One of the greatest lights of the Jewish people in our age has been extinguished. With the passing of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis yesterday, our world has become dimmer.

Several years ago I was asked to be the emcee at a charity event for women. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis had agreed to be the main speaker--at no charge to the organization. Her name was a huge draw, and they expected hundreds of women to attend the event, to be held at a major Jerusalem hotel.

I had never met Rebbetzin Jungreis. The day before the event, she allowed me to interview her for Aish.com at Jerusalem’s Hineni headquarters. I had written a bestselling book about a great woman, so I knew how to gauge real greatness. When you’re in the presence of a truly great person, she gives you her full attention as if you’re the only person in the world for her at that moment. Sitting across from Rebbetzin Jungreis during the interview, the metaphorical “needle of my greatness meter” was jumping so far to the right that I felt like we were the only two people on the planet.

The tzedaka organization holding the event had no professional staff. It was run by two women volunteers who had founded this organization and were eager to see it grow. They were idealistic and enthusiastic, but they had had no experience organizing such a large event. 

They planned a program and apprised me of what they expected me to do as the emcee. I was to speak for fifteen minutes, explaining what the organization does. Then there would be a ten-minute video with testimonials of people who had been helped by the organization. Then they wanted me to launch a new project. I was to explain the need for this project and then designated women would circulate through the tables getting volunteers to sign up to work on it. Then I was to give a five-minute introduction of Rebbetzin Jungreis.

The chance to hear Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis drew many more women than expected. They ran out of seats. They ran out of refreshments. With all the chaos, the event started late. 

When I was finally given the signal to start, I walked up to the podium on the stage. I gave my 15-minute speech about the organization. The video, after a couple false starts, played. Then I introduced the new project. While the volunteers were circulating through the tables trying to get women to sign up, the crowd started to get restless. They had come only to hear Rebbetzin Jungreis. With no food to eat and the program stretching on endlessly, some people started to shout, “We want to hear Rebbetzin Jungreis! We want Rebbetzin Jungreis!”

I stood helplessly at the podium. They didn’t boo me and they didn’t throw rotten tomatoes, but I felt like they did. I looked at the organization heads, but they were determined to wait until the process of signing up volunteers for the new project was completed. The jeering and catcalls got louder. When they finally gave me the nod, I announced that Rebbetzin Jungreis needs no introduction, and I fled, humiliated, from the stage. 

As I walked to my seat, Rebbetzin Jungreis, on her way to the stage, detoured and approached me. She clasped my hands in both of her hands, looked me in the eye, smiled at me, and started telling me, in her melodious, Hungarian-accented voice, what a good job I had done. As if there weren’t a thousand restless women waiting for her, as if there was no one in the hall except her and me, she went on encouraging me and praising me. I felt like a popped balloon suddenly re-inflated and rising into the air.

My greatness meter simply exploded. 

Sara Yoheved Rigler, upon the release of her new book, is planning a U.S. speaking tour in December. If you are interested in bringing her to your community, write to starter747@gmail.com.