From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
August 20, 2020 – Rosh Chodesh Elul 5780
Many at this time of the year might be saying, “I can’t believe the summer is about over”. We are entering a very holy period of days before the Yamim Noraim. A period of personal reflections, a period of wanting to become even closer to the Ribono Shel Olom. The Sefardic communities begin reciting Selichos, the shofar is blown after Shacharis. This year there will be many differences- some subtle, some communal such as shuls who still will have social distancing, policy of having to wear a mask, some shuls only the baal koreh says the brachos by the Torah, possible reduced tefilos to enable more minyanim, protocol for birkas Kohanim, how to blow for those who are home bound and so on. Will the outdoor minyanim continue? There are doctors who are instructing their patients to wear masks and restrict who they are in contact with. Many doctor, dentist and other medical facilities insist on temperature taking , checking oxygen levels, insist on patients completing a form about COVID-19 related questions the patient has to complete before being allowed to see the doctors, dentists or other specialist. We should say Boruch H, that in many communities there are no cases of COVID-19. We keep reading about new, rules and changes almost everyday. How long immunity or anti-bodies will last, the changes in what kind of mask is good, not so good, exceptionally good. Whatever a person will do, everyone should be gzundt and no loshon harah or sinas chinan. But lets again focus on the home bound or those who are either considered high risk, believe they are at some risk or those who are just cautious. Their concerns should not be dismissed including the yom tov of Sukkos and Simchas Torah. Many of these concerns were mentioned in some of my previous articles. Rabbonim of each kehila will determine what changes if any will be made.
For me personally, life has changed dramatically. Though, I have cared for other’s in similar circumstances, it is not the same for me . For one, there is the first time being without my wife for the yom tovim, where we davened, what we did, where we went, what we ate. My children and other close relatives are concerned where will I be for Rosh Hashana ,Yom Kippur and then Sukkos. Well they really know the answer and know that I like to and able to shop, cook, bake, and clean. Honestly, none of my meals come close to what my wife made. I want to remain in my own daled amos with tefilos that are close to my heart. Going to tashlich, enjoying Sukkos with family, Simchas Torah and so much more will be so different. Counseling, discussing, and listening to others through the years was so different than it is for me now. No one can feel and know the pain, the anguish, the loneliness of others. Even though, I genuinely believe my wife is in Gan Eiden. When I opened the closet doors this week and did not see her clothing and other items that were given to various gemachs, was another part of her being gone in the physical sense. As Dr. Blumenthal once mentioned to me, it is like saying 3,000 goodbyes to my wife. Emotionally, each one of those items had a memory attached to them. We cannot take for granted we know and feel what another person is feeling, what he/she is going through, his/her concerns, desires , wants, needs, for everyday living and for the forthcoming yom tovim are truly important to be aware of. Just because a person says I don’t need anything, want anything, not concerned about the forthcoming yom tovim might only be forth stalling and really does want or need something, maybe really does want companionship, would like just to hold someone hands, might just need to cry not alone but with someone he/she trusts and feels close to. Some of my grand children asked me “ Zaidy don’t you feel lonely without Bubby” Wouldn’t it be helpful to have company? My response to my family members, I am not lonely for companionship, I feel lonely without Bubby. In my next article , I am going to share with you how my wife with her tremendous sensitivity, sincerity, respect, care for others with gentleness, sweetness, love for the Aibershta, His Torah and mitzvos, developed a special bond with a Jewish woman who was so far from Judaism. This woman’s life changed upside down. She married a man with a strange animal on his head who appeared from out of no where. Stay posted for the next interesting story you might have thought not possible in my next article next week.
I want to share with you some parts, I have used in some of my presentations. The spiritual is the ultimate ground of all our questions, hopes, fears, and loves. In times of trouble and stress, people often derive comfort, joy, and peace from spiritual connections an interaction. Many express their spirituality through their religion, including prayer and attending synagogue services. Spiritual needs have often been defined and expressed through religious rituals, including prayer, observance of holy days, religious days, and other rites for celebrating religious traditions and beliefs. Religion and spirituality mean praying, healing, singing, reading, listening, faith and hope. These can bring a source of pride and meaning. The acceptance of a Higher Power to ask for help and assistance, The One I give thanks to for providing the things on Hawolam Hazeh, the many blessings that He has bestowed on me and the potential of reaching Hawolam Habah.
What about someone without any family. What about someone whose feelings of guilt, despair, or plain feeling down. What about those who are homebound, or someone who is elderly, perhaps with a walker, wheelchair, or other means of assistance and unable to climb the stairs to the synagogue. Or those who because of being high risk, any risk preventing from attending synagogue services who are missing out on joining and participating with others. How can we bring some of that spirituality, that kedusha into the home?
Did you ever pass by a person sitting on a wheelchair, or in front of their home or apartment building and you say hello or hi and how are you and then keep on going. Well, to that person asking how you are is an invitation to initiate a conversation and what a disappointment it is when you keep on walking away. Especially for someone who is lonely, spending lots of time alone. Now is the time for outreach to those who are homebound, have certain medical or physical needs, and those going through difficult emotional and spiritual times way before the yom tovim begin. There might be individuals who are embarrassed, might feel ashamed, might feel uncomfortable to ask a question, such as meals, where to have their Sukkos meal and that extra support only a rabbi, rebbitizen, chaplain can give. Speaking about emotional and other special needs support, I am proud to announce an enhanced collaboration with OHEL to be officially announced in the forthcoming days specifically to benefit our member rabbonim, their rebbitzens and our chaplains.
