Last week I wrote about the heroic life of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis a”h.
We were in Israel when we heard the news of her petira. We knew that we had to fly back to America, but the levaya was the next morning. We tried to book the midnight flight, but it was full, so we wound up taking the first flight the next morning.
There are several approaches to Kennedy Airport. Wind conditions determine which one is used. Our particular flight came in over the community of Elmont, which happens to be where the Jungreis Family cemetery plot is located. I looked out the window, trying to find the cemetery. But I couldn’t find it.
At that moment, one of the Rebbetzin’s grandsons looked up and saw an El Al plane directly overhead. He said, “I bet the Neubergers are on that plane.” Indeed we were! The kvura was just finishing. And we were there! If one could see with eyes of ruchnius, one would understand that every event in the universe is orchestrated from Above.
Rabbi Jacob Jungreis, Rebbetzin Esther’s older brother, has a minhag. If he sees an El Al plane flying into Kennedy Airport, he pulls off the highway and recites “Shema Yisroel.” He explains: “When I was in Bergen-Belsen as a young boy, if anyone had ever told me that there would ever be such a thing in my lifetime as a Jewish airplane flying to and from Eretz Yisroel, I would have thought the person was absolutely crazy! But I have lived to see that day!
“Why do I say ‘Shema?’ When Yaakov Avinu saw his son Yosef after twenty two years, he said the ‘Shema.’ I learned from this that, when Hashem brings about a great redemption and a person experiences the ‘impossible,’ one should say ‘Shema.’”
Much is above us, physically and spiritually. There is an opinion that the Third Bais Hamikdosh is already built in Shomayim and is waiting to descend to Har Habayis. Rashi and Tosafos (Sukkah 41a and Rosh Hashanah 30a) cite the possuk, “You will bring them and implant them on the mount of Your heritage … that You, Hashem, have made … the Sanctuary, my Lord, that Your hands established.” (Shemos 15:17)
I want to tell you about another heroic life, which ended on precisely the same day as Rebbetzin Jungreis’ earthly existence. This was a dear friend of mine named Reb Shlomo (Stephen) Hill.
Shlomo Hill was a famous actor who starred in many successful films and television series. But his brilliant career was not brilliant enough for this great person. He desired to see the “Ohr chadash … May You shine a new light on Tzion and may we all speedily merit its light.” (Shacharis)
Shlomo Hill gave up his entire Hollywood career, his fame and all that came with it, because he saw that the glitter surrounding him was not the truth, and he wanted a life of meaning. He moved to Monsey and transformed his life. He was a quiet man with rock-solid principles. He hated sham.
Shlomo Hill had a dear friend and mentor in his home town of Seattle, Washington. His friend’s name was Joe Russak. Joe was another hero of Torah, a successful businessman who actually became a teacher of Torah and a legendary supporter of Torah causes. Over thirty-five years ago, I spent Shabbos in Seattle at the home of Joe Russak and his aishes chayil. To this day I remember the aroma of Shabbos cooking – tongue with raisin sauce! – that greeted me as I walked into their home Thursday night. Joe treated me like a king, although I was a young man and a novice at Yiddishkeit whom he had never met before.
My wife and I became close friends of the Russaks. Years later, when my first book was published, Joe called his friend Shlomo Hill. “Shlomo,” he said, “you must read From Central Park to Sinai.”
“I have no time for such things,” replied Reb Shlomo.
“I am sending you one chapter,” said Joe Russak.
Well, Shlomo Hill loved that book, and we became close friends. He wrote a “blurb” for the back cover which read, “A Jewish soul opens its floodgates and out comes … a glimpse into the secrets of eternity….” I repeat this not for public relations – this book came out sixteen years ago – but to give insight into the wonderful person who wrote those words, a person whose entire life was dedicated to discovering “the secrets of eternity.”
Reb Shomo Hill gave up the dream that has lured so many of our brethren away from the life of our ancestors. He never looked back, only forward to deeper and higher immersion in the Holy Torah. He was a lovable, humble and sweet Yid of monumental integrity, who saw and followed the Truth.
During this month of teshuva, it behooves us to know that the Power in this world is not from below, but from Above. There is a Hand which guides everything, and it is to the Ribono shel Olam that we must direct all our tefillos, our service and our hope. We learn this from such great people as Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis and Reb Shlomo Hill.
This week’s Haftara tells us, “Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of stupefaction, the phial of the cup of My fury. No longer shall you drink from it again….” (Yeshiah 51:22) Rebbetzin Jungreis came to a friend in a dream the Friday night before she passed from this world and told him that Moshiach is “coming soon, very soon!”