Tag Archives: Hungary

Jew of the Week: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

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’?”

Words of the Week

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

Jew of the Week: Yitta Schwartz

The Woman With 2000 Children

A rare photo of Yitta Schwartz from the 1980s

A rare photo of Yitta Schwartz from the 1980s

Yitta Schwartz (1916-2010) was born in Kalev, Hungary to a Chassidic family. During the Holocaust, her entire family was taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where two of her six children died. A strong and pious woman, Schwartz persevered, and took care of many other people in the camp, often at great personal risk. One Holocaust survivor recalls how Schwartz took care of the deceased, carefully cleaning their bodies, digging graves, and burying them. Following the war, Schwartz’s family started to rebuild in Belgium, and helped countless refugees in the process, giving them shelter in their own tiny apartment. In 1953, the family (now with 11 children) moved to the US, where Schwartz had 5 more kids. Schwartz’s husband sold furniture, while she took care of their 16 children, and then the many grandchildren that followed. By the time of her passing at the age of 93, Schwartz had over 200 grandchildren, many more great-grandchildren, and nearly 2000 descendants altogether. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of her time was spent going from one family event to the next. When arriving at these gatherings, people would say she resembled the Prophet Elijah, her presence filling the room with light, and everyone clambering for a bit of the great matriarch’s attention and blessings. A very modest woman, she avoided being photographed or filmed. She is remembered as having an infectious smile, a thirst for life, and an excellent memory. Knowing that she would always live on in the doting hearts of her descents, she once said, “If you leave a child or grandchild, you live forever.”

Words of the Week

So said God: ‘Let a wise man not glory in his wisdom, nor let the strong one glory in his strength, nor let the wealthy glory in his wealth. Only in this may one glorify himself: in discerning and knowing Me, for I am God, Who performs kindness, justice, and righteousness – for these are what I desire…’
– Jeremiah 9:22-23