Being strong in the face of adversity

Esther Jungreis, called the Jewish Billy Graham, inspired Jews locally and globally


Esther Jungreis, who died on Aug. 23 at 80, was a worldwide figure in Judaism, known as the “Jewish Billy Graham,” but for one fellow North Woodmere native, the rebbetzin (a rabbi’s wife), was the one person who connected with a teenage boy after he lost his father.    

“We moved into North Woodmere from Brooklyn in 1963, I was a kid, 14, and our family was looking for a shul,” said Avi Dobuler, a 1967 Lawrence High School graduate who has lived in Israel for 30 years. “Rabbi [HoRav Meshulem Halevi] Jungreis’s synagogue was Orthodox, we were Conservative, but after meetings with the rabbi and rebbetzin there was a lot of love and it was a good match.”

Dobuler remembered that services were held in the basement of the Jungreis’s high-ranch-style home, and his entire family were close with the rabbi and his wife. Congregation Ohr Torah in North Woodmere is now on Hungry Harbor Road.

Less than a year later, Doublers’ father, William, died in an accident at home where he was electrocuted. The Rebbetzin Jungreis reached out to the youthful Dobuler in a fashion that helped him through the tragedy and put him on a path toward becoming a more observant Jew, he said. 

“She was the person I found to be the most warm, the most loving that gave me the greatest level of comfort, she knew exactly what to say and how to say it,” said Dobuler, who is the chief combat shooting and counter-terrorism instructor at the Magnum Academy in Jerusalem and a licensed tour guide. “She offered a really wonderful view of life. For me she was the right dish at the right time.”

Jungreis, a Lawrence resident for the past two decades, reached people on a global scale through her Hineni Foundation. Her message focused on Jews seeking out their roots and maintaining their faith. 

Her family, originally from Szeged, Hungary, where she was born in 1936, was steeped in the Jewish religion. Jungreis’s father, HoRav Avrohm HaLevi Jungreis, was the chief rabbi. The family was deported with other Jews during the Nazi regime. They survived several concentration camps and landed in Switzerland and settled in Brooklyn in 1947. She married a distant cousin, Rabbi HoRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis. The couple moved to North Woodmere. He died in 1996.

“My husband and I were pioneers,” Jungreis wrote about her years in the Five Towns in 2014. “When we came to North Woodmere it was a community of Jews but not a Jewish community. We faced an uphill climb demanding much sacrifice, struggle and pain. The sacrifice was not only ours but our small children’s as well. We charged them with the same responsibility: ‘Go out there, make friends and bring them home for Shabbos.’”

Jungreis wrote several best-selling books including “The Jewish Soul On Fire,” “The Committed Life” and “The Committed Marriage,” all of which have been translated in many languages and distributed globally. Her 2006 book – “Life Is A Test” was widely acclaimed as one of the 10 best Jewish inspiration books of all time.

“[To America], she brought Hungary with her illustrious past which was steeped in Torah and keeping of the mesorah (Jewish religious tradition) with her,” said Rabbi Yaakov Reisman, spiritual leader of Agudath Israel of Long Island in Far Rockaway, during Jungreis’s funeral service on Aug. 24. “She had a dream, that not only would she survive bur others would too.”

Her message of survival not only touched millions but one person who needed it the most. “She never stopped doing, reaching out for the community and saying a person should always grow,” Dobuler said. “People like that you don’t forget.”