Here is a poem by Dawn Mazzola I often used in some of my workshops on caring, feeling and hey it’s me, please pay attention to me! Did you ever hear the expression I’m not just a piece of furniture you know “?
“I’m A Person Too”
Here I lie in bed again, Awaiting my next meal.
A worker barges in my room, As if it’s no big deal.
What ever happened to courtesy? Just a little knock,
Do you think I’m just a vegetable, Laying here like a rock?
What ever happened to manners? I haven’t got a clue.
BUT KEEP IN MIND AND DON’T FORGET, THAT I’M A PERSON TOO.
I know I can not walk, or even joke around.
But I am aware of everything, and also every sound.
If you have another worker help, change me during rounds.
Please do not talk about me, as if I am not around.
Treat me with respect, the same I would give you,
KEEP IN MIND AND DON’T FORGET, THAT I’M A PERSON TOO.
My bones are stiff and achy, I hear you say I am contracted.
My belly hurts, I have not pooped, I hope I am not impacted.
I am sorry I may drool, and at times I even stare.
It is not easy being old, aging is not fair.
These are the cards G dealt me. There is nothing I can do.
JUST KEEP IN MIND AND DON’T FORGET, THAT I’M A PERSON TOO,
I used to be a lively one, just like your pretty self.
I traveled, married, and worked long hours until I lost my health.
I press my light to see a face, Or just for company.
For someone just to look inside, and realize that I am ME.
You walked past my light, what am I to do?
PLEASE REMEMBER I’M A PERSON TOO.
I am sorry that I messed the bed, I feel like such a baby.
I am so embarrassed, and ashamed, that I am doing this at eighty.
I am sorry I couldn’t hold it, I didn’t know what to do.
KEEP IN MIND AND DON’T FORGET, THAT I’M A PERSON TOO.
I wish I were able to communicate some way.
So finally, I would get the chance, to say what I want to say.
I hear you talk with other patients, so please do not walk away.
If everyone showed a little compassion, I would not feel this way.
My name is Helen, and I am all alone.
Cancer took my husband, he had it in his bones.
We had one child, our precious son.
Until his life was taken by a gun.
So here, I am, no family left, as loneliness weighs heavy on my chest.
I may be sad; I may be blue.
PLEASE REMEMBER I’M A PERSON TOO.
Next time my light is on, come and see if I am OK.
I am a retired nurse of thirty years and would love to hear about your day.
Copyright 2006-2017 Available www.FamilyFriendPoems.com
There is much to discuss and to learn from Dawn Mazzola.
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. By Ralph Waldo Emerson
And in the end, it is not the years in your life that counts. It is the life in your years, by Abraham Lincoln.
One of the challenges many families face is after the shiva is over and family who gave all the moral support during that period must return to their own daily lives and those mourners are now left alone. Sometimes there is time to prepare for the inevitable and sometimes there is no time to prepare or to discuss- “now what”. In my situation, not only did I have caring children from all sides of the family, take an interest, prepared some of the initial Shabbos meals and they and other family members and neighbors offered to do shopping. I eventually started doing my own shopping, meal preparations, returned to going to shul, continued my articles, being involved in certain RAA projects, other organizations, and committees, and keep in touch with other family, chavarim and neighbors. I am looking forward to attending a grandsons afruf and wedding, but with trepidation of being without my wife. I cannot even begin to think about family pictures without her. I am sure all the immediate family members will also be feeling sadness of her not being physically present. Yet, we do believe the neshama will be there as it is custom to invite the neshamas in Gan Eiden to attend. After so many weeks since the shiva, I am still being met by others who were so touched by her sincerity, her kindness. I know I mentioned this recently, but it keeps happening. Just this past Monday at my dentist appointment, the dentist was saddened. He knew about her illness and told me how optimistic she was even though she knew how serious her illness was. Last week I received another condolence card from an elderly woman who wrote “Kaila was a special lady. She always’ greeted me with a smile. She had that friendly being and kindness about her. Sincerely Mrs. __and daughters”. Just this week another woman stopped to tell me her immense sadness she, her husband and daughter were and still are about my wife passing. This woman mentioned how my wife and I have those relationships with others and my wife no matter what one’s Jewish background might be or not of the Jewish faith my wife’s kindness was so evident. Both the older woman when I met her one day in the lobby of my building and this younger woman were very grateful for the Purim delights my wife gave them and most of all for remembering them all the time. The following experience brought tears to my eyes even as I tear just thinking about my encounter with a Jewish husband and wife who are our neighbors. Both use sign language, write or speak as best as possible, broke out in the lobby crying nonstop. They noticed my son and I were bringing out of the elevator boxes and bags filled with my wife’s clothing going to the gemachs. They wanted to know if I was going away. I shared with them where the bags and boxes were going and why. They were unaware that my wife died. I told them when as they asked but were in such shock especially the wife of that couple. My wife meant so much especially to her. The most wonderful joy we had was just being nice to others. Making a Kiddush H. Not having “hang ups”- no hidden agenda. Just being sincere and caring about others. May we be zoche that this Elul, HaKadosh Boruch Hu will look at us kindly be inscribed with good health, happiness a Shanah Tovah Umesuka a sweet and good year. Sincerely Yehuda Blank
Please read the attached flyer from OHEL