Esther Jungreis Remembered for Outreach Work

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Esther Jungreis, seen in a photo from 2016, founded the organization Hineni to bring young Jews closer to Orthodox Judaism. (Hineni.org)

Esther Jungreis, an icon of the Orthodox Jewish community in the United States and Israel, died Tuesday in New York at the age of 80. The author of four books on the subject of spirituality, Rebbetzin Jungreis, as she was known, was the founder of Hineni, a New York-based Jewish outreach organization.

“I met her several times and years ago had her speak to a group of 100 women I had brought to Israel. It changed their lives,” said Lori Palatnik, the founding director of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, based in Rockville. “She was a Torah giant and a link to generations of giants. Her constant aura was a love for every Jew, no matter what level of observance. She was the pioneer in Orthodox women’s leadership, and was my ultimate role model, and the role model of many rebbetzins [rabbi’s wives] around the world who looked up to her in every way.”


Jungreis was born in Szeged, Hungary, in 1936 where her father was chief rabbi. A child survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, she and her family resettled in 1947 in Brooklyn, where she married her distant cousin, Rabbi Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis. She and her husband, who died in 1996, founded the North Woodmere Jewish Center/Congregation Ohr Torah on Long Island in 1964.

In 1973, she founded Hineni to bring young Jews closer to Orthodox Judaism by offering Torah classes, singles events, and Shabbat and holiday services. She gave a speech that November in which she spoke about the biblical Abraham’s response to God’s call to service: “Hineni” or “Here I am.”

“She was a remarkable Torah scholar and a descendant of an illustrious line of Jewish leaders,” said Rabbi Avidan Milevsky of Kesher Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in Georgetown. “She was a dynamic lecturer and author. Her main legacy is her ability to appeal to a diverse and broad audience. She was particularly influential in her tremendous outreach work. Personally, it was her focus on faith in difficult times that had the greatest impact on me.”

Jungreis was part of a delegation of American Jewish leaders who accompanied President George W. Bush to Israel in 2008 in honor of the Jewish state’s 60th birthday. Other members included Elie Wiesel, Ronald Lauder, Henry Kissinger and Sheldon Adelson.

“She took a ground-breaking public role in order to inspire thousands to connect to their precious and priceless Jewish heritage, but never compromised her values,” Palatnik said.

Jfeldschreiber@midatlanticmedia.com

JTA News and Features contributed to this article.

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