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 ztl!
Carl B. Maltzman, copyright 2015