From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC ***
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud Harabbonim
May 20, 21
Dedicated to Keila Lutza bas Shalom Hakohen A”H
Two Yartzeits ? Many hold the yartzeit on the day of petira and many hold if the kevurah is two days after the petira the first year’s yartzeit is held on that day. A difference between the Shach and the Tzaz. For explanations such as the responsa from Chelkas Yaakov (I siman132) and Igros Moshe(Yoreh Deah III siman 160) see Mourning in Halalcha The Laws and Customs of the Year of Mourning by Rabbi Chaim Binyamin Goldberg Artscroll Mesorah Heritage Foundation( Chapter 44 The Yahrzeit page 423).( Of course everyone can go to the actual sources for deeper explanations). For me, this year the day my wife was nifteres, the first day of Shavuos, vav Sivan was a special yartzeit for me and since Rav Moshe ztkl held the opinion since the kevurah was two days later the second yartzeit is also important which occurred yesterday. I lit the yartzeit candle on both days. I am sharing another view from my lens in my final days of my journey in the year of bereavement (my travel arrangements) and how the days leading up to the yartzeit this Shavuos was for me.
Actually, I wondered myself how I would be emotionally and some of my thoughts. For one, would the neshama return to the place where she died? Would I be in tears, uncontrollable tears? None of that occurred. I stayed up most of the night especially saying the Tikun. I eventually fell asleep in the morning and made it in time for the second minyan where I was given the honor of being baal tefila for shacharis and musaf, the maftir and then my speech. My tears I did not shed and in fact was quite calm, relaxed and could only envision how serene it most be for her neshama in Hawolam Habaw, being with all the holy neshamos reviewing Zeman Matan Torahseinu. Throughout my journey rather than feeling guilt for what I was unable to do for her, have dedicated myself to do the many mitzvos for her neshama which is far way more important than feeling sorry for myself on what I could have done for her. In my tefilos, I am mispallel how I can be even a better person and bring much nachas for her neshama. I was pleased to have given tzedakah in her memory through my son, stepsons and son in laws for their learning Shavuos. I also sponsored the refreshments and learning nights at the Bialystoker Synagogue and MTJ Yeshiva. All of the above gave me a good feeling, I was doing the right thing for her neshama. I also gave a brief speech at the Bialystoker Synagogue which I am including below and distributed delicious cheese danish and following my wife being considerate of others, made sure to have sugar free danish as well as the regular cheese danish. On the first day of Shavuos, I prepared a sumptuous seuda for two relatives who live in my neighborhood who joined me at my home-the first time in over a year on the first day of Shavuos that I had guests for a seuda (yes, I did all the shopping, preparations, cooking and baking- not bad for a widower. Maybe I should have a zoom cooking class). Again , I am sharing what might be trivial to some, but chizuk to many on my own journey this year leading up to the present with hopes for the future. It is remarkable, that even during Shavuos ,I received many praises about my wife and the tremendous impact she had on the Lower East Side community. She moved here after our marriage not knowing many and I must admit she was very courageous to do so especially opening her heart for four new children in her life especially after many years with a tremendous shem tov in Kensington, Brooklyn and three wonderful sons she brought up- still shepping nachas from them. She was truly remarkable on how she was able to combine and weave all of her relationships, her friendships, her fantastic life with a new life and family with my four children she also has much nachas from them, as if to say all the pieces of the puzzle put together in one beautiful picture. At a siyum Wednesday night there were four speakers who shared different aspects of her life. Truthfully, I don’t think 100 speakers could do justice as there were so many live’s she impacted in so many different ways and so many accomplishments throughout her life. I mentioned previously how she found in her heart to love and care for her three sons and then for 27 years to also love and care for my children weaving both as one family. Yet, her love and care she gave to each child as an individual was so wonderful. I truthfully believe that my journey throughout this year was made so much easier to transition from grief and bereavement, from sadness to brightness and more happiness with hope for the future because of my wife. She was so much a role model to me and the entire family, but at the