited me to his home and I went, keeping my father’s blessing in my heart. I spoke to him and his wife about my idea and I was passionate about it. Joseph Wohl gave me a check to cover the whole Madison Square Garden event. He became the first chairman of Hineni and his daughter Ellie is still the president of the Hineni Women’s League.”
Now that she had the money, she had to figure out how to fill such a large venue.
“I got a van that was outfitted with a stage that could roll out and I went all over college campuses with music playing, to get them to come to the event,” she says. “I went to Queens College to their Yavneh group. I was told that they didn’t have many members but I went anyway. Seven hundred students showed up. The New York Post reported on that event saying the Jews have their Billy Graham. She’s 5 feet tall and she’s blond.”
It took three years to put the Madison Square Garden event together but in November 1973 the Rebbetzin filled the Garden. With the seats sold out, people were sitting on the stage. Rebbetzin Jungreis had invited all the Jewish organizations to have booths in the hall and to give out their literature. It was billed a Night of Unity.
My mother, Irene Klass, covered the event for The Jewish Press.
“I had to carry the whole night by myself,” the Rebbetzin recalls. “I started by saying YOU ARE A JEW. YOU KNEW SUFFERING. YOU ENTERED THE FLAMES. BUT YOU FORGOT YOUR PAST. YOU ONLY KNEW ONE THING…. SHEMA YISRAEL HASHEM ELOKEINU HASHEM ECHAD. And I went on from there. There was electricity in the air.
“The consul general of Israel was there. The next day he called me and said I had to go to Israel and speak to the soldiers. Shortly afterward I was speaking at the Miami Beach Convention Hall and was approached by a young man who said he wanted to come to Israel with me and that he was a musician. I asked what kind of music he played and he said jazz. I thought about it and decided it was a good idea.