From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS. BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
February 24, 21                                                     


In the first months of the pandemic of COVID-19 the Novelle Coronavirus I featured an expose of some of our Orthodox Jewish New York health care chaplains. Through the months, I have received favorable and often an eye opener from member Rabbanim as to what health care chaplains actually do, and the nature of being a professional chaplain in a major hospital, medical center and hospice. More so, how many major medical centers insist their chaplains are Board Certified by one of the major chaplaincy organizations. In this article, I have included an expose from three of those chaplains sharing some of their challenges and experiences dealing with patients, caregivers, health care proxy and staff within recent months. Also, some of their preparations for the forthcoming Jewish holidays and Shabbat. Many of the reports show how COVID is reducing in various areas of the USA and yet still spiking in other locations. There is an increase of people wanting and getting when available the vaccines, but for many there is  only the wait. Yet, there are still many in NYC and Long Island who are being hospitalized with COVID. In fact, Torah Umesorah sent to their affiliated school principals a letter regarding the importance of the vaccine, and other information regarding strong recommendations about precautions and new strains of the virus. 

Before I begin their expose, I would like to share with you the following from this past Shabbos sedra of Teruma. From Darash Moshe A selection of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s choice comments on the Torah. Artscroll Series published by Mesorah Publications Ltd Terumah (page 133) regarding learning Torah and doing mitzvos,“ Thus, we must all strive to learn Torah and do the other mitzvos, that have no prescribed measure, with great enthusiasm and intense love of H, because the more one loves mitzvos, the greater is his obligation to do them, and greater by far is his reward for their performance.” “Two students who patiently  listen to each other in discussions of the halacha will succeed immensely. “(Shabbos 63a} “Receive every person with joy.” (Avos 3:12{, At all times man’s disposition should be sweet in associating with men (sympathizing with their feelings} (Kesubos 17a)”. These are some of the traits of those who are professional chaplains. Enthusiasm of doing mitzvos caring for others with a strong background of Torah and hearts filled with care for all of humanity making a Kiddush H.

From :
Rabbi Dr. Hillel Fox, BCDS, BCCC BCPC
Director, Spiritual Services 
Chaplaincy Care and Education
North Shore University Hospital

Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, our Chaplaincy staff at NSUH have been essential members of the frontline interdisciplinary healthcare team, and we continue to work together for the benefit of all our patients.  The recent surge in COVID-19 positive patients in New York has brought us back to the protective guidelines of restricted hospital visitations. Chaplains have been involved with visiting patients to provide spiritual support as well as being supportive “shlichim” for their concerned families and community. When we’re not allowed to visit inside the patient’s room, we can sometimes go to their doorway, or we’ll offer them TeleChaplaincy services over the phone and video conferencing on an iPhone, iPad or laptop.

Even though we know more about this disease now than we did a year ago and have treatments that are more effective; yet, staff are more physically and emotionally fatigued and in need of additional pastoral care. One big difference from the outset of the pandemic is that New York was the epicenter of the pandemic, and our whole country was attentive to our needs. Now that epicenter has moved across the country from the east coast to the west coast, and there’s more of a feeling of struggling alone. I’m personally inspired by the positive attitude and reverence our team members have for spiritual services. I’m asked to come to the units to intone prayers for staff of all faiths, and I have written meditations for them to recite upon beginning and ending their shifts.

Every Yom Tov brings certain challenges of Mitzvah observance in the hospital, especially during this pandemic. For example, on Rosh Hashanah we made special arrangements for Shofar blowing following strict infection control guidelines; and a new NSUH Sukkah was built with windows on all sides for extra circulation, using a sanitizer before and after benching Lulav and Esrog. We’re now planning for multiple social distance Megillah readings on Purim. On Pesach we’ll still distribute individual Seder plates, Matzah Shmurah and grape juice, but we may not be able to do a communal Seder this year 

Baruch Hashem, we now have vaccines with high efficacy to build antibodies against the Coronavirus. I believe this is a miraculous gift from Hakadosh Baruch Hu to us. Everyone is so worn down after a year of wearing masks and drastically limiting our social interactions, all Jewish lifecycle events, and group religious practices. We all have experienced tragic losses from this mageyfa. With the new strains of the virus spreading 50-70% faster, we would probably be feeling desperate and helpless, if we didn’t have a vaccine. This is literally the shot in the arm that we all needed! 

