It was twenty years ago that we lost Harav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis ztl, our Rav, our leader, our guiding light, our friend.
At the dawn of World War II, Rabbi Jungreis was conscripted into forced labor in Hungary. He was famous among his fellow conscripts for his encouragement and divrei Torah. Then he was sent to Bergen Belsen. His entire family, except for one brother, perished at Aushwitz. But Rabbi Jungreis survived, weighing 90 pounds. He then came to America, where he received a doctorate from Yeshiva University. He then went on to write scholarly articles and books and lead several congregations. Among his outreach initiatives was giving divrei Torah on the Long Island railroad.
Yet this modest man would never self promote, would never sing his own praises, or even speak a little “puffery” about himself. When he was hospitalized and in his last days, fellow concentration camp survivors would visit and tell stories praising him for how he bolstered them, gave religious instruction and hope in the concentration camp. But Rabbi Jungreis would have none of it, and would insist they stop. This towering figure would not hear nor speak a word of praise about himself. When asked if he was in pain, he’d say he had none, aware that others had more. He suffered unimaginably in Bergen-Belsen, yet he would never complain or ask for anything to be given him.
When Holocaust survivors and ex-urbanites moved to North Woodmere, they found the existing synagogues did not fulfill their needs. Instead of trying to make those synagogues change to accommodate them, they, along with their new Rabbi, started their own shul in a store front, and then moved to a house. Finally, Rabbi Jungreis and his congregants built the magnificent edifice that became Congregation Ohr Torah-North Woodmere Jewish Center. All the families worked tirelessly: Newman, Jaffe, Shale, Natter, Glickerman, Ross, Schwartz, Robbins, Schneider, Moss, Conrad, Building Chairmen Sidney Levine and Seymour Morgenroth, to name just a few.
Rabbi Jungreis was a full time Rabbi of his Shul. If he wasn’t in his office, he was out visiting the sick, bringing challahs and food to members on Friday afternoon, or fulfilling his duties as a Nassau County Police Department Chaplain. For Rabbi Jungreis, being the Shul rabbi was not a “job,” with demands for a higher salary or resumes sent out in hopes of higher pay elsewhere. It was a calling. As past president Dr. Gerald H. Bandes wrote, “Some men are in the Rabbi business. Some men are Rabbis.”
Who didn’t delight in seeing Rabbi Jungreis every Purim wearing his Police uniform, earned by his nearly three decades of service, and position as Chief Chaplain? Who wasn’t proud that such a distinguished, accomplished man was the Rabbi of their shul?
Under his auspices, Ohr Torah was a beehive of activity, with Sisterhood and Men’s Club, lectures, an annual summer Torah festival, and family activities. Everybody was welcomed warmly, and felt included—it was truly the “Mishpacha Shul.”
When we lost Rabbi Jungreis, his levaya at Ohr Torah was an event no one in North Woodmere would forget. Thousands attended, including government officials testifying to the stature of our Rabbi. Police cars lined the street, and police helicopters flew overhead in the “Missing Man” formation to honor Rabbi Jungreis.
We can only beseech Hashem that someday we will merit another Rabbi of the stature of Harav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis zt"l!
Carl B. Maltzman, copyright 2015
January 4, 2022 8:57 pm
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
One of the fastest growing communities in the New York area is North Woodmere. Today, the 2nd of Shvat marks the 26th Yahrtzeit of Rav Meshulam Jungreis zt”l, a pioneer in the field of Kiruv rechokim and Kiruv and also the founder of the community known as North Woodmere. Along with his wife, Rebbitzen Esther Jungreiss, he also founded the North Woodmere Jewish Center/Congregation Ohr Torah on the South Shore of Long Island in 1964. It was one of the first frum shuls in the area, and brought thousands of people under the Kanfei HaShechinah. Many of the children of those whom he was mekarev have become remarkable talmidei chachomim and bnei Torah.
