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Her Answer is Always “Hineni”

Barbara Bensoussan

Bringing estranged souls back to Torah. Making shidduchim. Connecting with disenchanted teens and battle-weary adults. For half a century, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis has been answering the calls of her nation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled up in front of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis’s neat white house on Long Island, New York. After all, she’s a living legend who has led mass Torah events in Madison Square Garden, traveled the world on speaking tours, published best-selling books, and met with heads of state. She has inspired thousands to do teshuvah, founded the Hineni Heritage Center, and made hundreds, if not thousands, of shidduchim.  But I had heard that the Rebbetzin’s health was challenged. After a fall two Pesachs ago, she’s undergone surgeries for broken bones and a torn meniscus. Would she really be up for an interview? The Rebbetzin’s two beaming daughters, Slovie Wolff and Chaya Sora Gertzulin, open the door. The Rebbetzin glides just behind them, aided by a walker, greeting me warmly. “My granddaughters decorated this for me,” she says, indicating fringes of sparkly tape hanging from the bars. “I get around with it everywhere!”  Pictures of the Rebbetzin typically show her attired in elegant suits, but tonight, she’s more casual in a black shell, long black skirt, and white sequined top. But she’s wearing her trademark short feathery blonde wig and round earrings. Though petite, her size is deceiving: The Rebbetzin is a bren — a ball of fire — when it comes to Torah.  The Rebbetzin’s spotless home, with white walls and shiny black granite floors, feels warm despite the modern decor. It’s clearly a home that’s rarely empty. Her “gabbait” Fradl is on hand, her daughters are there visiting, the phone rings occasionally, and a tall, strapping grandson, Avraham Jungreis, stops in to say hello between playing basketball and taking his rebbi from Eretz Yisrael out for dinner. He walks in, kisses his grandmother, and bows his head to receive a brachah. “You are meeting a queen,” he tells me, as he leaves.   

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