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 continues to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.
* * * * *
Every once in a while I receive powerful “regards” from my beloved saintly husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, as I do from my revered holy father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, and from my beloved mother, the eishes chayil Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a”h.
These “regards” always buoy me. They enter my heart and evoke tears – not tears of sadness but tears of inspiration, of hope, of strength. They lead me back along the road these holy ones blazed for me, as well as for my siblings, my children, and all of Am Yisrael.
A couple of years ago I was on an El Al flight to Eretz Yisrael thinking about whether I should write about these “regards.” A kindly gentleman with smiling eyes and a white beard came up to me and said, “Rebbetzin Jungreis, Am Yisrael is indebted to you,” and he proceeded to enumerate many of my activities in bringing people back to Torah.
He went on to tell me he knew my father, “the tzaddik.” He experienced firsthand his love, warmth, boundless kindness, and wisdom. I couldn’t believe it. Just a few minutes before I’d been thinking I should write about “regards” from our loved ones. Now I received “regards” and I felt empowered. Coincidence? No. I do not believe in coincidences.
The Hebrew word for coincidence is mikreh. It comes from “karah min Hashem – it happened from G-d.” Every day in our morning blessings we recite “Hameichin mitzadei gaver – G-d arranges our footsteps.” You must only learn how to listen.
Amazingly, there was yet another gentleman on that flight who gave me “regards.” This time it was from my saintly mom, whom everyone affectionately called “Mamma.”
Rebbetzin,” this man said, I grew up in Brooklyn, in Canarsie, where I went to the yeshiva your father built.”
Immediately my mind was filled with images of that yeshiva. As soon as we arrived in America in 1947 my father saw that Judaism in this country was in danger. The winds of assimilation threatened to blow our Jewish faith away.
So my father worked day and night. He knocked on every door to build a yeshiva where children could study Torah and reclaim their heritage. With the help of G-d the yeshiva was established. This fellow passenger on the plane to Israel remembered it vividly.
And then he said something about my mother: “Rebbetzin, above all else your mother was a true ‘Mamma’ to everyone.”
Indeed. Every morning my mommy would get up at the crack of dawn and cook a fresh lunch and bake delicious cookies for all the kinderlach – the precious children of Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel.
Mamma stood by the door waiting for them and would greet each one with a cookie and a request: “Make me a berachah out loud so I should be able to say oomain.”
The world has changed. The “Mammas” are gone. Today we don’t have time to stop for a moment, give a cookie, ask for an “oomain” and wish the children hatzalachah in their learning as they embark upon a new day. Today there is no one at the doors of our schools to greet our children and encourage them in their studies.
Not long after that experience on the plane, I received a “regards” from my husband. A handsome young fellow came to see me at Hineni. “Rebbetzin,” he said, “I have a question. Am I duty bound to invite my father to my wedding?”
I looked at him. It was not a question most people would ask. He noticed my quizzical expression and proceeded to explain.
“Rebbetzin, my father abused us. He left my mother when I was just a little boy of five. There were all kinds of problems. He left deep scars on our hearts and souls.”
And then this young man went on to describe some of the things his father had done.
“So tell me,” he said. “Do I have to invite him to my wedding?”
“Why do you ask me this?” I asked. “Are you engaged?”
“No,” he replied.
“Are you dating anyone seriously?”
He shook his head. He wasn’t dating anyone seriously.
“So why don’t we defer this conversation to a time when you’ll be planning your wedding?”
Even as I said that I realized how deeply hurt he was. His soul just wanted to scream his outrage. He wanted to cry out and express his anger and he couldn’t think of anything more dreadful than a son rejecting the presence of a parent at his wedding.
“Do you know what kept me going all these years?” he asked. “The year my father abandoned us, my mother was ill. She was struggling to make ends meet. Although we belonged to a synagogue, no one in our shul reached out to us.
“One day as Mom was searching the papers looking for bargains, she noticed an advertisement for a bazaar at a synagogue. ‘Maybe we’ll go to the bazaar and find something to buy,’ she said to me.
“The synagogue she was referring to was Congregation Ohr Torah of North Woodmere, Long Island.”
My heart started beating faster and I wondered where this story was going. Ohr Torah was the shul my husband and I established in what had been a spiritual wasteland. I remember well those days of fundraising bazaars. My husband would always stop in to thank the volunteers and greet the people who came to browse.
“I saw a very tall person,” the young man continued. “He had the nicest face, the kindest eyes. Suddenly he stopped to greet me. He smiled at me, patted my cheeks, and asked, ‘What is your Jewish name?’
“I told him ‘Michoel’ and the man said to me, ‘That is the most beautiful name. Michoel was an angel of G-d. He was the angel of blessings, and that is your mission – to be a blessing and share that blessing with others.’
“At the time I didn’t quite understand what the rabbi was saying but I did understand he was the kindest man I’d ever met. He gave me a yarmulke and a lollipop and said, ‘Let’s make a berachah, a blessing.’ And he taught me the berachah for candy.
“His message kept me going. ‘This is one of the first teachings you have to remember,’ he said. ‘Always try to be a blessing. Thank G-d and thank all people – and be a blessing.’
“I never saw the rabbi again. But the sweetness of the lollipop and the yarmulke that covered my head went a long way. It penetrated my heart and mind. To this day when I think of a yarmulke I associate it with protection and the sweetness of that lollipop remains on my palate.
“That experience touched me in my deepest core and helped me to remain a Jew.”
If only our generation could learn this. More than therapy, more than discipline and punishment, a little lollipop or a little yarmulke or a little cookie can enable our children to withstand the turbulent winds that threaten to blow them away.
Such loving-kindness can even enable us to triumph over an empty, decadent society laden with violence and immorality. It can cure the anger and bitterness in our poisonous world.