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

There are so many changes and charges in relationship to COVID-19 by and from elected officials, how communities have been and are dealing with this virus, the ever changing opinions from various sources professional and otherwise, can be very discerning and disheartening as machlokes can trickle down to every man, woman and child- if we permit it to happen. More than ever, we need achus and the consensus to continue caring for each other. It is so important for Klal Yisrael to be Mekadaish H. The Aibershta loves Klal Yisrael and we love the Aibershta. There are so many wonderful attributes found in the gemilus chasadim Klal Yisrael does for each other. Just look in some of the Jewish local magazines or newspapers and you will find hundred’s of gemachs, the bikur cholim’s and so much more. Of course, just like at a minyan someone gives a clap and announces “Yaaleh Veyavo”, a simple and meaningful reminder. So too, gentle and meaningful recommendations about caring for each other- the essence of gemilus chasadim goes a long way, especially dealing with the Coronavirus, or for that matter any illness.

Several decades ago, Rabbi Lowell Kronick and Rabbi Zev Schostak, two well-known professional healthcare chaplains’ leaders, founded the Association of Orthodox Jewish Chaplains in Long Term Care. (AOJCTC). This organization sought to strengthen professionalism, achdus, and Torah Im Derech Eretz among LTC chaplain colleagues. AOJCLTC was a success from the beginning with more and more Orthodox chaplains joining. At the time, many of them were not familiar with CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), the required training for all chaplains that prepares them to serve competently in healthcare settings along with other multidisciplinary providers. The quarterly group meetings rotated at each chaplains’ facility, highlighted by a prominent guest speaker, including rabbinic experts in medical halacha and ethics, physicians, psychiatrists, and hospice specialists. Although these meetings did not constitute formal CPE, the speakers lectured on various topics contributed to the chaplain’s clinical The administration of each facility would welcome the guests and talk about their facilities and how their rabbi-chaplains were integral in supporting nursing home residents, as well as families and staff. The chaplain was an important member of the interdisciplinary healthcare team. At each meeting, the local Orthodox chaplain started with a dvar Torah and a Halacha presentation. Many of the chaplains went on to take CPE and grew in professional chaplaincy. In fact, several chaplains had advanced degrees, certifications, and proficiency in other professional fields. Some of those LTC chaplains also served in the military at different ranks. Central to our Association was making a Kiddush H. In each care setting, the chaplain was seen by residents, family members and staff as a role model and held in high esteem. The rabbi represented the best in G’s work caring for vulnerable patients with kindness, sincerity, and honesty. Today, CPE-trained chaplains belong to a number of professional organizations.

I would like to share with you how one of the professional healthcare chaplains, who was a member of the original Association of Orthodox Jewish Chaplains in Long Term Care and also a military chaplain, had an experience with his superior in the US Army and madea Kiddush H. Rabbi Shimon (Simon) Feld is the chaplain for the Jewish Home Family in Rockleigh, N.J. “ Reb Yehuda: It was great hearing from you. As per your request, I am submitting some information about myself: I received my Semicha from Yeshivas Rabbenu Yitzchok Elchanan (YU) and served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army for over 34 years. It really left an indelible imprint on my heart and mind. I learned the real meaning of Modern Orthodoxy while living in the real world. I’ll never forget the Chief of chaplains of the Army, a Major General, who addressed our graduating class and said, “The key to your success as a chaplain in the Army is the following phrase: Cooperation without Compromise.” That’s probably the best definition of Modern Orthodox. I never forgot those words. The message is clear: Get along with everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike. Respect all faiths and cultures. But never compromise halachah for anyone under any circumstances.