moment, I am referring to myself. How much even during her painful and challenging moments, her faith, her hope, her tremendous emunah and her love for me and her love for each child and grandchildren was enormous. With so much love and especially her love for the Ribono Shel Olam continues today and how much as I have mentioned many times, her wish, her desire, for each of us to continue our lives with happiness and productivity meant so much to her. Her personal words of encouragement to me for the future even towards the last days of her life keeps resonating in me as she did for each of the children. For me though, knowing I would eventually be alone and without her, always tried to ensure everything is for the best. The Aibershta knows best and she had only positive thoughts for me for the future. She gave me the strength to go on in life and was very clear and open with her thoughts. We were so close with each other and so open about life and death. Death is about life, but another stage in living and how we prepare for that time is really up to each person to make the most of life until the very end. Most of all, we must never forget as she did not, of our relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam. We must always have hakaros hatov to Him for all that he does for us and to be mispallel to Him not only in times of need or chas vshalom in times of crises, but when everything seems to be going good. I have received praises and encouragements from others even telling me how proud Keila must be of me. I really have not thought about doing anything to make her proud of me, but rather to do things that would be considered good to her. Perhaps the chemistry between us was important, complimenting each other’s life. I am so grateful for all the wonderful thoughts shared by many throughout this year and beyond. Most did not know how ill she really was a decision my wife and I made, but how my wife was able to do so without letting on not just how ill she was, but the seriousness of her illness and that there was really never a cure for her cancer. I have shared many aspects of my life these past months with you my readership from my heart. I truly hope my words were helpful and inspiring in one way or another. My wife was truly humble and modest never thinking of herself of tremendous value as she really was. Everyone has the ability to accomplish much. Why wait for the years to pass- what about now? I would like to quote from the Stone Chumash Artscroll Mesorah Publications Ltd from Ruth/Rus (pages 232-233)” The Book of Ruth is the history of the roots of King David. Indeed, the last verse, which continues the line of Boaz’s descendants, ends with David (Yerushalmi Chagigah 2:3) and his birthday, we read Ruth on Shavuous (Tevos Shor). The great majority of people lead lives of quiet desperation, thinking that their struggles, successes and failures have no lasting purpose. No one had more right to feel that way than Ruth and Naomi, scratching for existence and scrounging for the next meal. For Ruth, to gather food was a small gesture with no real significance. But G looks carefully at our deeds and discerns in them layers of meaning and importance beyond our imagination. The deeds of righteous people in the Book of Ruth achieved the greatest of all imprimaturs: G let them be recorded as part of the Torah. How great man can become! G’s Torah was given on Shavuos. And the deeds of mortals too, have become part of the Torah and are read every Shavuos. This shows us how much we can make of ourselves and our world-if we realize our full potential.” As modest and as humble my wife was, yet, she knew what she could accomplish and how to do so. I have heard from others of the many achievements such as the special programs she was involved in with the Jewish Russian population in her neighborhood years ago. She did so many things both in Brooklyn, the Lower East Side ,with her OORAH Torah Mate going from zero in Yiddishkeit with her two sons, to becoming a frum woman with two sons excelling in their yeshiva education and her eventual marrying a chasid of immense faith and kindness to her and what became both their sons.
My wife was nifteres on Dovid Hamelechs yartzeit. On the first day of Shavuos by the second minyan I gave my speech. Chaplain Paula Van Gelder is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Healthcare Chaplaincy Listserve where Orthodox Jewish Healthcare Chaplains receive and share vital professional chaplaincy and comradeship between and amongst the healthcare chaplains . This Listserv is administered by a dear chaver Rabbi Doniel Kramer who is also the chairperson of the Rabbinical Council of America Chaplaincy Committee and also a member of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Member healthcare chaplains of the Listserve do not have to be rabbis.
