From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
917 446 2126

September 10, 2020

I have often written about feelings. It is often said that the medical staff especially in a hospital setting cannot become emotionally involved, or let their emotions get the best of them since they are frequently dealing with so many difficult, challenging, heart breaking, often sad, to say the least situations that could bring most of them to tears. Here are some situations, a woman who has a stillborn, parents who find out their child will be born with serious medical conditions that are life-limiting or life long challenging, a person who has to have an amputation, a person who has to have surgery that might change the course of his or her quality of life, a woman who has conceived, but unable to go full term because of certain medical condition, life, and death situations, knowing a person has limited months to live, the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and so on and so forth. This holds true with many disciplines including chaplaincy and rabbonim who are involved in medical and many personal issues with their congregants and others. But, there are many instances when the emotions do show and often those tears that might come out or the sharing of those feelings with the patient, the family, the caregiver can be a tremendous source of good feelings that bring comfort and understanding. When appropriate, even holding hands can be meaningful.

Through the many years of chaplaincy both in the medical field or police chaplaincy, I had to deal with many of the examples I gave plus so much more. In chaplaincy, we have a tremendous relationship with the interdisciplinary team giving the support not just for the patient, families, and medical staff, but for each other as well. As a police chaplain, not only was I required to give the various blessings at special events, speeches, and so on, or even interviews and meetings with dignitaries, visiting the various precincts throughout the city, I also did counseling, pastoral care, visited the sick, offered grief and bereavement to family and others, had to assist with sharing information about someone who died to family. Many think being a police chaplain is all glory, with lots of pomp, but that is not always the case and what I just shared is just the tip of what a police chaplain does. Being a rabbi of a congregation also has it‘s emotional and spiritual challenges and many issues and concerns not just about medical issues.

Marriages on the brink, children going their own ways and so much more. Personally, I was grateful and appreciated the medical staff at Sloan and their comments and yes tears on the death of my wife, us being like family, and their own appreciation of caring for a couple so loving to each other and caring and appreciation for them as well. It was even difficult when they had to share the latest diagnosis and prognosis finding the right words to say. Perhaps, a lot had to do with my wife and my relationship with the medical staff. But still, their emotions and feelings came through and for me, it was very comforting.

On Friday of this week, we remember the horrific tragedies of 9/11 and as much as it is heartbreaking to remember the loss of thousands of innocent lives in three locations. Yet, in the midst of still dealing with COVID-19 how could we forget the death of so many in just a short time ago due to the Coronavirus. Many who left orphans, widows, and widowers. Many who died without a loved one at their side and many who died with family members first learning of their loved one’s death at a different time. Many who died all alone who did not have any family or others to care for them. According to a letter sent to the Jewish news media from the NYC Department of Health Chief states that though most cases are mild or no symptoms at all, there are still patients in the hospital including the ICU. Though there were according to that letter only 19 cases reported which compared to the many thousands of the Orthodox Jewish population not effected is really an exceedingly small percent. He was making a point that the coronavirus is still alive. There are many reports with information and changes that is truly mind-boggling and confusing. The world at large with thousands of people doing whatever they want, you sometimes wonder why there is often so much focus on the Orthodox Jewish community. However, if someone is not well with any of the coronaviruses, any flu-like symptoms, other viruses, or a bad cold should get in touch with their doctor. There is a responsibility to care for others and not taking the chance of another person catching someone’s flu, virus, or a bad cold. Even if the odds are that the majority of people not contracting anything serious, there is always that small percentage who are high at risk of ending up in the ICU or at the least ending up having to stay at home. Yet, remembering 9/11/2001 is important as it reminds us of the tragedy caused by terrorism on United States soil in our own backyard. Unfortunately, there is so much destruction with loss of life, injuries, and destroyed the property of innocent victims happening on US soil in this year of 2020.

What does all this have to do with Elul and the Yomim Noraim one may ask. Well for one, 9/11 had many ramifications as it occurred at this time of year. For those who remember, thousands put the American flag on their cars, windows, storefronts, etc. Thousands flocked to their houses of worship and for those of the Jewish religion, the synagogue became a focal place for even those who might not have attended synagogue services let alone the High Holy Days. When saying the Unesaneh Tokef one could visualize the horrific deaths of those who were trapped in the World Trade towers, including those who had said the viduy with their rabbi and said goodbye to their loved ones. For us, it is a renewal of our relationship with the Ribono Shel Olom which we pray should have a close relationship all the time throughout the year. There is much for us to be mispallel to the Ribono Shel Olom and to be grateful for all that He does for us especially in times of need.

Someone asked me what is my life like now? What are my aspirations since my beloved and dear wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen A”H died just several months ago? Am I doing things that I always wanted to do? Am I like a free bird? Something like a husband being in the city during the summer while the wife and family are in the country. No, not at all. Of course, I feel at a loss without her. I miss her very much. I am capable, responsible, active, involved, learning, and so on, but it is not the same without my dear and beloved wife- my co-pilot, my partner in
life, and a wonderful inspiration for myself my family, and for Klal Yisrael. I aspire to have a deeper relationship with the Aibershta, to daven with more kavaneh, to do as many mitzvos as I can. To do as we all are doing-especially at this time of year, asking the Aibershtal for mechila.

Being mispallel for a shana tova umeshuka for a ksiva vchasima tova so that I can be on the right path. I was inspired by a great rav. HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Rennert ztkl who was one of the Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshiva Derech Chaim in Brooklyn, NY. He had such a beautiful relationship filled with kindness, understanding, sincerity, and care for his talmidim, fellow Jew of all backgrounds, and others. What he had was a tremendous love of the Aibershta. He wrote many notes of chizuk and a beautiful relationship with the Aibershta. The many quotes which he
wrote that expressed a genuine closeness he felt with the Aibershta that influenced his love of Yiddishkeit, of the Torah for Klal Yisrael. I remember how this tremendous relationship with much love for the Ribono Shel Olam was conveyed by one of the maspidim at his levaya. I always remember his soft voice and sweet smile. It is that love he had that I think about. How can I not think about knowing my wife is in Gan Eiden in Olom Haba. Isn’t that where we all want to be after 120 years. We pray that until that time, to be blessed with good health and the joy of life to give us the strength of being able to be mikayaim the taryag mitzvos, to make a Kiddush H. To be a worthy ambassador of the Aibershta for many years to come. This is the time to offer our appreciation to others especially those who gave us their kindness and generosity no matter how small or insignificant it might have seemed. I davened for years at the MTJ Yeshiva where I had the zchus of davening with the Rosh HaYeshiva HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein ztkl and since then with HaGaon HaRav Dovid Feinstein shlita may he continue to have a complete refuah shelaima. The Yeshiva MTJ has been and will always be a makom of kadosh for me and my family growing up through the school years, bais medrash and beyond. I have also been davening at the Bialystoker Synagogue whose Morah Dasrah is HaRav Zvi Romm a gadol in his own right. He is gentle, sincere, and caring for all his mispallim and respected throughout the Lower East Side community and by other Rabbonim with his Rebbitzen so zein gzundt. He is welcoming to all who daven and seek his advice from all backgrounds of Judaism. He is involved in many aspects of Jewish and communal affairs. Many Gedolim has graced the Bialystoker with their presence. There is a famous picture of HaGaon HaRav Aharon Kotler ztkl speaking at the Bialystoker to a packed audience, which I am including.

On the Lower East Side you can find a yeshiva, a Bais Yaakov, other shuls and shtiblachs, a mikva, bakery, butcher, many shirurim, bikur cholim and chesed groups, We even have a shidduch group, There is a Tehilim group of women who recite Tehilim . When my wife was ill, they davened. When her condition became serious, they davened day and night and often in the wee hours of the morning. I was so inspired by their tefilos, it gave me so much encouragement. I recently sent them the following thank you. “I want to wish all of you a ksiva vhasima tova a shana tova uesuka. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you so much for your sincere kindness of your tefilos for my dear and beloved Aishis Chayil, Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKoshen A”H. This past Thursday evening was the wedding of a grandson. The first family simcha I attended without my wife in 27 years, As I stood under the chuppah before, during, and after the brachos I said, I know she was there. I spoke to her though, I did not see her. I still say the Aishis Chayil Friday night. Just as I am grateful to the Aibershta that she is in Gan Eiden in Olom Haba. I am also grateful to everyone who gave their kindness in many ways including all of you for your heartfelt tefilos that helped give her all the extra strength she needed as much as the Ribono Shel Olom wanted to have. They ultimately helped her have a smooth journey back to the Ribono Shel Olom. You also gave me encouragement reading the tefilos being said all hours of the day and night. I also want to thank you in case I did not give my appreciation when you were necham availos. Perhaps, I could be the voice for Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen A”H ,as she would have thanked you herself. All my very best and thank you again. To all of my readership, I also want to thank you for your tefilos when my wife was ill, when you were necham availos me and for the many kind words of comfort and encouragement, you have given me and still receiving. I have been receiving many heartwarming and truly kind words from rabbis and chaplains from a wide spectrum of Judaism which I sincerely appreciate. Yes, our feelings for others are so important. Most of all for the Aibershta, How much He wants us to care for others, for each other, and yes ourselves. Avraham Avinu and Sara Imainu continue to teach us how they cared for others and conveyed
the love of the Holy One.

These are some quotes from HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Rennert ztkl
“הלואי we would feel as bad when we do something wrong בין אדם למקום as we feel when we know  we wronged someone בין אדם לחבירו”
“My מצב  today is your plan for me ה”;, this a real חיזוק to me, everything is תלוי in mood, thank you for everything ה;”.
“נותן לחם לכל בשר it is important to realize how dependent we are on you ה”.
This is a picture of HaGaon HaRav Aharon Kotler ztkl speaking at the Bialystoker Synagogue (From the Bais Medrash Govoha Archives)


May each of you have a shana tova umesuka, a kesiva vchasima tova, good health, happiness, and all the brachos we are mispallel for. Thank you and sincerely, Yehuda Blank
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