From the desk of Rabbi Leonard( Yehuda)Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
July 8, 2020

I am continuing to dedicate my articles to my dear Ashis Chayil, Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohein A”H and continue to bring different aspects of her life.
However, I would like to also dedicate this article to Rav Yisrael Tzvi ben Rav Nosson Nota HaLevi zt’l. Rabbi Howard Kutner was a par excellent chaplain in addition to his years as a pulpit rabbi. One of his brothers mentioned to me how he was written up in major newspapers and interviewed on national media for his outstanding work with the Jewish elderly. He was a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chaplains Roundtable and the RCA .His dedication and devotion as director of Spiritual Living at Menorah Park Center for the Aging in Cleveland was outstanding. What the media took notice was his uplifting high-spirited work with the elderly, bringing many of them Jewish meaning of life and as we could also say simchas hachayim. I remember a number of years ago someone asked me isn’t kiruv for the younger population. The elderly have lived their lives. It isn’t as if they have years ahead to change or make an impact in their lives. I never felt that way in all the various work I did ( many together with my wife with her inspirations). I once discussed this with HaGoan HaRav Dovid Feinstein shlita who shared how important it is to give everyone, no matter what their age might be, the opportunities of doing mitzvos, having a relationship with their being Jewish and the Aibershta. Of course, on each person’s level, and abilities. It is up to each person working with the elderly to inspire with the same enthusiasm as with someone who is younger. There are so many golden opportunities for the golden years. It is important to be sincere, caring, compassionate, understanding, patient, and with lots of TLC. Just as an elderly person’s bones can be brittle, so could their feelings if you are not gentle with a soft and caring heart. The elderly deserve the same chances as anyone younger. Rabbi Kutner embodied the persona of such a caring chaplain with his innovative and caring programs, and engaging with and for the elderly. A professional chaplain just doesn’t give an oneg Shabbat, tell stories, sing songs, speak devrei Torah and so on. Yes, these and other activities are important, but there are other essential interactions with the elderly in many types of settings. Pastoral care /spiritual care needs a lot of skill, understanding, creativity and yes, the right education. Those in the medical and social work disciplines will share with you their specialty working with the elderly. The same holds true with chaplaincy. Rabbi Kutner died in his prime. After being diagnosed with his illness, he did not have many months to prepare for the future, but he left a legacy of how important chaplaincy is and the impact on the lives of others. The Rabbinical Alliance is proud to say that amongst the 950 rabbonim are also dedicated and devoted chaplains. I would hope as time goes on for other chaplains to also consider the merits of belonging to the RAA as well as their membership in other worthy organizations. Though the Coronavirus put a damper on programs we were planning, we are hoping to get back on track with some innovative and meaningful programs during the year.

For myself, it has been quite challenging after the death of my dear wife. This week would have been our 27th wedding anniversary. I have been told many times what wonderful memories I have to remember and enjoy. But, it is still difficult to bear being without such a precious person who encouraged me with anything good I did. I have taken over many of the responsibilities she did and know she would be proud of what I am doing.  I cannot get over how she managed those responsibilities, as well as all the other wonderful things she did. Am I humbling myself. No, I am acknowledging her many accomplishments and yes, I did share how grateful I was for all that she did.  I am grateful to the Ribono Shel Olam for the gift He gave me, our blended family and to all those she had a fabulous impact on their lives. I am comforted knowing she is in Gan Eiden, is still my inspiration, especially her tremendous emunah, her faith and her hope. When I think of her different hopes and the many discussions, we had about end of life concerns and thereafter. It reminds me of Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s  “ Seven Hopes To Hold On To When There Is Nothing To Hope For” (The Power of Hope. The One Essential of Life and Love. Rawson Associates Scribner Simon & Shuster Inc.) which he elaborates in greater depth in his book. Hope that you will be able to cope with suffering, Hope that something good will come from it. Hope for remission-if not a  cure. Hope for extension of time. Hope for the future welfare of the family. Hope to keep your dignity, Hope for life after life. Aside from any type of cure, or for remission , the fear of death, the difficulty in accepting what death is for the body. That there is no return, it is final and that is often hard to accept, for the person with the illness and for the loved ones. When she would initially say as her symptoms worsened what is happening to me, I can’t believe what is happening to me. What about the future. Our future. My future with our family. I had to hold back my tears, though often I was unable to do so . She would tell me it is ok ; everything will be all right. As time went on, she became more accepting of what was happening.  Her emunah did not lessen, but became stronger. We spoke about hawolom hazeh and hawolom habaw. We even discussed how we could keep in touch with each other. It is those beliefs of hawolom habaw, of techias hamaysim, the beliefs of the neshama the tefilos we have in our Shemone Esrei, mechayei hameisim, the observance of the yartzeit, the neshama should have an aliya, yizkor, the essence of the kaddish, the yartzeit candle, doing mitzvos and Torah learning lezair neshmas. Death is final for the body, but not the soul. It is often hard for us to comprehend and often to accept that a loved one will no longer be with us after death- that our loved one is no longer here physically, but spiritually lives on and becoming closer to the Kisay HaKavod. There is so much to be grateful for. Yet, there is a need for grief and bereavement. There is a need for tears. There is a need for morning. And there is a need for the belief and love in the Holy One. That there is a purpose and meaning for everything.

I am sharing with you a poem by Jamey Wysocki which was given to me by the wonderful bereavement

staff at MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care. “ I Am Learning How To Live”

I am learning how to live
In a new way
Since that day
You were taken away.

I am learning how to live
With the things left unsaid
Knowing I got to say them
With every tear that I shed.

I am learning how to live
By embracing the pain
Knowing that you live on
Through the memories that remain.

I am learning how to live
Knowing I will never again see your face
And I have peace knowing
You’re in a better place.

I am learning how to live
Knowing you’re in G’s care
It gives me the strength to move on
And makes the pain much easier to bear.

Before I conclude, I am including a beautiful quote my wife gave me and requested I include in my articles I wrote which I dedicated to her for a refuah shelaimah. She smiled when she said it to me and was so happy, I was going to include it in my article for everyone to read. I am sharing it with you again. “ When things look blue it helps to remember that tomorrow is another day and will be a brighter day” That is how she lived her life for as long as she could. There is an underlying message in that quote- to have emunah, hope and faith in the Ribono Shel Olom for the days ahead, as she sincerely believed in. She gave me that quote only a few weeks before she died. May we be zoche the coming of Moshiach, techias hamaisim and the geula shelaima bekawrov amin sela.