April 22, 2024
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April 22, 2024
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A Conversation With Rebbetzin Slovie Jungreis

(Courtesy of Artscroll) “Be a Blessing” is Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis’s final book, written during the throes of serious, painful illness. And yet it sings out with hope, faith and optimism. ArtScroll spoke with Rebbetzin Slovie Jungreis Wolff about the powerful new book and her incredible, world-famous, beloved mother.

AS: Your mother went through so much, both as a young child and in her later years, and yet she always managed to “be a blessing” to the tens of thousands who loved her—and whom she loved. How did she find the strength to stay so caring—and so optimistic?

RSW: The day my mother arrived in Bergen-Belsen, my zeide said to her, “You have here a groise avodah, a great mission.” “Here, Tatty?” she asked. “What can I do here?” My mother didn’t understand, she was just a little girl. “Here, you can give a shmichel (smile). Here, you can be a bracha, a blessing. Because when you smile you give others faith. You give others hope. You give others courage.” Despite all the pain and suffering, my zeide’s words imbued my mother, even as a child, with a purpose and a mission. No matter what is going on in your life, you give strength, courage, and faith to others; this became her lifelong mission.

AS: “Be a Blessing” is such a hard book to define. Your mother shares many poignant personal memories. She gives guidance for parents, spouses, singles seeking their soulmates, and just about everyone facing challenges. And, of course, she includes beautiful Torah thoughts to strengthen our emunah. How did she manage to combine so many different facets of life so effortlessly?

RSW: My mother had a saying that she would share in every talk, every shiur, in our private conversations, wherever she would go: hafoch ba, hafoch ba, d’kula ba: Turn the pages, turn the pages, everything is here. This was my mother’s motto: Every situation, every challenge, every nisayon, every facet of every relationship, can be found in the Torah. You just have to know where to look. My mother loved Torah. She made Torah come alive. She made Torah relevant. She made everyone who came to her shiur or for advice, and even us children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, see the emes of the Torah. Torah was her fire, and she was a soul on fire.

AS: Much of the book was written when your mother was recuperating from a serious accident. Can you give us the backstory on “Be a Blessing”?

RSW: When my mother reached her last season of life she was confronted with many painful challenges—including her final illness. Instead of sitting in the darkness of suffering, my mother used the time to write this book and share her final wisdom and blessing with us all.

My mother would always say: Don’t say “lamah”—why, why, why; say “limah—for what purpose? Don’t say “maduah”—why, Hashem, did this happen to me? Ask “mah deah?”—what can I learn from this experience? And so, my mother took the pain and suffering and the fear that she went through during that very difficult period of her life, and she began to write. And then she faced her final illness—and she continued to write this book.

Actually, the last chapter of this book was left unwritten. It was titled “Shacharis, Minchah, Maariv”—and the pages were blank. We miss my mother and her wisdom, klal Yisrael misses my mother, and the pages remain to be written But we are so fortunate, so blessed, to have this final bracha from my mother in this book—not just us children, but all of us, because my mother considered every single person she met to be her child.

AS: Your mother wrote so much about finding one’s mission in life. Tell us about her mission—how she discovered it, how she fulfilled it so successfully.

My mother’s mission was to touch the heart and ignite the spark, the pintele Yid, of every single neshamah she met. She made thousands of shidduchim, taught the largest Torah class in the world, sat until 4 in the morning meeting people needing chizuk or guidance. She spoke across the globe, shared her triumph over evil with the Israeli and American army, spoke in Madison Square Garden, created Hineni, an international organization, and traveled every continent with her mission of making Torah come alive and bringing Jews home. With it all, my mother was an incredibly devoted daughter, wife, rebbetzin, mother, bubby and great-grandmother. My mother received the brachos of the gedolei hador before she launched Hineni and spoke in Madison Square Garden. This mission was handed down to her from the doros, the generations that came before her, all great rabbanim and rebbetzins, all the way back to David HaMelech.

In Hungary, as the winds of war were blowing, my grandfather took my mother, her two brothers and my grandmother to visit his parents, R’ Yisrael HaLevi and Rebbetzin Slova Chana, for whom I am named. On that trip, my mother saw something that affected her forever. She loved to sit with her zeide, her grandfather, R’ Yisrael, in his room with all his sefarim, and hear him learn. On that trip, her zeide began to cry. My mother ran out of the room and found her father. She was frightened and asked why her zeide was crying. Her father took her outside, where the snow was very deep, and told my mother that he would walk first, and she should follow him. After a few moments, my zeide stopped and asked if my mother understood why he walked first. My mother said, “Of course, Tatty, because you want to make footsteps for me to walk in.” My mother’s father explained that when her zeide was learning and crying he wasn’t learning only for himself. He was learning for her, her children, her children’s children. So that when the snow became very deep, if my mother would ever fall, she could pick herself up. She would know that there were footsteps, that she had a derech, that she could keep on walking.

This was the story of her life. No matter what the challenge—whether it was life challenges, Bergen-Belsen, my grandparents leaving this world, my father’s illness, her final illness with all the pain that came with that—my mother had the derech to follow. Until her last day on earth, she continued her mission of walking in the derech of the avos and imahos, the bubbies and zeides who came before her.

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