From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda)Blank, MS BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
August 6, 2020
There was a store in Lower Manhattan that was selling handbags without any designer name tags on them. When a person would ask for a certain designer handbag, the salesperson would attach that name brand on the bag. The unassuming customer who would purchase one of those bags would be happy to have purchased such a handbag at such a lower cost than having purchased it in a department store. I recently saw an advertisement of a legitimate eye glass store selling designer frames. I wondered why it is so important to advertise those frames. Why not advertise having a beautiful assortment of frames to choose from. I guess the name brands represent different styles, specific of that name brand and easier to choose from. Did anyone ever notice even in Jewish newspapers and magazines mens suits and apparel featured by handsome looking men. At a discussion group, I once had, I posed a question why so much emphasis is placed on how we look or how we wished to be perceived as. This was a group of men and women of diverse backgrounds. Aside from wanting to look good or look better, some of the responses were wanting to look like some else, wanting to wear what other’s have, wanting to wear what the present style is or how they want others to perceive them. I am not disputing the meaning, the value of the above, but to focus on why are we concerned what others think or say about us? Are we interested in being someone we really are not? Can we sincerely be willing not to be concerned about what others think or say. Unfortunately, the state of affairs, of how old someone might be, the style of clothing (not how clean or neat they might be) and other factors can have an impact on how other’s might perceive that person. The same can held with judging a persons level of observance on what he is wearing. When my wife and I were staying over in the same room as my wife’s mother A”H when she was a patient at Sharei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem, at the minyan in their Beit Hakeneset it was so beautiful to see the men with kippah sruga, velvet yarmulka, black hats, striemels, white shirts, colored shirts, begishes, frocks, suits, slacks,(all neatly dressed for Shabbat) and patients from diverse backgrounds. All were davening with much kavaneh to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. You also can find similar synagogues in many places in the USA. In fact, the Bialystoker Nursing and Rehabilitation where I was the Director of Pastoral Care and Rabbi of the facility and shul, our minyan included both residents of the facility and congregants from the community caring about their prayers rather than their style of clothing. The same could be found in the shul where I was rabbi of prior to the nursing facility and there too, though everyone always looked their best on Shabbos, but there was no dress code. Everyone was welcome and that is how I find it in the shul I presently daven. When I was learning in the Bais Medrash at MTJ Yeshiva during the days of HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein ztkl, the Mashgiah Ruchni was HaGaon HaRav Michael Barenbaum ztkl who I mentioned in a previous article. Someone came to the Bais Medrash with his bicycle wearing colored shirts and slacks. The Mashgiach welcomed this person and told him to bring his bicycle into the lobby not knowing who he was. This person had just arrived on his bike from New York University where he was a professor of mathematics at NYU. He was also a tremendous talmid chacham and anav who came to MTJ Yeshiva to learn. His name Rav Eliezer Ehrenpreis ztl. (Remember “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”). He did not perceive himself other than the person he was. He was a Gadol in his own right. One of his sons Raphael a true ben Torah is very close to HaGaon HaRav Dovid Feinstein shlita and the Rebbitzen Malka Feinstein sol zein gzundt.
Through the years, several my professional positions were in the “secular world” working with others not of the Jewish faith or other Jewish backgrounds. Even in the world of chaplaincy those who I cared for and other chaplains, I worked with were of diverse backgrounds both in their religion, culture etc. It is interesting to note that I was sometimes asked if I was of different Jewish backgrounds other than Orthodox, as I am able to work together, have a meaningful relationship with all Jewish people, being caring, sincere, inclusive was being special. But I was not being special, just being myself. When I was taking my Clinical Pastoral Education units with Health Care Chaplaincy, I chose not the Jewish tract, but the all the denominational tract where the students came from different backgrounds. Many of the patients I worked with in the hospital I was assigned to were not Jewish. In the hospital where I did my rounds with patients and staff I was assigned to the family practice, psychiatry, emergency room care, cancer, trauma , pediatrics, orthopedics, hospice to name some of the various disciplines of the hospital I was assigned to as part of my CPE for three years. My supervisors were Jewish and a Lutheran and both very respectful of my own background. One of the comments I received on my evaluations (and I will paraphrase) was one who could care for and work with patients and staff, clinical and otherwise from all backgrounds and yet retain his own borders as an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. There are many stories, I could share of my experiences, but at another time. I am mispallel that I made a Kiddush H.