I will never forget my dear friend and mentor, Rabbi David Lapp. May Hashem grant him and his dear wife, Ruth many more years of good health and happiness. Rabbi Lapp is a retired Army chaplain who spent 26 years on active duty, served in combat in Vietnam and was highly decorated. Truly the epitome of Modern Orthodoxy! He rose to the rank of Colonel. When I first entered the Army as a young chaplain in my twenty’s, Rabbi Lapp gave me some great mussar. He said that no one will look at you as a chaplain or as an officer. But everyone will look at you as a Jewish chaplain! Remember: You can never and should never straddle the fence. Everything you say or do will either be a Kiddush Hashem or, Chas V’Shalom, a Chillul Hashem. Choose wisely! I have taken these pearls of wisdom and superb guidance with me and carried them over into my current field of geriatric chaplaincy. Reb Dovid’s wisdom and insights have, Baruch Hashem, served me well. It’s a lesson we can all learn and incorporate into our daily lives, especially after the Yomim Noraim. May we all be zoche to live our lives as a Kiddush Hashem and then expedite the coming of Moshiach Bihari Yamani, Amen. Reb Yehuda, may we only hear simchas from one another. Zi bezant and be Matliacha in all your endeavors. Best wishes for a guten Yom Tov. Shimon Feld” I am grateful for Rabbi Feld sharing the essence of Kiddush H. He has been held in high esteem by the administration, staff, facility residents, family members and care givers at the Jewish Home Family in Rockleigh, N.J. I have shared many thoughts about Kiddush H in my articles. There is never enough that can and should be written and spoken about Kiddush H. Klal Yisrael has always’ been in the public eye as we have recently read and heard about in so many ways. Jewish chaplains’ such as those who serve at leading hospitals, and other medical facilities not only have expertise in the work they do, but also serve as role models and in a sense, ambassadors of the Jewish faith. They must be excellent diplomats being able to field questions from patients, staff, family members, care givers and visitors, about our religion, our culture, our traditions, and about current Jewish affairs. The opportunities of Kiddush H by these chaplains and chaplains who serve in other types of chaplaincy positions are endless.

I have been asked how has Sukkos been for me personally, how have I been holding up and what has it been like in my neighborhood of the Lower East Side on the Grand St and surrounding areas. Mask wearing and social distancing is being upheld on the sidewalks, parks, housing developments and local stores by most people. The LES is an integrated and peaceful community. Even the sukkahs between the Co-op buildings must follow regulations as per agreement with management and board following the CDC outdoor dinning recommendations. The tables are set up with respect to social distancing, different shifts so everyone who registered can be accommodated, and everyone not eating whether in the sukkah or elsewhere on the property ( except apartments) must wear a mask. Anyone with virus type symptoms, to other countries etc. anyone who was in contact with someone that has the virus is not allowed in the sukkah even though it is outdoors. Regarding davening, I can only speak about the Bialystoker synagogue where mask wearing, and social distancing has been in upheld since the beginning. The Rav is makpid on davening without shortcuts, and ensures smooth, meaningful davening and devrei Torah the mispallem are grateful for.

Regarding how I am doing or as often asked, how am I holding ? Of course, I miss my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohein A”H . I miss being with her in the sukkah, making sure she was given the arba mimim to bench in the morning as she was makpid on doing so before eating anything. However, eating in the community sukkah with other’s even though they are at different tables has been really very nice. Davening at the Bialystoker has been meaningful and I have made new acquaintances. My children and grandchildren came to visit in the sukkah during chol hamoed. Chol hamoed has been pleasant and I am holding up Boruch H. I am not missing anything for my meals, but it is nice having received invitations to join others in the sukkah for meals or at their homes if I would like accept. When asked if I had any guests, my reply would be, I have three – me, myself and I and those in the Ushpizan. Also of course, the spirit of my wife and the presence of the Aibershta. I am looking forward to Hoshana Rabba, Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. I realize it will be different for many not just in my own neighborhood, but throughout the world in every Jewish community that has felt the wrath of the coronavirus. We continue to pray this virus will leave us soon, that everyone should no longer feel the brunt even the side effects of the virus, for us and our neighbors. We are mispallel Moshiach should come soon, for shalom, good health, happiness, techias hameisim, for the geula shelaima bekarov amain sela.
Thank you. Sincerely , Yehuda Blank