Photo Credit: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

From time immemorial Shabbos has kept us going as a people, which is something that even secular Jews concede. The essayist Ahad Ha’am famously wrote, “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.”

The first one to observe Shabbos was our mother Sarah. It is written that in her home the Shabbos candles never went out. They shone brightly from week to week and her challah never became stale. It remained fresh from week to week. How can that be? Is this a fairy tale that cannot be taken seriously by intelligent people?


What if I told you that I personally witnessed this truth come alive in real time? It was in the hell hole called Bergen Belsen, the infamous concentration camp to which my family and I were deported, that I discovered the secret of our mother Sarah’s Shabbos candles and challah.

Bergen Belsen was a difficult place for anyone to retain his or her sanity, to breath without collapsing, to maintain hope when everything seemed hopeless.

But even there, my father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Ha Levi Jungreis, ztl, would make us count the days to Shabbos. Six more days, five more days, four more days, three more days, two more days, one more day.

Every day we would receive a piece of bread. It was putrid, but to those of us who were starving it was delicious. Every day my saintly father would wash for bread, take a k’zayis, a miniscule portion thatin accordance to Jewish law is adequate for a blessing, and the rest he would save for us and hide it for Shabbos.

When the countdown came to the seventh day – Shabbos – my father would gather us in the middle of night and whisper cajolingly in Yiddish, “Mach tzi de oiygelech zeese kinderlche – close your eyes my sweet children – mir zenen in der heim – we are at home; Mommy baked challah and it is warm, fresh, and delicious.”

And then my father would bring forth those hidden pieces of bread and give them to us. I would actually envision the challah my mother baked and we ate that bread with gusto. Suddenly, mother Sarah’s challah became real. Yes, it was fresh. Not only from week to week but from year to year. Similarly, my mother’s challah remained forever fresh in our minds, on our pallets, and in our hearts. And Mommy’s Shabbos licht shed their rays of light on all of us. Yes, they remained from week to week and from century to century. The kedushah, the sanctity, of those licht illuminated our neshamahs and our hearts.

One Shabbos night when my father recounted this story, my younger brother tugged at my father’s hand and said, “I do not see the lights of Shabbos here. I do not see the challah. I do not see the angels of Shabbos we just greeted and to whom we sang ‘Shalom Aleichem.’ ”

My father’s eyes overflowed with tears and in a trembling voice he said, “You, my children, you are the angels of Shabbos and the licht are your beautiful eyes. As for the Shabbos challah, you just had it. That is why I told you to close your eyes. That challah keeps us alive.”

I never forgot those words. When I would stand for roll call, sometimes for hours, in heat, in cold, in rain, in snow, the Nazi keepers flung obscenities at us. I would stand erect and say to myself, “I am an angel of Shabbos. The candles of Shabbos give me light. And the challah of Shabbos energizes me and keeps me alive.”


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