From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and Externa; Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/ Igud HaRabbonim
August 27, 2020
In Jewish history, in our Torah, Tanach and so one we learn of the remarkable deeds women have accomplished through the years up to and including the present. They are women who brought and continue bringing greatness to the Jewish nation with tremendous Kiddush H through their magnificent maysim tovim including our Rebbitzins and others in many professions. My wife did not want to be addressed as Rebbitzin, though many did refer to her as such. She was humble, modest, and never wanted to be in the limelight. Just this week, I was stopped by a young woman, as I was returning from Maariv and asked to speak to me. She shared how sorry she was for not reaching out to me earlier to offer her condolences, as she was going through some difficult times. She mentioned that even though there was no major connection between both, but when ever my wife saw her would be so kind, courteous and ask how she was doing. She shared with me how she knew many of the wonderful gemilus chasadim, the many kind deeds my wife did for people with out any fanfare. Most of all how she would make this woman feel so good. This woman went on to share her difficulties she has endured and a forthcoming surgery she will be having in a few days.
One of my Rabbeim was HaRav Moshe Eliyahu Shisgal ztkl who was a son in law of HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein ztkl. Whenever he removed or returned a seifer to the bookshelf in the yeshiva (MTJ) he would hug and kiss it. He mentioned how special each seifer is for his Rabbeim are in them and he continues to learn from them everyday. HaGaon HaRavDovid Feinstein shlita may he have a refuah shelaima some time ago was being interviewed about his father HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein ztkl. To paraphrase what he told the interviewer most people who will be reading about his father know about his gadlus in Torah knowledge, but what is important is to read about his gadlus in his midos. There is so much we can learn from each other and I surely from you. Honestly, all of you could offer me chizuk and for me to learn from you chashuva Rabbanim and Chaplains. I continuously also learn from my wife who I can proudly say was mechanach so many in what she did and yes as you will read what she taught.
So, you most be wondering what the animal on the man’s head was about. Well this story is about a single Jewish woman who lived in Sharon Massachusetts, with her two sons. I have decided to include the following article written by Rivka Kirwan, Director of Communications for Oorah found in the June 24th edition of the Yated Neman. You may ask me why? Remembering my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen A”H is not about memories, but her inspirations, her encouragements and what she did is a continuous limud for myself and for so many others. It started with a kollel wife in her community who decided The Zone camp was just what the boys needed. Rebecca, a single mom bringing up her sons the best way she knew best didn’t quite agree. So, the well meaning Rebbetzin called Oorah herself, posing as Rebecca, to find out how to get her boys in to camp. Through some miscommunication, “Rebecca” was told she’d first need a Torah Mate. So that’s how Rebecca ended up with a voicemail from Torah Mates coordinator Chani Miller on her answering machine. She had no idea what this Torah Mates thing was about but Chani sounded too nice for Rebecca not to give her a call back. And though she was totally uninterested in learning more about Judaism or making time in her life for Torah study, Chani persuaded her to give it a try – with her own mother-in-law, who apparently was looking for a new Torah Mate and would make the perfect partner for Rebecca. Several months later, Rebecca still had little to no interest in Judaism, but she was hooked on Keila Blank, Chani’s mother-in-law. Keila had also been a single mom, raising three rowdy boys on her own, and Rebecca found her non-judgmental advice refreshing and her genuine warmth and interest in Rebecca compelling. “She wasn’t trying to make me frum,” Rebecca reflects. “Just to answer my questions and to be my friend.” [In fact, Keila had tried volunteering for Torah Mates before, but earlier partnerships had never panned out, for various reasons, and she was just about ready to call it quits. But like a shidduch, a Torah Mates partnership needs to click, and with Rebecca, Keila had finally found the right match.]
After speaking regularly on the phone and learning ‘Gateway to Judaism’ together, they met for the first time in May, when Rebecca was invited to speak about her experience with Oorah on the radiothon. That weekend was Rebecca’s first real Shabbos, spent in Westgate with Chani’s family. “I remember she pulled up just a few minutes before Shabbos, telling us she was sorry she was late, they’d stopped off at Burger King for a snack on the way.. Chani recalls. For her part, Rebecca looks back at that weekend fondly. She was flabbergasted that a family she barely knew was willing to have them stay over for the weekend – like, what happened to not talking to strangers…?! – and blown away by the simple beauty of an authentic Shabbos. As Rebecca’s relationship with Keila flourished and deepened, so did her connection to Yiddishkeit. Keila never lectured and never pushed, but with every new mitzvah Rebecca took on, Keila was her biggest cheerleader. She answered Rebecca’s questions – and when she didn’t know the answer, she’d speak to her rabbi, HaRav Dovid Feinstein, shlita, and find out. She counseled her through the anxieties of having her sons leave public school and start yeshiva. She walked her through the changes she slowly made to her lifestyle, from keeping Shabbos and kashering her home to the more subtle changes to the way she dressed, acted, and spoke. Keila was there for Rebecca when she remarried, to a Bostoner chassid who was well liked and respected in his community.
More than anything, Keila gave Rebecca access to her life: invited Rebecca to her Lower East Side home for Shabbos and took her along on her usual chesed stops, from buying flowers for nursing home residents to visiting Rebbetzin Feinstein on Friday night while she waited for the Rosh Yeshiva to come home from shul. Rebecca was a part of every simcha in the Blank family, given a seat at the family table since she knew none of the other guests. Keila shared with her resources most frum people take for granted, such as introducing her to Torah Anytime and specific speakers Rebecca could relate to. Everyday conversations about what was going on in each others’ lives revealed aspects of Keila’s greatness but in ways she saw as natural: the unquestioning and uncomplaining faith in face of the pain and weakness of cancer, the looking out for others and care taken never to offend.
And in the final days of her life, concern for Rebecca was top of mind. One of her last conversations with her daughter-in-law, Chani, was to ask her to make sure Rebecca would have someone suitable to learn with to take her place. And who better to carry on the relationship than Chani herself? In her family and in Rebecca’s, Mrs. Keila Blank’s legacy lives on. Yehi zichra baruch.
I had the pride and joy of being with my wife for the Shabbos with Rebecca and sons. When my wife was interviewed live on the Oorahthon, I sat right next to her. When my wife and I joined Rebecca at one of Oora’s Shabbatone she noticed a man wearing something strange to her for the first time and asked my wife “what is that animal on that man’s head” it was of course a strimal. Her husband, a Bostoner Chasid for some reason showed up in Sharon. He was introduced to Rebecca, they dated, married and the rest is history. Her husband by the way wears a strimal on Shabbos. Her husband is a genuine mench, genuinely caring, devoted, and dedicated husband and father to the two boys who have become outstanding in their Torah hasmada, wonderful midos and doing excellent in their secular studies as well. My wife, children and I have enjoyed having them for Shabbosim and participating in many of our simchas as you read in the above article. In a recent article, I mentioned our participation in her wedding, her sheva brachos, both of her son’s bar mitzvos speaking at all their simchos and her shul. Her husband showing up in Sharon, as if he was a malach only the Ribono Shel Olom understands why things happen the way they do. I mentioned to Rebecca that she, her husband, and children are an inspiration to many. It is an honor for her to have shared with me not only her deep appreciation for my wife, but how she treasured all that she learnt from her. Rebecca has much gratitude to the Aibershta for her life is always uplifting in all that she does with her husband and the tremendous nachas they have from their sons. She gives much credit to Oorah for all of their assistance and support to her and her family and to Rebbitzen Bracha Frohlich for initiating it all . We can see from the story of Rebecca the “Hand of the Ribono Shel Olom”, but of course, deep down inside Rebecca’s heart, her neshama was seeking such an opportunity. It had to come at the right time. We never give up. Every Yid has that small flame from within. There was something special about Rebbitzen Frohlich about Chanie Miller and my wife that made Rebecca so interested and felt she could trust them not to force feed Yiddishkeit on her. Instead it was with sincere love for the Aibershta and the tremendous support Oorah gave her and her sons who blossomed so much.
These are some of the many millions of reasons why I miss my dear wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen A”H We shared so many values of being sincere and caring for all. No hidden agenda, no hang ups. We never professed to be anything other than ourselves, but my wife, was brilliant in what she did with so much love for other Jews no matter what their background was or present state of Judaism might have been and her respect and sincerity for all people was so wonderful. She made such an impact on so many people, not withstanding every one of our family and extended family. She was and remains an inspiration to us all. She was a magnificent Bubby loved by all of her grandchildren and how she kept in touch with every child and grandchildren is in itself so remarkable. She found many opportunities for her family, her friends, her neighbors, and her various mitzva activities. Of course for the loving relationship my wife and I had that knew no bounds. She was loved and respected by so many. Just to fast forward somewhat those three rowdy sons mentioned in the above article grew up becoming distinguished well known askanim, talmidei chachamin well liked and respected in more ways than one – all single handedly by their mother with tremendous love and care. When we married she brought two families together with that same nurturing love and care. She found room in her heart for all the children and all miss her so very much.
Our esteemed Rabbanim, Rebbitzens and Chaplains are immensely privileged with the honor of bringing the spirit of kindness, goodness, Kedusha, the warmth of our Torah, most of all the beautiful and meaningful relationship with the Ribono Shel Olom and as role models with sincerity the world can look upon in a positive light. To all of our Rebbetzins our sincere gratitude and deep appreciation not just for your support of our Rabbanim and the Kehillo’s, but also for the vital and important efforts in bringing and instilling the sweetness of Judaism of Yiddishkeit through all that you do. To our chaplains who are involved in often serious, challenging and difficult situations, may you continue to be zoche to continue your vital work helping and caring not only for all those of our Jewish nation, but caring for all of humanity in the various positions you serve in. Their praise worthy mido tovos and maysim tovom are not just now in the month of Elul, before the Yomim Nearim, but throughout the year.
In some of my previous articles, I wrote about mask vs no mask. This was purely about understanding, being empathetic and caring for each other. Many who are at risk have been told by their doctors to be careful. Many are truly fearful about contracting the coronavirus and having to be hospitalized. This week the, Bobov Kehilah of Boro Park and Hatzalah of Rockland County issued statements about the need to help prevent the spread of this virus, how to do so and anyone over the age of 60, or with underlying medical conditions or with no anti bodies should take the appropriate precautions. I still remain firm on Klal Yisrael not to be tempted to speak loshon horah which could spread to becoming sinas chinam about who does what regarding decisions regarding COVID-19. However, we should not take lightly the recommendations of the doctors and specialists who all along have shared their medical opinions and advice about the coronavirus, May we be zoche for a kesiva vechasima tova, and a shana tova umesuka. May all those who are in need should have a refuah shleima. Let us be mispallel that the coronavirus and all types of illnesses be gone forever. Sincerely, Yehuda Blank
There are many exciting things happening with the RAA including a new retirement plan for Rabbanim who are members of the RAA. Plus, a soon to be announced collaboration with OHEL.
Please read the flyers from OHEL, Testing and Training International and from MJHS about a virtual Holocaust Museum Program which also includes a virtual tour of the core exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
Please remind your congregants, family members and others to register to vote and to complete the US Census Thank you. YB