From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank, MS, BCC
Director of Pastoral Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/ Igud HaRabbonim
November 26, 2020
FEELINGS and KIDDUSH H
I am dedicating this newsletter to my father Avi Mori Zvi Aryeh ben Moshe HaLevi ztl whose yartzeit was this past Tuesday vav Kislev. One of the many references to Rav David Feinstein ztkl was that he was a Gaon in chesed, in his humbleness, in his relationship with the Aibershta and Klal Yisrael. To me and to those who knew my father, he was a great person in his life filled with chesed, modesty and love of the Aibershta. To me, I will always think of him as a Gaon and will share some thoughts and experiences about him and his remarkable kindness he had for so many.
I would like to share an observation and these thoughts. In shul one day for Mincha at the Bialystoker Synagogue, one of the many shuls on the Lower East Side where a Jewish person of any background can feel welcome, I noticed a man take out a small pocket booklet to recite the kaddish. After the kaddish which he said quite low, he walked to the rear, turned around, faced towards the front, stood there giving thought to something, and then gave a bow before leaving. Feelings. What were my feelings for this man? Not of pity, not of disdain, not why doesn’t he daven, nor why does not he come more often. I wish I could have engaged him in conversation and maybe would have gained some insight as to why he came to pray or speak to H from his heart beseeching Him for whatever the reason he came to the synagogue. Perhaps remembering the soul of someone dear and close to him. But he left before I had a chance to say even a hello. I shared this with you because it gives me great pride to daven in such a shul as there are other such shuls on the LES where anyone can and is welcome. Anyone who came to the Yeshiva MTJ with Rav Dovid ztkl would also feel welcome.
The Bialystoker Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation had a synagogue for the residents (patients) and the community. The Bialystoker Center also had a yartzeit list and memory wall plaques. Kaddish was recited for every single person on his/her yartzeit. Occasionally, I would receive visitors from near and beyond whose plaques of their relatives were on those walls. It was not uncommon for such visitors to gaze at their relative’s plaque and say a prayer or even take out that small kaddish booklet given at a funeral to recite a silent kaddish. Sometimes, I would be requested to stand next to them for spontaneous prayer. Often, the visitor would share stories or some type of remembrance of their relative. I often did the same with people who would call to speak to me about their relative whose yartzeit was being observed with a kaddish I recited at a minyan and or the lighting of a memorial light. For many, this was their only or last connection to their relative and for many their only connection to any aspect of Judaism. Many did not know their Jewish names and for some, either they or their children married out of the faith. Yet, most did not want to lose even if only a small aspect of their Jewish background, whether it be their parents, grandparents, great – great grandparents. Whatever they wished or chose to remember, or ask about, or want to observe anything about their Jewish heritage, I would share with them and they were grateful for whatever their desire was to know. Through the years, many chose not to do cremation, have a meaningful Jewish burial, whether it be minimum and very traditional, decided to learn more about their Jewish heritage, and even more so. The most important satisfaction I gained was their feeling of belonging in one way or another to their Jewish background and not feeling being judged, but rather being given respect with sincerity. There is a beautiful story about Jewish man who lived in Rav Moshe’s building who was not observant. Yet, he was so taken by how Rav Moshe spoke to him when he met him, an orthodox well-known rabbi taking the time to speak to him. His engagement with Rav Moshe had such a profound impression on him and his children. Kindness and sincerity can have a profound impression and often an everlasting impression that can make a difference in a person’s life.
I have learned much about caring, feeling, for others, Kiddush H from my parents A”H and family, but in this article, I would like to share some of the magnificent kindness and love of the Aibershta of my father ztl. He like his father, my grandfather ztl were butchers and erlich as could be. My father’s parents spoke Yiddish. He grew up and until his marriage to my mother A”H lived with his parents in Williamsburg. Both my parents were born in New York. They then settled down on the Lower East Side, but the butcher store continued in Williamsburg. Customers enjoyed coming into my father’s store, treated with respect, honesty, and always with a smile. My father shared with me the essence of being honest. He was not comfortable with how careful the inspectors who checked the scales for accuracy. He had a policy of either giving a little extra chicken or meat without charging for it or he would charge less money from the total bill. Once, an elderly woman paid with what she thought was a $5.00 bill and she left the store. My father looked and saw it was a $50.00 bill. My father quickly wearing his butcher’s apron ran out of the store, down the block to return the money to her. When asked later why he could not wait until she returned home to call her. My father’s response was how much anxiety it would cause this woman, at any age, especially an older woman thinking she might have lost the $50 bill or something else and not has that money. My father could not bear the thought of the distress she would be under and what if she were planning to use that money to purchase something before returning home. He used to go shopping for elderly customers not able to go to the stores and deliver those items together with their meat/chicken order. He was so kind to so many people and not just those who were Jewish. Our family was close to several rabbonim and roshei yeshivos. Rav Heinkin ztkl was one of them. When Rav Henkin wanted to go collecting for Ezras Torah in the country, my father would drive him to the different locations Rav Henkin requested. We were close to Rav Henkin and years later especially when his eyesight diminished, whenever my father came to Rav Henkin he would smile and appreciate his visits. My father had towards the end of his life Parkinsons. Whenever he would say kaddish for his parent’s yartzeit he would cry, but his tears became more pronounced when he was having difficulty going to daven and was told by Rav Moshe his tefilos from his heart is what counts to the Aibershta. We had relationships with other rebbes and rabbonim and my father was appreciated for his erlichkeit and love for the Ribono Shel Olom. He was known to make other people, even when they were going through difficult times feel good about themselves. I never heard him raise his voice to anyone. He had a beautiful, sweet voice and whatever melody he sang or hummed brought comfort and pleasure to those who heard him. His levaya was held in a funeral chapel a few buildings from MTJ Yeshiva. It was packed with men and women from all walks of life and Jewish affiliations. He did so many gemilus chasadim so many mitzvos, loved listening and learning Torah, was so well liked, and respected always making a Kiddush H. He was a genuine and loving son, husband, father, grandfather, brother and a sincere erlicha Yid in so many ways. He taught me civics, he taught me the meaning of being sincere, he taught me to be respectful of rabbonim and even the NYPD. He used to take me to the local police precinct where I would meet many police officers who took a liking to me and we used to go upstairs to the PAL. He taught me and showed how one can be nice and have a good relationship with others yet maintain being completely observant. He always wore a big yarlmuka and a beautiful Hamburg which many men wore. He took me to shul and learning even when I was young often to the 1st minyan on Shabbosim. When I was a young child, I would walk the Williamsburg Bridge to visit my zaidy and bubby on Shabbos. My father was a role model in honoring parents. The last time I saw my zaidy was Erev Yom Kippur and he gave me a bracha. He was nifter at Neila time. To me, my father was truly was a Gaon in chesed, love of H and erlichkeit. May he be a meileitz yarshar for the family and Klal Yisrael.
I also want to offer my sincerest congratulations to Richard Taylor on becoming Deputy Inspector of the NYPD. It gives me great pride to mention about DI Taylor in this article, because he personifies so much about the essence of Kiddush H and erlichkeit. Though recent news briefs stressed him as the highest ranking uniformed member of the NYPD wearing a yarlmuka, there is much more that can be attributed to his making a Kiddush H such as his erlichkeit, his caring demeanor, his sincerity, his relationship with many not only within the NYPD, but the tremendous respect he is given by many in the diverse communities of this city of ours . He does not seek glory, nor accolades for the job he does so well especially representing the Community Affairs Division of the NYPD. Though, there are times when he does perform his duty in civilian clothing, wearing the uniform together with his yarlmuka, often under his police cap is a tremendous sense of pride. DI Taylor understands the significance of his uniform, his new shield and rank, but does not flaunt his position which he holds in high esteem and respect for what he represents. It is an awesome responsibly to be in the public eye, especially during many challenging situations, bringing good will, and trust amongst and between diversity in a peaceful manner which Richard is known for. I must shout out recognition to the many members of the NYPD who are proud of their Jewish heritage and proudly say so. Wishing DI Taylor much continue success in all his present and future endeavors.
One of the many stories about Rav David Feinstein ztkl was when the Twin Towers were burning, he calmly in the Beis Medrash went to learn while everyone else was reciting Tehilim. When asked why he is not reciting Tehilim, his response was learning Torah (Gemaras etc.) was important and many zechusim. But he told that person, if someone cannot learn at this time, he/they should say Tehilim. So much time is spent on deciding and making decisions about things we have no control over, international, national and local politics or other things that have been reported in the news media and current events, which again we have no control over. If we could change things for the better is one thing such as making a Kiddush H in everyway possible, seeking ways of promoting achdus and enhancing our lives for H, each other and ourselves of course why not There are times when we have to do our hishtadlis. Let us be mispallel that tomorrow will be a better day as in Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohein’s quote “When things look blue it helps to remember that tomorrow is another day and will be a brighter day”. May with all the uncertainty in the world and our own backyards, find hope for a better day the next day. Everything is in the hands of H. With continued emunah in the Aibershta, we can always find brightness the next day. May we zoche Shalom al Yisrael and the return of the Beis Hamikdash. Thank you. Sincerely and respectfully, Yehuda Blank