Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis was just eight years old when she experienced kiruv firsthand. Born in 1936 in Szeged Hungary a town rife with assimilation her father Rav Avraham Jungreis built a shul and a mikveh to bring Jews closer to Yiddishkeit. She and her family miraculously survived Bergen-Belsen and eventually moved toAmerica where they continued their mission of bringing their fellow Jews close to their Heavenly Father.
Together with her life partner Rav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis Rebbetzin Esther established Hineni an organization responsible for the spiritual return of thousands of Jewish souls. Hineni offers classes and support for those seeking a closer relationship with Hashem. Rebbetzin Jungreis spoke to enormous rapt audiences all over the world yet she’s best remembered for the personal relationships she built with so many.
Her petirah two weeks ago on 19 Av created a gaping hole in the kiruv community but her legacy lives on through her four children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In the tribute video honoring her 50 years of work for Hineni she opened with words that embodied her mission: “If I could reach just one heart then I know one day your children will be different. They will be religious Jews.”
Her students and family share their recollections.
Hashem’s Report Card
During the months before Pesach Rebbetzin Jungreis instructed us on the intricacies of making our kitchens kosher for Pesach. I don’t know why but that year I decided I wanted to work extra hard to ensure that my Pesach kitchen met the highest rabbinical standards. But I had a philosophical problem: My kitchen year-round wasn’t kosher. I felt my kosher-for-Pesach kitchen was filled with hypocrisy.
I shared my misgivings with the Rebbetzin. She asked me “What kind of parent would tell a child who always got a C ‘Mammale don’t try for an A — you’re a C kind of student.’ ” She encouraged me to reach for the stars! What’s amazing is that I asked her a concrete question and she took that query and made it into a life lesson.
I took her words to heart and worked so hard to make my kitchen kosher for Pesach according to all the stringencies. The success of my Pesach propelled me to continue keeping a strictly kosher kitchen from that point on.
—As heard by Ellen FowerNew YorkNew York
Hearing the Call
An elegant woman walked into our Hineni offices eager to learn Torah from the famous Rebbetzin Jungreis. There was a problem though. Over the previous few weeks she’d begun to experience increasing deafness. Her right ear was hardly processing sound.
After a few classes she decided to talk to the Rebbetzin individually and to ask for a brachah that her hearing be restored. When her turn finally came she told Rebbetzin Jungreis about the encroaching deafness. The Rebbetzin motioned to her to bring her head close to hers.
First the Rebbetzin spoke into this woman’s good ear. She said “You must say the words ‘Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad’ every day because Shema means to hear.” What happened next the woman told me this week at shivah is nothing short of amazing. The Rebbetzin then whispered in the deaf ear. Again and again she whispered the first pasuk of Shema. As she repeated the Shema the woman started hearing a buzzing in her ear.
“Suddenly” she recounted “there was a sound like a sucking vacuum. Like a whoosh. And I was able to hear everything that was being said. I kept snapping my fingers next to my ear to make sure that it was working.”
She went to her doctor the very next day. “My physician was flabbergasted. He said ‘You are a very lucky woman.’
“I corrected him and said ‘I am a very blessed woman. And you doctor should start going to the Rebbetzin’s classes too.’ ”
—Witnessed by Michelle “Fradel” Blistein