This is my speech at the Bialystoker Shul on Shavuos.
I WANT TO THANK RABBI ROMM AND THE GABBOIM FOR PERMISSION TO SHARE SOME PERSONAL THOUGHTS WITH YOU. HELLO. MY NAME IS YEHUDA BLANK. TODAY IS THE FIRST YARTZEIT OF MY WIFE KEILA LUTZA BAS SHALOM HAKOHEN A”H. MANY OF YOU KNEW HER. SHE HAD A RADIANT SMILE, CARING, DID MANY KIND DEEDS ,FRIENDLY, WAS WELL LIKED BY MANY FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS AND ALWAYS BEING MEKADEISH HASHEM. SHE ALSO ENJOYED ATTENDING RABBI ROMM’S SHIURIM FOR WOMEN. I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH YOU A QUOTE SHE REQUESTED I INCLUDE IN MY WEEKLY ARTICLES FOR THE RABBINICAL ALLIANCE OF AMERICA NEWSLETTER LESS THAN TWO WEEKS BEFORE SHE WAS NIFTERES. “WHEN THINGS LOOK BLUE IT HELPS TO REMEMBER THAT TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY AND WILL BE A BRIGHTER DAY” SHE WANTED ALL TO HAVE HOPE AND FAITH IN THE RIBONO SHEL OLAM FOR THE DAYS AHEAD AS SHE SINCERELY DID. SHE DID NOT GIVE UP HOPE NOR HER LOVE FOR THE RIBONO SHEL OLAM.. SHE WANTED AS MANY PEOPLE TO READ HER QUOTE AND THOUSANDS RECEIVED IT . ONE OF THE MANY RABBIS AND ALSO CHAPLAINS WHO RECEIVE MY ARTICLES OF INSPIRATION IS AN ORTHODOX JEWISH CHAPLAIN FROM LOS ANGELES – PAULA VAN GELDER A DISTINGUISHED BOARD CERTIFIED CHAPLAIN AT THE CEDAR-SINAI MEDICAL CENTER. AMONGST THE MANY MEANINGUL WORDS SHE WROTE ME WERE THESE HEARTWARMING WORDS, “I WAS REMINDED OF BEING TAUGHT THAT THE REASON WE RISE FOR A RABBI IS BECAUSE HE CARRIES A SEFER TORAH WITHIN HIM. IT SEEMS TO BE VERY FITTING THAT YOUR AISHIS CHAYIL Z”L YARTZEIT IS ON SHAVUOS, FOR SHE CLEARLY CARRIED HER OWN SEFER TORAH WITHIN HER”. TODAY, ON THIS YOM TOV FOR ME IS A DAY OF HAPPINESS AND NOT OF SADNESS KNOWING HER NESHAMA IS WITH OTHER HOLY NESHAMOS IN GAN EIDEN IN HAWOLOM HABAW AND FOR PERMITTING ME TO SHARE THESE THOUGHTS ABOUT HER WITH YOU.I WOULD GREATLY APPRECIATE IF YOU WOULD ENJOY THE DELICIOUS CHEESE DANISH I PURCHASED FROM MOSHES YOU WILL RECEIVE ON THE WAY OUT AND HAVE IN MIND KEILA LUTZA BAS SHALOM HAKOHEN A”H. THERE ARE REGULAR AND SUGAR FREE DANISHES. MAY ALL OF YOU BE BLESSED AND MAY YOUR LIVES BE FILLED WITH HOPE, FAITH, EMUNAH, GOOD HEALTH, HAPPINESS AND LOVE OF HASHEM TODAY, TOMORROW AND FOR 120 YEARS TO COME. MAY WE ALL BE ZOCHE THE GEULA SHELEIMA BEKAROV AND SHALOM AL YISRAEL BEIMHEIRA VEYAWMEINU AMEIN. THANK YOU AND HAVE A WONDERFUL AND MEANINGFUL YOM TOV. RABBI ROMM REQUESTED I REMIND EVERYONE TO FIRST MAKE KIDDUSH BEFORE EATING THE DANISH.
