A son remembers Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis


I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some stories about my mother that you may or may not know.

Two weeks before my mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, was nifteres, I paid a shiva call to a friend who had just lost his mother. The house was filled to capacity with those who came to be menachem ovel. My friend motioned to me to come forward as he wanted to tell me something. In a quiet voice, he told me that one of his mother’s last wishes was that he contact Rebbetzin Jungreis because a family that she knew was struggling with a very difficult problem. 

The next day I went to my mother’s bedside and told her of this woman’s last wish. Her response still haunts me. Without giving it a second thought, and with much alacrity, my mother said, “As soon as I get better, I will meet with them.” A few weeks later as I was sitting shiva for my mother, my friend came to comfort me. I told him that I had come to give him chizuk when he was sitting shiva but it was he who gave me and my mother chizuk. 'As soon as I get better, I will meet with them” are the words that I shall never forget.

Hashem had different plans and the rebbetzin is now in Shamayim but I know that she is beseeching Hashem for all those in this world who are grappling with a multitude of difficulties.  

Before my mother founded Hineni in the early 1970s, she accompanied my grandfather, HaGaon HaRav Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l, to receive brochos from four Gedolim. They were the Satmar Rebbe, zt’l; HaRav Yosef Soloveitchik, zt’l; HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l; and HaRav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, zt’l. 

When they reached Rav Henkin’s apartment on the Lower East Side, the gabbai told my mother and grandfather to take a seat while he assisted Rav Henkin to the room they were. Having been ill for some time, Rav Henkin was blind and connected to many intravenous tubes. My zaide told my mother, “Shtay Oif Min Kind” (stand up, my child), a malach (angel) of Hashem is entering the room.

Rav Henkin, zt’l, then said to my zaide and my mother, “Take a good look at me. Look what could happen to a mentsch. Look at my eyes, they are just two pieces of meat. If Hashem gives you the strength to accomplish, then you must do it.”

This became my mother’s battle cry. “Im lo Achshav Aimosi”? If not now, then when? We must seize the moment and use every second to fulfill Hashem’s purpose for us in this world.  

My mother used the wide variety of gifts that Hashem bestowed upon her to the optimal level. Understanding the precious nature of time and how quickly it alludes us, she never wasted a momen. A close friend once asked her, “How do you function with such little sleep?” My mother’s response was, “I sleep fast.”

Wherever she traveled, she always carried her trusted weapon — her sefer tehillim (book of psalms) and never wasted a minute. While she was waiting for a plane to depart or waiting in a doctor’s office, that book of tehillim could be found in her hands.

In his eulogy for my mother, my brother, Rabbi Osher, said that she had the ability to find the neshoma in people who did not even know they had a neshoma. She had the ability to reignite the pintele yid, the spark inside every Jew. My mother never prepared notes when she addressed audiences both far and near. She would always commence her lectures with the pasuk that we say before the Shemonei Esrei in our daily davening. “Adonai Sefasai Teftach U’Fee Yagid Tehilasecha (Hashem, Open my lips that my mouth may declare Your praise).” My mother knew that it is Hashem that puts the proper words in our mouths and she humbly asked that He give her the right words each time she lectured

During the shiva period, countless people expressed how exceptionally fortunate and blessed they were because of my mother’s impact on their lives

The Red Eye flight

 My beloved mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, of blessed memory, was not only renowned for her pioneering work in chizuk, or for the thousands fo shidduchim that she made, or for the infinite amount of riveting Torah classes she delivered over the last half century, but those who have read her Jewish Press columns or her books know that she was the ultimate story teller.

Of the hundreds of stories that she related over the decades, many of them have penetrated our hearts.   

Years ago, my mother, and her assistant Barbara Janov were heading back to New York from Portland, Oregon. They had booked a red eye flight that would have them back at JFK airport at approximately 5:30 am. After alighting the plane, my mother took her seat and immediately took out her tehillim

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a gentleman in the adjoining seat looking at her and Barbara. My mother had the distinct feeling that he was going to strike up a conversation and her predication was correct. Within moments the man came over and started chatting. “So, do you live in Portland?” he asked. Barbara told the man that they did not but rather, they were on a return flight back to New York. “So, what brought you to Portland; was it business or pleasure?” he queried. Barbara informed him that they were in Portland because the rebbetzin was delivering lectures on Torah and how it applies to our lives as Jews. 

It was then that my mother asked the man, “Are you Jewish?” Suddenly striking a defensive posture, he retorted with more than a tinge of anger in his voice, “Yeah, so what if I am?” My mother told him that she was just curious and it was not meant as an offensive remark. The man then took his seat and remained silent.

Soon thereafter, the stewardess came by as it was time to serve the on-flight meals. She began to call out the names of the passengers who had ordered a kosher meal. “Your kosher meals are here,” she said. She then offered the man in the adjoining seat a selection of midnight snack offerings. “Okay,” he said, “I’ll have the ham and cheese sandwich.”

It was then that my mother informed the stewardess that this man could not have a ham and cheese sandwich. Turning almost rageful, the man shouted, “Why not? Why can’t I have that sandwich?” My mother patiently told the man that he could not have that sandwich because he signed a contract thousands of years ago at Mount Sinai, when he and all other Jewish souls declared the Oneness of Hashem’s name and their willingness to obey His commandments for all eternity.

The man was literally aghast. He insisted that the stewardess “keep this woman away from me.” My mother told him that if he did not believe her, he should check out the contract he signed by learning Torah. The man quietly muttered under his breath for the remainder of the flight.

After the plane landed, my mother and the other passengers went to the baggage retrieval arrival. As it happened, it was his mazel that he met the rebbetzin again. My mother then reached into her pocketbook and gave the man her card. “If you want to check out the contract you signed, if you want to learn about your heritage, the commandments that you accepted so long ago, then contact me. My name is Esther Jungreis and I teach Torah in New York. I am sure we will see each other again,” she said. Shaking his head, the man stormed off.

Several years later, my mother was teaching her regular Tuesday evening Torah class in my grandfather’s synagogue. As was always the case, people would line up to talk with my mother at the conclusion of the class. At the very end of the line stood a man with black hat and beard, someone who definitely could be described as an Orthodox Jew.

As the man approached he said, Rebbetzin Jungreis, do you remember me?” When my mother did not remember someone, she often said, “Well, you look familiar” in order to spare their feelings. “Rebbetzin, you mean you don’t remember me? Do you remember the red eye flight from Portland to New York many years ago? Do you remember telling me that I signed a contract at Mount Sinai?” Suddenly, the memories came rushing back.

With a look of astonishment on my mother’s face, she said, “Is it really you? What happened to you? Of course, I remember you.”The man went on to tell my mother that soon after their chance meeting on that red eye flight, he gave a great deal of thought to what she had said about signing that contract. “I listened to what you told me, Rebbetzin, and I made it my business to learn more about that contract I signed and today I live a Torah observant life. I came here today to thank you for telling me about the contract and my obligations as a Jew.”

Sharei Dimos: The gates of tears are never closed

Throughout the many years of Hineni’s existence, my mother would often take groups of people to Eretz Yisroel, but my mother’s tours were unlike any other. From the moment we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport to the moment we departed, each experience was imbued with a special kedusha. On our way to Yerushalayim for the first time on our trips, my mother would ask that the bus driver stop near the sign that says Bruchim Haboyim (Welcome to Jerusalem). We got off the bus and made a L’Chaim with wine as the sun was setting and the wind of Yerushalayim was blowing. She told us with tears in her eyes, “My zisa kinderlech, my sweet children, we are about to enter the holy city of Yerushalayim. We need to prepare ourselves.”

She would tell the tour participants that they are entering the holiest of all cities and would relay stories of those who sacrificed their lives for it. We would then enjoy wine and cake to sanctify the holiness that this city represents to all of Klall Yisroel.

My mother would often relate the story of Chana and her seven sons and the story of Momma Rochel, to impart the lesson of Sharei Dimos (the gates of tears are never closed)

On every trip, my mother would take the entire group to her maternal grandfather’s kever (grave). His name was Hagaon HaRav Tzvi Hersh Cohen, the Derichker Rov. Upon reaching his kever at Har Hamenuchos in Yerushalayim, my mother would introduce each person on the tour to her beloved zaide. She would say, “Zaide, I am bringing another child back to their Torah heritage and I would like to introduce them to you.”

When it seemed that Hashem was about to take my mother’s holy neshoma, my sister Slovie called her daughter Shaindy in Yerushalayim and asked her to go to the kever of my great grandfather. When Shaindy arrived at the kever she said, “My dear zaide, it looks like bubba is coming to Shomayim very soon. Please gather the family, erect a special chuppah and welcome her like a queen.”  

Rabbi Reisman

For the last 20 years, my mother attended a shul called the Agudath Israel of Long Island in Far Rockaway. It was there that she built a strong connection with this special kehilla and its rov, HaRav Yaakov Reisman, shlita.

During his hesped (eulogy) for my mother, Rabbi Reisman said that the rebbetzin’s inner strength was embodied by the posuk in Eishes Chayil, “Pia poscha v’chochma.” She opens her mouth in wisdom because Toras chesed al lishona. He said that everything she spoke about was predicated on the eternal wisdom of the Torah. He even said of her book, The Committed Life — Principles for Good Living from Our Timeless Past: “Notice the title, the words our timeless past. She didn’t repackage Torah, she didn’t amend it or try to make it fit the superficial mores and values of the generation in which we live. She presented Torah as it was taught to her by her father and her zaides and people ran toward it with love because she presented it with love.” 

He reminded the olam that the rebbetzin possessed a unique combination of Torah and tefilla. “No one davened like the rebbetzin. Her tefillos were immersed with an incredible amount of kavanah,” he said. “She stormed the gates of Shamayim with her constant and heartfelt supplications and she prayed for everyone. For family, friends and everyone who needed Hashem’s help and we all need Hashem’s help.”

Many people grew up reading my mother’s columns in the Jewish Press and her wisdom would serve as a D’var Torah at their respective Shabbos tables. My mother became a part of an infinite amount of Jewish homes through her weekly words that were filled with wisdom, compassion and love. 

A very close friend sent me the following saying: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” She commented, “Yisroel, every time your mother spoke she did that for people.”

When we visited the Kosel in Yerushalayim, throngs of people would surround my mother, asking for her brochos. “ My mother had the glow of Shabbos on her face at all times and her appearance was that of a real Queen Esther, with all the royalty and regalness of the title. My brother, Rabbi Osher, said at her levaya that “most queens need a crown so that they may be identified as such. Not my mother. She did not need a crown. Everyone knew she was a queen when she walked into a room.”

At this year’s Hineni dinner, which took place only weeks before Purim, Rabbi Eli Mansour, Shlita, introduced the rebbetzin by relating a posuk from Megillas Esther, “Whomever saw Queen Esther was taken by her chayn (charm). The word Roeha, “Raish Alef Yud Hay,” is the acronym for “Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis HaMalka.”

My Heilege Zaide

When my mother would finish giving one of her Torah classes, my zaide would always give a brocha to the class. It was Parshas Vayeshev in Sefer Bereishis and we learn that Yaakov Avinu sends his son Yosef to look for his brothers. He finds himself lost and meets a man (Vayimziyahu Ish). It was the Malach Gavriel who asks Yosef, Ma Tivakaish? (what are you looking for?)

Yosef answered “es achai avi mivakesh (I am looking for my brothers; have you seen them?)” 

My zaide said this is the mission statement of Hineni. We were always there for our Jewish brethren to guide them to the path of Torah.  

Teaching chumash

No one was able to teach a pasuk in Chumash like the rebbitzen. During her weekly Torah classes, she made the Torah come alive as she imparted its messages with such love and passion.

She would often say, “Torah study is unlike any other study in the world. You can study math at the finest of colleges but you will never become a number. You can study music at Julliard but you will never become a note. But when you study Torah, when you take on its lessons, you become a Torahdig person.”

