One of the first and most successful kiruv organizations in the US is Hineni, founded by the dynamic Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis a”h in the 1970s. The organization was an instant success, and the Rebbetzin was asked to speak and engage with people at many events all over the world. She recalls one very special event that she was asked to speak at.
One day, she received a call from Shlomo Levin, who was working at the Israeli consulate general in New York City. He said, “Rebbetzin, I heard you speak at Madison Square Garden, and I think that our troops in Israel would greatly benefit from your message.” Shlomo had sent a publicity shot of Rebbetzin Jungreis, microphone in hand, taken at Madison Square Garden, to the Israeli Army Entertainment Corps, and they mistakenly thought that she was a singer. Some weeks later, she received a call from Army headquarters in Tel Aviv asking how many performances she was prepared to do. She was so moved by the fact that they had invited her to speak – or so she thought – that she had difficulty finding words, and in a voice choked with tears, she accepted.
Well, it took some clearing up before the Army agreed to do a half hour of music before she gave a speech to the troops. With great siyata diShmaya, she found a band from Miami willing to play for free for a half-hour, and although she didn’t know how they played, she trusted that all would be well. In fact, it went even better than expected and the band was great.
She became an overnight success in Israel. Invitations began pouring in from army bases as well as from the municipalities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. Her plan had called for a ten-day tour, but the pressure was on to extend her visit. There was just one problem: The musicians from Miami had to return to the States, and there was no one to replace them.
“Don’t worry,” her husband Rabbi Meshulam Jungreis zt”l told her. “Hashem will send you someone!” And He did!
That Friday evening, as she sat in the dining room of her hotel in Jerusalem, the maître d’ came over to inform her that there were some yeshivah boys in the lobby who wanted to speak to her. “Rebbetzin,” one of the older boys said. “We are yeshivah students and we have our own band. We came to welcome you to Jerusalem and to offer our services.”
“That’s wonderful,” she said. “How did you know I needed a band?” “Well, actually, we didn’t know. We just wanted to participate and help.” He looked at the Rebbetzin and continued, “But there is another reason, as well. A few years ago, I lived in New York. I was totally assimilated. I had no understanding of Judaism. My life was music, and I was on my way to Paris to continue my musical studies. I was walking on Kings Highway in Brooklyn when suddenly I heard a crash and the screech of brakes. I looked up, and there in the street, covered with blood, was a rabbi who had been run over by a car. I rushed to his side and tried to talk to him, but he didn’t respond, so I stayed with him and held his hand until the police and an ambulance arrived.
“As he was lifted onto a stretcher, I noticed that his lips were moving. It seemed like he wanted to tell me something. I leaned down and bent my ear close to his lips to hear him. Rebbetzin, you’ll never believe what the rabbi said to me.”
For a moment, the young man paused. Then he swallowed hard and continued his story. “‘Are you Jewish?’ the rabbi asked me in broken English. ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘I am Jewish.’ The rabbi whispered again, although it was obvious that it was very painful and difficult for him to talk. He mustered all his strength and said, ‘You must go to Jerusalem and study Torah!’”
“Can you imagine? Here was a rabbi, suffering from multiple fractures, his body bloody and bruised, and in his pain what does he say? He tells me to go to Jerusalem and study Torah! That experience changed my life. I realized I had met a saint, a man who was so committed to his faith that he was able to overcome his suffering to reach out to me. So now you know why I’m here. That rabbi was your father, Rav Avraham Jungreis zt”l! The rabbi saved my life, and I want to give back.”
Rebbetzin Jungreis was stunned. She knew the story of her father’s car accident. When he recovered from that accident, he told her of the incident and asked her to try to find the young man and thank him for his kindness in staying with him until the ambulance came. She had never located him – until now, years later, in Jerusalem – this assimilated boy, turned yeshivah student, came to thank her and offer his services in gratitude, and she was able to thank him in the name of her father.