The mispallim following davening shared their appreciation for my speech many felt spoke about the essence of my wife. They also shared their appreciation and felt the quote from Chaplain Paula Van Gelder was meaningful and appropriate. They appreciated having the choice of a regular cheese danish and the option for a sugar free danish . The two choices was another way of being sensitive for those who would normally not have taken a danish. Something my wife would have thought of and I was just following what she would have done.
In a recent article about Kiddush H and some of the ways my chaver sees me interacting with others not of the Jewish Faith or not of the same way of observing the Judaism. In those articles, I mention about an African American bus driver who I connected with. When my chaver would go to the front of the bus, I would wish him well and then offer my good wishes to the driver with a positive response. I was walking last week with my chaver from shul to the bakery which is the opposite direction from the bus stop where he takes the bus back home. The bakery is about two and half blocks the other way. As we get to the front of the bakery a bus stops in the middle of the street, and a honking from the bus. We took a look and it was that bus driver who saw us. As we got closer he opened the door and with a big smile said hello, asked how we are and was so happy in front of all the passengers lifting his hands waving to us. He asked if my chaver would like to board the bus. We met him again yesterday at the regular bus stop again with the same sincere smile and so happy to see us and my blessings to him. My chaver as I mentioned in my previous article is so taken how many people respond so positively and what a joy it is to be mekadeish H . When I would walk with my wife in the neighborhood we both enjoyed greeting and meeting men and women from diverse backgrounds. My wife would say to me “Yehuda stop running for office” and then I would say to my wife “and which office are you from. “What I found so nice was men and women of Asian backgrounds who came to a program my wife was working with some years ago. They would stop to greet and speak to my wife who we would meet in different neighborhoods, but they always recognized my wife. I was amazed how she knew many of the dialects and words I could barely pronounce, but always with respect for each other. She was held in high esteemed where she worked in the later years on the Lower East Side who respected her for the values she kept never wavering in the Jewish faith, customs and what was permitted or not. She was respected and well liked by so many. Years before, she was a distinguished Morah in Mirrer Yeshiva. Oh my goodness, I could go on and on and on about my wife, about our relationship, but as I mentioned beforehand, and in previous articles, she did not want me or the mishapacha to live on our memories, but to go on in life. As the family would say those are not just memories, those are part of our life, how to live our lives and bring up our children. She was a role model par excellent.
Yesterday after many months, I returned to the yeshiva MTJ, for a shiur, to listen in person to the Mashgiach Harav Chaim Ganzweig and for Mincha. The last time was when I spoke at a hesped for Rav Dovid ztkl. Today, my goal is to go to shiur in person not zoom and after shiur to give out a danish and drink a lechayim – to life and to the future. The naming of a great grandchild with her name occurred some time ago, the yartzeits have passed and now is time to drink a lechaim for the future and being able to return to normalcy, Boruch H. May we all be zoche to have good health ,simchas, maysim tovim, happy and joyous occasions, nachas from all our mishpacha and the Geula Sheleima Bekarov, Moshiach Tzedkeinu Bemheira Veyawmeinu Amein. Of course, we cannot forget our brethren in Eretz Yisrael and now worldwide being subjected to unforeseen acts of violence we pray will end soon. May Am Yisrael be protected. As we recite in the tefilla Modin Anachnu Lawch in the Shemoneh Esrei “ We shall thank You and relate Your praise for our lives that are committed into Your hands and for our souls that are entrusted to You and for Your miracles that every day are with us and for Your wonders and favors that are all times evening, morning and afternoon The Beneficent One for never exhausted are Your compassions, and the Compassionate One, for never ended are Your kindnesses always have we put our hope in You.”(Translation Interlinear Siddur for weekdays Artscroll Mesorah Heritage Foundation). Thank you. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank