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Remembering Irene

Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press continues to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.

 

Remembering Irene

This week’s column is dedicated to the memory of Irene Klass, whose yahrzeit is almost upon us. 

I was on a speaking engagement in Brazil in late November 2010 when the sad news of her petirah reached me. 

With Irene’s passing, an era – a way of thinking, of values, of goals, of idealism – disappeared. Irene had a sense of mission and never allowed politics or petty jealousies to influence her.

Irene was a visionary, a woman who loved Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael with a passion. She was prepared to climb every mountain to overcome every obstacle for what she knew was our G-d-given heritage and she clung to this goal tenaciously and uncompromisingly, both in her private life and in her role as publisher of The Jewish Press.

I first met Irene many years ago. My husband, HaRav Meshulem Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, and I were spending the summer at the Pioneer Hotel in the Catskills. We shared a table in the dining room with Jewish Press founding publisher Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, and his Rebbetzin, Irene. 

Irene suggested I write a column for The Jewish Press. The discussion then focused on what kind of column it would be. My husband said I should offer practical advice and guidance.

The next question was what the column should be called. Without hesitation, I replied,  “I would call it ‘Rebbetzin’s Viewpoint.’ ” 

To many people back then, the title “rebbetzin” meant you had no identity of your own; it connoted that you were who you were only by virtue of your husband’s profession.

“I would like to make the title ‘rebbetzin’ popular and respected,” I said. 

Thus began my relationship with Irene, and with every passing day it grew stronger.

Some years later, I had a vision to start Hineni, a ba’al teshuvah movement. Orthodoxy at the time was widely ridiculed and looked upon as atavistic. I knew I would have to do something extraordinary to reach out to our Jewish community, something that would electrify our people and awaken the “pintele Yid” in them. 

In those days, Israel Bonds held gala events at Madison Square Garden. I often mused about how amazing it would be if we could fill the Garden to disseminate the message of Torah. 

I often shared my hopes with Irene and she always encouraged me. When I mentioned the notion of holding an event at Madison Square Garden, she said: “What a wonderful idea. Go for it. The Jewish Press will be there to back you and to help you spread the news.”

To be sure, there were many hurdles to overcome. I did not as yet have a viable organization. I had no funds. I was a young rebbetzin with very small children. But my holy father and my esteemed, beloved husband kept telling me, “Uverachticha b’chol asher ta’aseh” – “You need only do it, and the blessing will come from G-d.”

And so it was that, Baruch Hashem, we filled Madison Square Garden. The night of the event Irene not only sent a reporter to cover the story, she herself came and insisted on writing an article of her own. 

With the help of G-d, that night at the Garden was more than we could ever have anticipated. Thousands were inspired to come back, to explore their roots, to embark on a voyage of Jewish self-discovery, as the arena resounded with cries of “Shema Yisrael.”

There is so much more I could write about Irene and about Rabbi Sholom, who was niftar in January 2000. Over the years I have heard from an uncountable number of Jews that The Jewish Press was their first connection to their faith; that it was through The Jewish Press that they discovered Torah. 

Rabbi Sholom and Rebbetzin Irene made a tremendous difference in our Jewish world. They will always remain in our hearts, never to be forgotten. And of course their remarkable legacy lives on in the pages of The Jewish Press.

On the occasion of Irene’s yahrzeit, may her neshamah have an aliyah and find its repose among the righteous of Israel.