“She’s a great dresser.” It was a strange comment for a Rabbi to make. Let alone about a woman in her 70’s. But if you saw Rebbitzen Jungreis, standing on the stage the other night – you would agree.
It wasn’t what she wore, it was how she wore it. Black sequins – simple enough – but her inner grace and her sheer presence – made her simply stunning.
The red velvet curtains that were her backdrop outlined the strength of character on her face and the dignity in her every motion.
Why talk about how she looks; this tiny lioness? Because she is a Queen. Because very few people in their life time get to see royalty in its essence.
To me, a Queen is like the letter Aleph – with one hand stretched above, connecting her to her Source and the other below, giving to her people.
This is Rebbitzen Esther Jungreis. She has spent a lifetime posed exactly in that stance. It’s no accident that her name is Esther, like the Queen in the Purim story.
Esther Jungries has lived out my fantasy. Or perhaps, I created my dreams based on her story.
In 1973, Esther, a survivor of the Bergen Belson concentration camps, a young married woman looked at the state of American Jewry and cried.
She thought about what she could do. She thought about how she could help. And all at once, this lone woman ran to her father, a great man, and said, “I want to fill Madison Square Garden with Jews! I want to gather them together and remind them of who we are. I want to say Shema Yisroel with thousands of my people. I want to bring them home.”
And that’s what this Little Giant did. With no special VIP pass and no fancy titles, she booked the hall and filled it with glory.
(The recording above is from that 1974 event. Its one of 4, make sure to hear the other ones – here’s 2 of 4
That’s my dream – to awaken the hearts of Jews. But before I can, I must ask myself – “am I awake?” Am I AWAKE!!?
Esther Jungries, just one month after hip surgery, sat on a plane for three hours waiting for it to take off. And when it didn’t, she sat in the car for another four driving to Baltimore. Why? To WAKE US UP!
“Wake up!” she cried. “I look around and I see 1938.
I see Jews everywhere sleeping, ignoring the signs.
I looked at a copy of the 1938 Warsaw Gazzette in and do you know what I saw there? The Yiddishe Theatre, advertisments…. Nothing, NOTHING about Hitler. They didn’t want to see, they were sleeping.
And now we hear news every day and we say ‘Oh please, it’s nothing.’ An earthquake in New York? Children being gunned down in school? A Hurricane that wipes out homes and electricity for weeks? Tsunamis? Tragedies? We say ‘Oh please! Its just more bad news.”
“G-d is talking to us, He’s sending us clear messages. My heart is so heavy when I see what’s going on. Why does history have to repeat itself, when will we learn?”
Rebbitzen, Rebbitzen, we hear you! We ourselves can’t bear it. We know the world has gone crazy but what should we do?
The Rebbitzen quoted the Yalkut Shemoni – there are three things a person must do to ready himself for the End of Days.
1. Make Torah your business. Don’t just take a class – live it. Learn it, love it, practice it, breathe it. Make your life a life of Torah.
2. Do acts of loving kindness. Step out of the world of me, me, me and into “how can I make my fellow man happy.”
3. Eat Shalosh Seudos – The Third Meal on Shabbos afternoon.
When the Jews left Egypt only 1/5 of them survived. The rest persished in the Plague of Darkness. Those were Jews who had assimilated. The worshipped the Gods of Egypt. They weren’t worthy of leaving.
And do you know why? Because in their heart of hearts the didn’t want to go. They didn’t want to leave behind Egyptian culture.
Today, we are in the Plague of Darkness. G-d has even taken away our money – the 21st century God.
She spoke about loving-kindness and smiling. “smile with two eyes, not just with your lips. Put your whole self in the smile that you are giving to another.
I learned to smile in Bergen Belson. When we arrived there, my father, the Tzaddik, said to us “kinderlach, children, smile. When grown-ups see young children smiling it will give them hope. And so, I learned to smile even when my heart was in pain.
A young girl once asked me, ‘Rebbitzen, do you mind if I ask you a personal question? You are always smiling, where does your smile begin? In your lips or in your heart?’ I thought about it.
“It begins in my lips. I give my very best to the other person, even though my heart may not be feeling it. Then it travels to the other persons heart and from there, it comes back and warms my heart.”
“Smile with two eyes.”
“Call your parents and wish them a good Shabbos. Look up from your cellphone when a grandparent enters the room.”
She spoke about Shalosh Seudos. Do you know why it’s so special? Friday night we have a meal. Who wouldn’t want such a meal? Candllight, hot food. What a way to end the week.
Shabbos morning, it’s nice, it’s wonderful, we enjoy. But Sholosh Seudos on Shabbos afternoon? Who wants to eat? You’re full.
That meal, you eat for Hashem. That meal you eat because it gives Hashem pleasure, its not for your stomach, for your pleasure.
You know, in my neighborhood, on Shabbos afternoon, I give a talk about the Parsha (Torah portion of the week.) Afterwards I walk home. And it’s a long walk.
When I get home, I’m tired. I’m a widow, I live alone, I would like to take a rest. But you know what I do? I take my two little challah rolls and I make a bracha on them and I eat – for my King. I eat for Him and I recite a Psalm.
“G-d is my Shepherd I shall not lack…..”
The Rebbitzen cried as she spoke.
She begged and she pleaded. She rebuked us and she loved us.
“ I love you all, you are all my children.” Tears fell from her eyes and her voice crackled and sighed. She blessed us again and again, as if no amount of blessing would be good enough for us.
And then, from an audience that had been held by her every word for a heart stopping hour, she left – to the thunderous applause of 400 wide awake souls.