Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
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 will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.
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Many moons ago, when our children were small, my husband and I would spend our summers at the Lebowitz Pine View Hotel in the Catskills. It was a special time – before today’s technology – when people actually talked to one another and were happy just to get away from the city and breathe some fresh country air.
To me, however, what was most special was that I had the zechus to host my dear parents every Shabbos. My talks took on an added dimension because they were there. Many amazing miracles occurred during those Shabbosim.
For now, I will limit myself to one little story about bringing some young Jews to Torah. They had become involved in the Jews for Jesus movement, which was then at its zenith.
What were these young people doing at the Pine View, an Orthodox hotel, on Shabbos?
Not long before, I had been in Jerusalem. A rabbi approached me and said that back in the U.S. there was a Jewish man who was baptizing young Jews and converting them. “It would be a huge mitzvah if you could reach his heart and bring him and his followers back to Torah,” he said.
When I returned home I called the man the rebbe had spoken of and invited him to come see me. Of course he refused, and tried to persuade me that it was I who was in error.
Undeterred, I persisted with my invitation. I told him I would soon be leaving for the Catskills with my family, and if he wished he could join us for a Shabbos during the summer.
“It would be our pleasure to welcome you,” I assured him. I gave him the phone number of the hotel, not knowing whether he would show up.
Sure enough, a couple of weeks later he called. “I’m taking you up on your invitation,” he said. “But I’d like to bring some of my Jewish friends. Will that be all right?”
I readily agreed and prepared the guests at the hotel so that they could help me make them comfortable. Well, they showed up all right – fully prepared to “witness” for Jesus with colorful little pamphlets they brought with them.
They wanted to debate me to prove that I, as a Torah Jew, was following the wrong path. I told them I would be happy to discuss the subject but it was Erev Shabbos and I had to get ready for the holy day, so it would have to wait until Saturday night.
On Friday night the Shalom Aleichem of my husband and my father rang out through the dining room. It was not only the angels we greeted that night; we also extended Shalom Aleichem to those lost Yiddishe neshamos who for the first time in their lives were sitting at a real Shabbos table.
As always before Kiddush, my father and my husband blessed all the children. And when my father placed his hands on the heads of the young men who’d hoped to convert us, tears flowed from his eyes. He couldn’t bear the thought that Yiddishe neshamos should have come to such a tragic state.
When the young men felt my father’s loving hands on their heads and saw his tears, their own eyes became moist and the pintele Yid, long dormant in their souls, came to life. My father always conducted a beautiful Shabbos tisch and guests would join us in singing and dancing. Those young men were no exception. They were quickly caught up in the joyous sanctity of the moment and danced long into the night. Thus their transformation commenced.
Shabbos morning after Kiddush I spoke on the parshah, and their awakening became complete. They no longer had a desire for debate. The only questions that troubled them were how and where they could study Torah and how they could make up for their lost years. Spontaneously, everyone started to sing. Am Yisrael chai – the Jewish people lives; od Avinu chai – Our Heavenly Father is forever in our neshamos…. And with that song the men danced the boys into the dining room.
On Sunday morning we made plans for their new lives. One of the young men told me he was engaged to a non-Jewish girl and had planned to be married in a church. He felt it only fair that he go home to personally inform the girl of his new life.
My father overheard the conversation, and in his broken, limited English called out to him, “Sonny, come here. You go back to girl, she cry and give you kiss…you finished man. Send letter and go to New York with Rebbetzin now – study in yeshiva.”
And so it was. Today those young men are zeidies whose children and grandchildren are all b’nei Torah.
There are myriad such stories, each connected by the common thread in every Jewish heart. They testify to the fact that no matter how alienated a Jew may be or how far he may have wandered from his roots, he can come back in an instant. He need only hear words of Torah and experience a real Shabbos and the pintele Yid will be kindled and connect him to the eternal flame of Sinai.