How it is possible to relate to and acknowledge chaplains of different Jewish backgrounds in the work they do. Many Jewish chaplains belong to the National Association of Jewish Chaplains. Membership absolutely does not require being ordained in this organization, just being a chaplain. I was on a recent conference call with a group of Jewish chaplains who are in different parts of the USA. One of the things they were discussing is how they were bringing Jewish cultural aspects of some of the Jewish holiday’s through creative and meaningful programing helping many to remember their Jewish roots. This is especially challenging using Zoom and other ways to connect with those patients during this COVID-19 virus. What I heard was how important it was to those chaplains for those Jewish individuals to know of their Jewish roots and to remember the various Jewish holidays. There is a Jewish chaplain for example in the Albany NY area who has done a magnificent job ensuring in all the facilities she has been assigned, to advocate and ensure those who are Jewish to be given the care they need and when she has had those who are Orthodox, to ensure their needs are being met. I had an experience where I was contacted by a Jewish chaplain about a patient whose first wife was Jewish died in the Holocaust. His second wife, was also a survivor, but died in America and his third wife was not of the Jewish faith. This wife who knew her husband was a Holocaust survivor was sensitive to wanting to do what she felt the right thing to do – for him to be buried in a Jewish cemetery and have a Jewish funeral whatever that would mean. I received a phone call from the Jewish chaplain at the facility he was in requesting my assistance to ensure whatever needs to be done for him to be buried in a Jewish cemetery and have Jewish burial arrangements. I did speak to this wife and we had a meaningful discussion. I then spoke to the head chaplain at his facility who was a Roman Catholic priest. Both he and the Jewish chaplain reassured the wife and family that everything will be done with respect and appropriate. I then contacted Rabbi Elchonon Zohn National Director of the National Association of Chevre Kadisha and we all collaborated. In the end, the funeral was held in a nonsectarian funeral home, he had all the appropriate preburial care done according to Rabbi Zohn’s guidance and a local orthodox rabbi officiated and he was buried in a Jewish cemetery. The family and all the chaplains were pleased with the outcome and the wonderful care and guidance Rabbi Zohn gave. It all began with the call I received from another Jewish chaplain. Having meaningful and good relations with other chaplains is essential. It is important for an Orthodox Jewish professional chaplain to have good hashkafah, education, knowledge and most know how he/ she perceives himself or herself caring for others. For those of our readership who might have missed a feature article I wrote during the midst of the pandemic about chaplaincy, amongst the featured chaplains was a chaplain at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. She is not rabbi, but a par excellent orthodox Jewish chaplain. She is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chaplains Roundtable. If you would like a copy of that article, please let me know.
My Ashis Chayil, Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohein was an amazing person. Without any gaiva, any fanfare, she reached into the hearts of so many as, I have been writing about since before her petira. She did not perceive herself as anyone extraordinary. She was a humble and unassuming woman who sought opportunities to do chesed, to bring care and good feelings to so many. She found ways of bringing self- confidence, self esteem, and pride in every of our children and grandchildren, each other, and others as well. I am still encountering men and women from diverse backgrounds offering me their condolences, telling me how sorry they are having heard of the death of my wife. Feeling bad for me for my loss. What lifts my spirits is when those same people share with me what a wonderful person she was and how she was such a wonderful person. Yet, that also brings me to tears-missing such a dear and caring wife who was admired, respected, and appreciated by so many. Almost everyone would tell me about her sincere and glowing smile she had and her pleasant demeanor. She was my number one fan, as she was for all our children and grandchildren. Listening and glowing to any of our accomplishments. Should anyone feel down about something, she was the picker upper. She was like that to all her extended family- her dear friends and anyone who could benefit from her advice, her concerns, her joy and meaning of life. That is how she was until her last days of her life. I remember in her last weeks of life when there were significant changes in how she was feeling. One of the caring medical staff from Sloan said to me and her, that’s not you, I’m hearing your discomfort and what you are telling me how unhappy you are. Rather than having her next treatment or changing dosages with her medications we were asked to come in for some important tests. That however would take place after having a transfusion to give her extra strength. She was still not feeling well even after the transfusion. The doctor said it was time for those tests which eventually showed her cancer had spread. This was not the Keila who was always so cheerful. I cannot forget the kind words from the staff telling us we were like their family- they had tears and sadness having to tell us the news about the spreading of the cancer. They were so saddened when they spoke to me after she had died. She was not concerned how people perceived her. She was all natural as could be. No façade, no falseness, just a pure, loving human being. She loved life, she loved her family, she loved her husband, but most of all, she loved the Holy One – the Ribono Shel Olom. May we be zoche the geula shelaima, Moshiach tzedkainu bemhaira veyamainu and techias hamaisim. Amain.
In my last article, I included the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation Asher Yatzar chart my wife would recite from except this one had my dedication on it for my wife A”H. However, not everyone was able to download it. Therefore, it was included as a link in this week’s newsletter.
Please download it and aside from yourselves, share it with others .
Thank you. Sincerely, Yehuda Blank
Please note the attached flyers and article regarding the importance of filing out the US Census.