From the Desk of Rabbi Leonard ( Yehuda ) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America /Igud HaRabbonim
The Talmud relates in one of this week’s daf yomi how Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai was careful to promote peace with all people. No one ever greeted him first. Rather, he made sure to offer the first greeting . The Talmud mentions that one should increase peace with every man. When, I think of how chaplains relate with a patient in a hospital setting for instance, greeting the patient, being in the present with him/her, sharing and receiving. Or the congregational rabbi whose challenges dealing with difficult and personal situations that calls for tremendous finesse, understanding, fortitude and often TLC, tender loving care. Or those who are in professions caring for others. No matter what the persons background, religious beliefs, culture or life style, we can make the difference in how we offer our care for our fellow human being and at the same time making a Kiddush H. For those we offer our kindness and expertise to, we often can make the difference in a persons life and in the realm of Yiddishkeit, with the right approaches can save Yiddisha neshamos.
I would like to share a story about the “dancing and singing rabbi ” who is a chaplain. He was entering a hospital room to visit a patient . That patient was next to the window in bed B, but as he entered the room there was another patient in bed A . Sitting around patient bed A was his family who asked if this chaplain would say a prayer for the patient who was at end of life and spend some time with them. The chaplain asked if perhaps they would prefer a chaplain of their faith. They responded that when he entered and greeted them with a caring smile and kind words, was enough to make them feel comfortable and felt his visit would be meaningful. They shared their grief, their tears and what ever hope there was in the last days of their loved one’s life. The chaplain brought them comfort and meaning with his visit. He recited a verse from Psalm’s and a spontaneous prayer of inspiration. He listened to their concerns and challenges of dealing with their loved one and their own feelings. The patient who was Irish Catholic, had a background in law enforcement amongst other positions he held during his lifetime. He was the strong one in the family and now they had to be strong for him and for each other. They shared their culture and Irish background. They shared the songs they would sing and even a shortened version of an Irish dance. The chaplain joined in humming the song and a little dance step. The family held hands with each other while the chaplain was standing next to the patient. The patient opened his eyes and smiled. They shared their appreciation for this chaplain’s care, kindness, sensitivity, prayer and comfort. Also, for his patience, listening to their concerns and being able to share their thoughts, their fears and their hopes. Most of all for his Jewish Irish version of the song and dance which brought smiles on their faces.
Sometime later on , the chaplain received a letter from the patient’s social worker for the “dancing and singing rabbi” who conveyed how much the visit meant to the family and the patient. They were having a very difficult time dealing with their situation and felt this chaplain was able to help them in their time of need- even making the patient feel good and was able to bring a smile to his face. They appreciated that this chaplain , a rabbi could bring so much meaning to them and helped give them the strength to persevere. This story is just one of many interactions and meaningful visits hospital chaplains have throughout the year. Each visit can be quite different- never knowing what comes next. The most important thing is to be sincere. One never knows the impact our greetings can have on others.