Rabbi David Keehn, BCC
Jewish Chaplain Department of Spiritual Care NYU Langone

As I write this I am getting ready for the second Purim of the COVID-19 era.  So much
has happened in the last year.  The time between Purim and Pesach last year was one
of the most unique times in my chaplaincy career.  Many people from our community
were sick and many passed away.  Our skills as chaplains were challenged and I had
to reach into my chaplaincy “tool bag” to find new versions of “Ministry of Presence”. 
 Wearing masks is the norm and my face to face contact was no more, but I (and all
chaplains) still was there for our patients’ families and staff, providing spiritual,
emotional, religious and ritual support.  Serving as a listening ear to families who were
navigating   new protocols even if I did not have an answer is part of the mission of
Chaplaincy.  Working with administration and other stakeholders to have safe but still
meaningful holiday programming gave me the ability to teach the hospital staff about
particular aspects of Judaism. Supporting the hospital staff who have seen so much
sickness and death during the past year and who are grieving their own losses and the
loss of co- workers.  Our department supported each other over the sadness of the loss
of a wise and cherished colleague. As unique as this past year was it most certainly strengthened for me the craft of Chaplaincy.  May Hashem wipe away this pandemic and give us the strength to help
our patients, families and staff. 
Happy Purim to all

Rabbi Tzephania Kreger, BCC
Staff Chaplain at  
At NYP/ Columbia University Medical Center

How to navigate if you are a patient in a hospital this Year Purim

By Rabbi Tzephania Kreger 

Purim is by far the most joyous and festive of our Yom Tovim. That stands true even when celebrated in a hospital. Under normal circumstances, Jewish Chaplains and Bikur Cholims are busier than ever on this holiday making connections between men able to recite the Megillah and patients who want to hear the recitation.  Every year, before Purim, the Chaplain is required to inform the administration, the nurses and the security team to expect an influx of volunteers on this day.

Many patients in the past have requested the volunteers attending to their religious needs arrive before or after visiting hours in accordance with halachic parameters, and oftentimes each volunteer has been recruited to lain four times during the holiday to encompass the needs of patients, their family members and even staff.  

In years past, the hospital had instituted a public recitation of the Megillah, one each for day and night, and sometimes the nightly recital ran as late as 10:00 p.m. Staff would frequently call the Chaplains office to track the location of the public reading, and request a private recitation for patients unable to attend.  It was very inspirational to see patients, staff and volunteers consolidate to facilitate the performance of this mitzvah, and to see religious staff members crowd into patients’ rooms and share in its fulfillment.  Additionally, staff was apprised to welcome patients’ family and friends wielding Shaloch Manos packages and with children wearing costumes in tow.

These are all fond memories that we embrace and we hope to reinitiate them in the future; however, unfortunately, we will not be able to enjoy these former privileges this year.

With the advent of Corona, Hospital Chaplains have been restricted from offering a great license to their patients in terms of visitors and expanded visiting hours.  A new protocol has been established with regards to visitation and visiting hours that affect the entire hospital community, and will curtail certain Purim activities; nevertheless, these restrictions are mandatory for safeguarding the health and welfare of everyone currently in and all those who will be entering the hospital.  Scientific and medical data has underscored the value of masking and social distancing, and anything less on the part of our community members can chas ve’shalom cause a chilul Hashem.  Although, frum hospital patients and their family and friends may face some challenges this Purim, I and all my fellow Chaplains in every hospital will be diligent about ensuring that patients’ spiritual needs are accommodated to the best of our ability within an aggregate of halachic and safety strictures.  

The rare hospital may still provide public or private laining services but, if they don’t, please locate shuls contiguous to the hospital in which your friend or family member resides and find out the davening and laining schedule.  Additionally, please thoroughly peruse the following information that was culled with the guidance of da’as HaRabanim

For the inpatient as with the homebound, Parshas Zachor can be read from a Chumash.  Those who attend shul Purim morning, can be yotzai Parshas Zochur by having kavana during the laining of Vayavo Amalek.  Those who miss the kriah, can have kavanah  in the summer during the recitation of Parshas Zochur in Parshas Ki Saytzai

The following information is for patients and their loved ones who have pre-planned hospital stays on Purim, although the rules may differ slightly in every institution.  Please call your hospital ahead of time so that you can generate a plan of action and solicit help in realizing it. Patients with unscheduled hospital stays, such as those brought in, cv’s, with Hatzalah, will have to improvise. 

All hospitals have very rigid visiting hours because of COVID. If the hours are 12-6, you must verify if you are allowed to visit the entire 6 hours or only 4 out of the 6.  And the clock starts upon your arrival; this means that at the end of the designated visiting time, you should be preparing to leave and not overstay the allotted time.

Also, some hospitals only allow one individual to visit during this time, and only that same individual.  So, a daughter cannot come for 2 hours and then exchange with her brother for the next 2 hours. Please dialogue with your patient’s caregivers as to the details of their daily itinerary. 

Now for Purim: This Purim falls out on Thursday Night, February 25 and Friday the 26.