At the beginning of her classes she would explain:

“This week’s parsha is amazing and you are going to learn many important lessons. I know I always tell you that about every parsha, but it is true!” She would add: “In the Torah there is no repetition. Every posuk, every word, every nekuda has a deeper meaning. We must peel away the layers of an onion when we learn the parsha. We must ask question after question to discover the true meaning of what Hashem is teaching us.”  

Everyone attending her classes thought she was talking to them personally when she explained the posukim with such depth and warmth. Her mastery of gematria was astounding and in each of her Torah classes, she would give over incredible insights through the numerical value of the Torah’s words. Her students began to understand that the Chumash was teaching them personal lessons regarding their lives.

During shiva one of our Hineni members described their experience when attending Torah classes at Hineni. They noted that it was similar to traveling back in time to Ellis Island and becoming a United Citizen of Torah. In my mother’s Torah lessons there was something to take home, everyone gained something to ponder about for their own personal journey of life. 

Rebbetzin of the world

Besides being a rebbitzen to the world, my mother was an incredibly loving and devoted mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Each and every grandchild felt they were the most special to her, as she understood the unique nature of each child and knew precisely what each one needed to hear. When Mishpacha Magazine was interviewing her, my son Avraham told the interviewer, “Do you know you are interviewing a queen?”  

She told her grandchildren that she does not know when Hashem will call her to Shomayim but whenever it will be she will go with ahava.

Bubba will never forget about you. I will always be davening and watching over you from Shomayim. If anything ever bothers you, bubba will be davening for you,” she added. 

To say that my mother is sorely missed would be a gross understatement. The painful void in our hearts and souls is ever present as we miss calling her for our Shabbos and YomTov berochos. Our mother would give a bracha like no one else in the world. We could all feel the love in her heart with each word that she uttered. 

I often think back to the times when we would visited our mother. These were indeed precious moments. When it was time to depart, she would walk us outside, kiss and hug us all, give us one more brocha, and wave to us until the car disappeared. She told us that this is how her own father would say goodbye after she visited. 

“Binafsho kushiro binafsho, my soul is connected to yours. May the Malachim of Hashem watch over you,” were the words of my heilege grandfather, HaGaon HaRav Av-raham HaLevi Jungreis. These were the words with which the rebbbetzin would always sign her letters to her family. 

What nechama (comfort) can we, her family, and the thousands whose lives she changed, have?

HaGaon HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, said everyone should realize that we have a personal messenger in Shomayim that can be a meletz yosher (advocate) for us. That alone should serve as a tremendous source of chizuk and comfort, not only now during this difficult grieving process but for our entire lives.

We know that this nechama is for us, but we must stop and ask: “What can we do to honor the memory of our beloved rebbetzin in Shamayaim. What can we do for her that she can no longer do for herself”? 

As my mother said, “No one really ever dies as the neshoma is eternal and lives on forever. But what can we do to remember our loved ones who left this word? We can constantly send them care packages in heaven. And how do we do that? Through our mitzvos and maasim tovim. Each mitzva that we do should be done in the name of our loved ones who have passed.”

The Zohar says that children are the are the legs of the father; which means that when a parent leaves this physical world they need their children to go on for them and walk in their path. In the rebbetzin’s case, she had thousands of spiritual children.

The greatest gift we can send her is to continue her work; to study Torah and do mitzvos. By doing so we are declaring, “Rebbetzin, we will never forget you.”

May the words of Sefer Yishayahu come to fruition — “Lo yomushu mipicha umipi zarecha umipi zera zarecha (May the words of Torah never be forgotten from my mouth, my children’s mouth, and my children’s children’s mouth).” Thus says Hashem.

May the neshama of Imi Morosi Esther bas HaGaon HaRav Avraham Halevi be an advocate for all of Klal Yisroel.

Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis delivers a parsha class each week at the Hineni Heritage Center on the Upper West Side and lectures extensively. His “lunch and learn” class takes place every Wednesday at 1271 Avenue of the Americas in the boardroom of Fortune Financial. He is the originator of the 5 Minute Torah Class for the executive on the run.

For more information about Hineni, call 212-496-1660 or by e-mail at