A dynamic orator, Esther Jungreis played a significant role in the back-to-Judaism movement in the United States during the 1970s and remains an active speaker on the international Jewish circuit. Born in Szeged, Hungary, Esther was the only daughter of Rabbi Avraham and Miriam Jungreisz. Her two brothers, Jacob and Binyamin, both became rabbis. She married Rabbi Theodore Jungreis (d. 1996) and they had four children: Chaya Sara (b. 1958), Yisrael (b. 1960), Slava Chana (b. 1964), and Osher Anshil (b. 1967).
A Holocaust survivor and an Orthodox rebbetzin, in 1973 Jungreis established Hineni (Hebrew for “Here I Am”), an organization that sought to discourage intermarriage and Jewish participation in cults. In its heyday, Hineni had considerable success on college campuses, and Jungreis spoke to large audiences across the country, including a full house at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum in 1973. Her lectures invoked stirring images of traditional Jewish life and the Holocaust, and culminated in dramatic pleas to assimilated Jews to explore their heritage.
Jungreis continues to be active in outreach efforts through her website, newspaper column and cable television programs in the United States and Israel, her weekly class at the Hineni Heritage Center in New York City (established in 1982), and her lectures throughout the United States and in other countries. She has attracted a strong following among Ba’alei Teshuvah (Jews from non-Orthodox backgrounds who have adopted Orthodox Judaism). Known for her matchmaking prowess, Jungreis has over the years attracted increasing interest from Jewish singles, especially in the wake of her book The Committed Marriage: A Guide to Finding a Soul Mate and Building a Relationship through Timeless Biblical Wisdom (2003).
In 1998, Jungreis’s Hineni organization opened a soup kitchen and youth center in Jerusalem that provides social and support services for young people with drug and alcohol problems, and hosts an annual Passover Seder for the city’s homeless.
Still a prominent figure in the American Jewish community and beyond, Jungreis returned to center stage at Madison Square Garden three decades after her first appearance there, when she delivered the benediction at the 2004 Republican Party convention.
“An American Question and Vision,” by Esther Jungreis [text of benediction delivered at the Republican National Convention, August 31, 2004]. Jewish World Review, September 2, 2004. The Committed Marriage: A Guide to Finding a Soul Mate and Building a Relationship through Timeless Biblical Wisdom (2003); The Committed Life (1998; transl. to Spanish 2004); The Jewish Soul on Fire (1990).
“Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, Still Matchmaking after all these Years,” by Lisa Keys. Forward, May 16, 2003; “‘The Jewish Soul on Fire.’” Time, June 15, 1981; “Reaching the Heart.” The Jewish Homemaker, April 1995; “The Revivalist Rebbetzin.” Jerusalem Post, July 12, 1974; “Spirit.” People, May 23, 1977; http://www.hineni.org.