At night, laining takes place after tzais hacochavim.  If visiting hours end prior to this time, a patient can hear the recitation from plag hamincha (on Ta’anis Esther) Thursday February 25th  with a Bracha, which falls out at 4:33PM. 

The source for this is the Gemorah in the beginning of  Meseches Brachos, where Rebbi Yehuda tells us that night starts at Plag Hamincha. Plag Hamincha is roughly an hour and a quarter before sunset, depending on what time of year it is. Although at this time it is not dark outside, halachically you are within the domain of night. 

We use this exemption at other times of the year, such as during the summer, which allows us to be mekabel Shabbos early and on Erev Shabbos Chanukah, to enable us to light Chanukah candles before shkia

Taanis Esther is considered within the sovereignty of Purim and, therefore, we can lain and hear Megillah although it’s still light out (see below how this applies in the case of someone in the hospital). Meseches Megilah in the Mishna also delineates how some places would start laing as early as the 11th of Adar (3 days before the actual Purim Holiday). This Talmud further elucidates how one can daven maariv early, even at a time not yet considered zman shecheeva (the time for lying down or retiring for the night) and that one can say shema for the night while it’s still

Halacha asserts that if someone sets out on a trip by wagon before Purim, he can hire someone to lain for him before dark; he doesn’t have to wait until tzais hacochavim. . How much more necessary is this leniency in the case of an ill person in the hospital or a woman who’s given birth?  Consequently, it is permissible for hospital patients to hear megilah lained after plag, before nightfall. 

I spoke at length to my Rabbanim and Poskim regarding this matter and the consensus was, as stated, that a hospital patient can hear laining after plag hamincha, before actual night fall.Rav Hershel Schachter is one of the poskim who supports this opinion.

To clarify this issue for yourselves, please feel free to examine Rav Gavriel Zinner’s sefer Nitiai Gavriel on Hilchos Purim.  In the section Zman Krias Hamegilah, he circumscribes the aforementioned. 

During the day, the Baal Koreh should arrive at the beginning of visiting hours and not feel pressured so he has time to get home for Shabbos.

Remember the Baal Koreh should be the designated visitor for both day and night; don’t encourage more visitors unless you know more than one person is allowed, otherwise you may forfeit your chance to hear the laining. .

In the unfortunate event the patient has no one to lain for him/her, make certain the patient has a copy of the Megilas Esther so that he/she can read it alone. 

These are just a few of the concerns that will arise. May Hashem Yisbarach bentch us with refuahs ve yeshuas, and may we be able to fulfill his Torah and Mitzvos without any difficulties and, certainly, the proper way next year.  And may Hashem remove this magyafa from our midst Bemehyra Biyamaynu, Amen!

The above chaplains as with many chaplains, have many challenges dealing not just with their patients, but family members and caregivers. The chaplains are diplomatic, caring, sensitive and very knowledgeable about the facts.  Their ongoing relationships with staff and administration of different faiths and backgrounds is truly superb and a Kiddush H.   It gives me great pride to feature the above three chaplains in my article in this week’s newsletter and hope to feature other chaplains in future editions


I still meet individuals who tell me after receiving the vaccinations I will be able to return to pre-March activities. Yet, there is so much conflicting information from different sources of what life should be like. We are being told mask-wearing and other precautions until 2022. But then again, there are announcements of opening places of interest for different populations, more people could eat inside restaurants, and so on. Each person must rely on his/her health care providers for guidance on what is best for that person. People should not take it upon themselves to give advice to others. Life is not a cookie-cutter with the same shape and size one size fits all. Many have certain medical conditions, have weaker immune systems, and so on. I would like to share with you an experience I had during my internship for CPE at the BIMC. I was visiting a patient when he wanted a drink of water. I knew he was not allowed any liquid without thickener and only at specific times. Someone who was visiting another nearby patient came over to me and asked why I wasn’t giving that patient a drink. I explained I do not have permission to do so. I did not feel it appropriate to share the medical reason the patient could not have a drink of water. The visitor berated me in no explicated words. I was hoping she would report me and find out from the medical staff why I could not give the patient a drink, but I would not say anything that might antagonize that person. I tried to be as respectful as possible. I know an older couple whose health care provider gave strict instructions of what is permissible for them regarding not being with family for the Purim seuda if there are family members not inoculated, have been in the company of others and about receiving shalach manos etc. This couple’s lives depend on serious precautions. Even though there are new and advanced treatments, for this couple and many others, must try their best to be as cautious as possible. The Lakewood Scoop posted a letter from Torah Umesorah sent to their affiliated principal’s which with permission from Torah Umesorah is available below this article. 

