Jew of the Week: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

24 Aug

In Memory of a Great Rebbetzin and Pioneer

JungreisEsther Jungreis (1936-2016) was born in Hungary, the daughter of a rabbi. During the Holocaust, the family was sent to Bergen-Belsen, and later loaded up on a train headed for Auschwitz. On route, they managed to escape to Switzerland with the help of Rudolph Kastner’s Aid and Rescue Committee. The quota for migrants to Israel was filled, so the family was given papers to go to the States. Jungreis went on to marry a rabbi and settled in North Woodmere, New York, where the couple founded the town’s Jewish Center and Congregation Ohr Torah. Seeing the rampant assimilation in the United States, Jungreis made it her life’s work to prevent what she saw as a “spiritual holocaust”. In 1973, she started an organization called Hineni, aimed at inspiring Jewish youth to return to their roots. Under her dedicated leadership and moving speeches, Hineni grew to become an international organization, no longer focused solely on youth but rousing countless young and old alike. Jungreis organized events and gave lectures around the world – visiting fifteen or more countries a year was normal for her. Her weekly class drew as many as 1500 people at a time. Meanwhile, Jungreis wrote a regular column for The Jewish Press (the world’s largest English-language Jewish paper) for some 45 years, making it the longest running column in the publication’s history. She also wrote four best-selling books, and had a television programme. In 2004, the Rebbetzin spoke at the Republican National Convention, and in 2008 was selected by President Bush to join him on his delegation to Jerusalem for Israel’s 60th anniversary. Today, she is recognized as one of the central pioneers of the modern kiruv (Jewish outreach) movement. Sadly, the Rebbetzin passed away yesterday. She worked tirelessly until the very end, and in her last article – published just last week – finished with these words: “When will we wake up? When will we don our priestly garments and fulfill our G-d-given destiny and be ‘a light unto all mankind’?”

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Words of the Week

A long life is not good enough, but a good life is long enough.
– Rabbi Theodore Meshulem Jungreis

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Jew of the Week: Aly Raisman

18 Aug

Gymnastics Champion

Aly Raisman at the 2016 Rio Olympics (Credit: Fernando Frazao/Agencia Brasil)

Aly Raisman at the 2016 Rio Olympics (Credit: Fernando Frazao/Agencia Brasil)

Alexandra Rose Raisman (b. 1994) was born in Massachusetts. As the eldest daughter of a gymnast, she was introduced to gymnastics at just two years old, and was inspired by watching that year’s Olympics US women’s team. At 14, she started competing in both national and international events. After two successful years, she signed as a professional athlete and received sponsorship from Ralph Lauren. The following year, she tried out for the American Olympic team and placed third overall. Raisman made it to the 2012 London Olympics as part of the team nicknamed the “Fierce Five”. She dedicated her floor routine (set to the tune of Hava Nagila) to the Israeli terror victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics (see it here). It won her the gold medal, making her the first American woman to win a gold medal in floor exercise. She went on to win two gold medals and one bronze medal – the most decorated American gymnast at the London games. She returned to the 2016 Rio games as captain of the team nicknamed the “Final Five” (since the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will switch to a four-team format, and the US team will have a different coach). Raisman has won three more medals in Rio – a gold and two silvers – making her the second most decorated Olympic gymnast in American history. Away from the Olympics, she has won over a dozen other medals at the World Championships, the Pacific Rim Championships, and the American Cup. Raisman has also appeared on the television shows Dancing With the Stars and Gold Medal Families, and was featured in the documentary Aly Raisman: Quest for Gold. When she isn’t training, Raisman often volunteers with the Special Olympics and with UNICEF, among other organizations. In 2013, she lit the flames at the Maccabiah Games in Israel.

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Words of the Week

Cherish criticism, for it will place you on the true heights.
– Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch

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