The Rav and Rebbitzen aleihem hashalom demonstrated remarkable ahavas Yisroel and ahavas habrios to all they came in contact with. They had boundless chessed as well, which is the secret to successful Kiruv. In last week’s parsha (Shmos 9:27) we read that Pharoah sent and summoned Moshe and Aharon and said to them, “I have sinned this time. Hashem is the righteous One, and I and my people are the guilty ones.” The Meforshim ask, why specifically did he admit error and see the truth on this Makkah and not the others? Rabbi Yehudah ben Rebbe Eliezer of Troyes, author of the Riva on the Torah and one of the last of the Baalei Tosfos, explains that he thought, Hashem of righteousness, who gave me kindness to warn me to send away my flocks and cattles and I and my wicked people did not pay attention to His good words.” We see that even Pharoah can be affected and uplifted with chessed and kindness. Certainly, a member of Klal Yisroel would be affected as well.
An older woman who still attends Ohr Torah in North Woodmere remarked to this author, “There was no Rabbi like him. He just loved everyone.”
Already in 1962, Rabbi Jungreiss held Purim seudos in a special car of the Long Island Rail Road heading to Manhattan. The Rebbitzen would hand out hamantashen and he read the megillah to be Motzi people.
Rav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis zt”l was born in the town of Gyongyos, where his father was the chief rabbi. The family has a shtar yichus that traces back to Dovid Hamelech. Before World War II, rabbis from the family headed 85 congregations across Hungary. He received smicha at the age of 18.
The Rabbi and Rebbetzin helped found the North Woodmere Jewish Center/Orthodox Congregation Ohr Torah. Together they raised four children.
Rav Jungreiss and his aishes Chayil were determined to combat the spiritual holocaust that was occurring here in the United States. They started the Hineni organization on November 18, 1973, in Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum. After her husband passed away in 1996, Rebbitzen Jungreis continued with outreach and education. The Rav was survived by four children — Yisroel Jungreis and Osher Jungreis, both rabbis, Chaya Sara Gertzulin and, noted author, Slava Chana Wolff.
He once wrote “A long life is not good enough, but a good life is long enough.” He should be a meilitz yosher for us all.
The author can be reached at email@example.com
The following was written by one of his daughters, Mrs. Gertzulin:
This year will be the twenty-sixth yahrzeit of my beloved father, HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil zt”l. I often wonder (more so as I am getting older), how he managed to always be happy, and have the biggest smile on his face. To never “lose it”, but always speak with the most gentle voice and kindest of words.
He came to this country after the war as an orphan, alone, without family. Yet, there was never sadness or despair. To Abba, every day was a good day. Every day was an opportunity to show appreciation for the gift of life.
My father never sat us children down to teach us hakoras hatov. His actions spoke volumes.
I remember him standing outside with me, waiting for the school bus. Even though we had door-to-door service, and I didn’t need to be walked to a bus stop, Abba was there, to say thank you to the bus driver.
My father would come visit the school, to personally thank the teachers. I remember going along with my father on errands. Everyone got the biggest hello and thank you.
From bank tellers, to store cashiers, to the man pumping gas into our car. They were all Abba’s best friends.
Recently, my Uncle Yanky shared a story with me about my father.
My parents were newly engaged, and my father, the chosson, was coming for a visit. My two uncles decided that they would cheer my father up. After all, their immediate family miraculously remained intact after the war, while my father was alone.
How ironic, Uncle Yanky told me – it was my father who cheered them up. He came with a smile, a good word, a funny story. He made them laugh.
During the shiva, a baby nurse who worked for many families in the community, came to share a personal story with us. She told us that following a bris, she would go to a private room to care for the baby, while the family would be greeting their guests. At times, it seemed like an afterthought when someone brought her a plate of food. Not so,
when the bris was in my father’s shul, Ohr Torah.
She shared with us that “Rabbi Jungreis would come to where I was sitting, bringing me a full plate of food and a cup of hot coffee. The rabbi would tell me ‘You are such a special lady — you have a holy job, you are taking care of a Jewish baby, a Jewish soul.’ It wasn’t just the plate of food. It was the kind, encouraging words, the good wishes, the smile of appreciation, the words of gratitude.”
Living a life of hakoras hatov means looking at the world around us, thanking HaShem for the blessing in our lives, and thanking everyone around us for the good they do.
A letter from the Nassau County Executive addressed to our Shul, mourning the loss of his friend Rabbi Jungreis.
The New York State Assembly Proclamation honoring Rabbi Jungreis.