This past Wednesday evening was another milestone in the life of my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom Hakohein A”H with the family receiving the Rebbitzen Shima Feinstein award in her memory  There was a video clip with a presentation by the Rosh HaYeshiva Hagaon Harav Reuven Feinstein. It is hard to believe that 9 months will have passed since she was nifteres. It is interesting for me to say this, but the experience of having a dear wife during her illness and petira has been so different than any other experience in my life. I have shared a lot with my readership and hopefully, as I did hear from others, that all my articles which included about my relationship with her and my own experiences as seen and experienced through my lens and yes, my heart was meaningful and helpful to many. Being open about my feelings- some very personal and with opportunities sharing and seeking guidance and support from Rav Dovid ztkl, his Rebbitzen Malka tichia, family, close friends, colleagues and yes a magnificent psychologist not in the role of a professional relationship I have with him, but one who gave much needed professional chizuk when needed for my wife and I during her illness and then after her nifteres for me- Dr. Norman Blumenthal. Sharing even this has been helpful to many that it is not an embarrassment, but a sense of determination and importance to seek support and guidance whether it be from a rav, a caring relative, friend and yes professional counseling whether it be for grief and bereavement or other concerns in life. The year is not over yet, but I am grateful to the Ribono Shel Olom for my journey of healing, and the opportunities of continuing my professional activities which is what my wife wanted me to do and as I also mentioned in the past, Rav Dovid expressed his chizuk of continuing to helping others. There will always be some type of first without her, such as the forthcoming yom tovim or the recent marriages of grandchildren she was present spiritually even though not physically brought much nechama. An analogy I once gave is like seeing a close relative or friend at the airport with all the suitcases etc. having to say goodbye, knowing it might be a very long time until it will be possible to see him/her again. The hugs, the kisses, the tears, are strong, but the knowledge the special person is traveling to another place for a good reason, puts everything in the right perspective. The prayers , the good wishes, the love goes along, but for everyone else there is much joy and happiness when that person arrives at his/her destination and everything will turn out all right. We are always sadden when a loved one, a person who is dear to us, or a person who means a lot to Klal Yisrael for instance leaves us from this world. Life however, must go on and the nechama is knowing where that person’s neshama is right now. One other important point is the fact that the Ribono Shel Olom decided it was time for Rav Dovid and it was time for my wife to return to Haolom Haemes in Hawolom Haba.  We pray Rav Dovid should be a mailetz yashar for his family and for Klal Yisrael and my wife to be a malitza yeshara for family and Klal Yisrael.

Purim, the hidden holiday of miracles. Today, everyday our lives are filled with miracles. The mere fact that the human body can work without being attached to electricity or batteries and yet we can walk, talk, speak, think and do so many other tasks. Our internal electrical system works by using the cells that have a built-up electrical gradient or energy that can be given off to other cells by direct/neuronal transfer. Neurohormones or transmitters activate the synapses (electrical junctions in the body) that stimulate the brain, nerves, and muscle cells to become active and communicate.alk and do many things. In fact, there is a type of electricity working in the brain .

Electricity in the Brain. The cells that make up our bodies use electrical signals to send messages to each other. That’s why from the moment we’re born (even when we are sleeping) our brains are producing a small amount of electricity. This electricity can be measured using very sensitive recording tools – electrodes – that sit on the outside of the head and detect what is going on …

Yet, we often take for granted what and how our bodies can do. However, when there is a misfire, when Heaven Forbid something goes wrong with any part of our body functions, it can cause a catastrophe of immense proportions. That is when many begin to pray for a refuah, for a return to the normal functions. To be free of pain and any type of suffering. Then there are the silent illnesses when often there are no overt symptoms and a person finds out through a fluke- a non related symptom or something even seemingly minute change that causes a reason to be seen by a physician and is diagnosed with a certain type illness such as cancer, as occurred with my wife. My wife was due for a flu vaccine, but due to a certain allergy, the medical staff at her employment said she would have to get her flu vaccination at her/ our private physician. She had one innocuous symptom and our primary physician Dr. Barry Grossman decided to take a number of blood tests which showed she was anemic and advised she see a gastroenterologist. He ordered some tests including an endoscopy and colonoscopy which showed she had a tumor in the junction of her esophagus and stomach. She was not experiencing any pain or discomfort. Many further tests and biopsies down the road confirmed the type of cancer she had. Often, people are not that fortunate.  We often do not understand, not the scientists, the physicians etc. We therefore should not take life for granted. Disease and illness can come from within and from outside sources such as the pandemic of COVID 19, the Coronavirus. It is important to see one’s health care provider on a regular basis and to contact him/her with any symptoms of concern. Better to be safe than sorry. There are many treatments that are successful. It is important not to self diagnose nor self medicate. There is much to be thankful for and much to pray for everyday of our lives. May we all be zoche the geula sheleima bekarov amain. Thank you. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank