From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank, MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
January 14,2021

Klal Yisrael recently lost Rav Shlomo Gissenger ztkl, Rav Fabian Schonefeld ztkl, and most recently Rav Yehuda Kelemer ztkl of the Young Israel of West Hempstead. Each of these Rabbonim were trailblazers in rabbones and their Avodas H. Each were so remarkable, so well loved and respected by their mispallim, fellow rabbonim, their communities and beyond. It would take me many pages to even begin to share just a miniscule of what each accomplished through the years and the legacy they left Klal Yisrael. None of these great rabbonim considered themselves above and beyond but were humble in the eyes of H and those who they offered their care from all backgrounds. Everyone was special to them. Their loss is immeasurable as so many depended on them for their chizuk, their advice, their continuous personal care given to every person who sought a connection with them. They dealt with every facet and aspect of life from “cradle to end of life”. Who does Klal Yisrael turn to if not the rabbonim, gedolim daas for their blessings, their inspiration, their encouragement, their knowledge and often for their nechama. So many are at a loss and even fearful especially of recent evens. Many seek the guidance, the reassurance, the support that the Aibershta is with us, will not abandon us and there is hope for a meaningful future for peace for Klal Yisrael and the world around us. Many of us are at a loss as to how to make sense of what is occurring in the world today, not just in our own country. There are many reports of how careful one must be to share political opinions, concerns about social media, threats, and counter threats by opposing groups and open violence not just this past week, but throughout 2020 and now 2021. However, to actually witness what occurred last week in our Nations Capitol is heartbreaking as it is the symbol of democracy for all Americans and the beacon of light throughout the world. Yet, countries with a history of their own persecutions and lack of a democracy are saying shame on us for the breakdown of civil law with more threats of violence to come. What is discerning, is how anti-Semitism is popping up throughout the world and even in our own back yards. When certain symbols are found even on flags carried by protestors who invaded the Capitol or anti-Semitic sayings on their clothing. All this plus the continuous saga of the Coronavirus COVID 19.

Why is all this happening? There are many philosophical reasons one can give, or blame, or acknowledge as to the cause, but no one reason is suffice. American’s must find solutions, find opportunities for enhancing good relations, respect for one another, promote good-will, acknowledge the goodness of so many throughout our great country of ours. We must put down the evil acts of violence and those who wish to disrupt and dismantle democracy. There is no reason not to be respectful of each other, no matter of one’s religious background, affiliations, language, ethnicity, or garments that are worn whether for cultural or religious reasons. We know the essence of Kiddush H and how important it is for us how we act and what say to amongst ourselves and to others. Yes, we are all ambassadors of the Ribono Shel Olam and for Klal Yisrael. We could try to blend in, but the world knows who is Jewish. Years ago, on one of our trips my wife and I made, we had visited the Amish Country in PA. I was wearing a cap and polo shirt and my wife a really nice summery hat on top of her sheitel. When we entered a store, the salesperson greeted and welcomed us with a hearty shalom. This occurred on several occasions. Whatever the Aibershata has in store for the world, we continue to be proud of who and what we are always promoting shalom and Kiddush H. Yiddishkeit is so important and meaningful to us, but we also have to care for each other as well. The words ahavas Torah, Ahavas H, Ahavas Yisrael are so important. In our Rosh Chodesh we include “chaveirim kawl Yisrael” A number of years ago when there were illnesses and other challenges in our community a gathering was called for Lower East Siders to meet at the Bialystoker Synagogue. The community rabbonim were each given designated tefilos to recite followed by the congregants. Rav Dovid ztkl mentioned that the tefilos in Tachanun recited Monday’s and Thursdays are for Klal Yisrael.

Whether one does more or one does less, as long as he does it with sincerity for the sake of H (with love) Menachos 110a, “How can I repay H for all the kindness He has bestowed on me? (Tehillim 116:12), “Unveil my eyes that I may perceive wonders from Your Torah” (Tehillim 119:18), “Rabbi Yishmawel says, Be yielding to a superior, pleasant to the young and be welcoming to every person with happiness” Avos 3: 16, We believe, we know that everything is Min Hashamayim. The Ribono Shel Olom has His reasons for everything. We have to do our hishtadlos, have emunah and betachem, be mispallel and in our hearts and actions always with love of H. Our achdus is so important, but we have to believe that. What good does it do to find fault and speak ill of others if our words are not beneficial and could be hurtful. Out tefilos set the tone of what we beseech the Ribono Shel Olom for, but they should be said from our hearts. Rav Gissenger, Rav Schonefeld and Rav Kelemer were tremendous role models and had a remarkable impact in Ahavas Torah, Yiras Shamayim, the essence of chaveirim kawl Yisrael, bringing shalom bein awdam lachaveiro from their hearts to the hearts of others and most of all Ahavas H. They shared their own emunah in H and hope in life. Finally, the vaccine is becoming more accessible throughout the USA and that also is a sign of hope.

I am grateful to my Rabbeim and my Ashis Chayil Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohein A”H who encouraged me to care for others in a proper derech, and not to be involved where loshon harah and the actions of others are not appropriate. To bring kindness, goodness, and good feelings to others. Much praise must be given to the Rabbonim, Rebbitzens and Chaplains who continue to give of themselves, with full hearts of sincere care to all those who are going through difficult times due to the pandemic, current events and other issues and concerns. The former Mashgiach Ruchani of MTJ Yeshiva Harav Michael Barenbaum ztkl often would mention that it is not enough to be a frumer Yid, one must be an erliche Yid.

If anyone of our readership would like to find out who the chaplain is of a specific hospital or skilled nursing facility or how to contact that chaplain who often could be immensely helpful, please feel free to contact me. Thank you. Sincerely, Yehuda Blank

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