From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank, MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
917 446 2126 firstname.lastname@example.org
June 17, 21
I have often written about having emunah, betachin and hope. I also have written about having trust in H. That should be an understatement but is not so simple to believe in when someone is going through a challenging time, seeking a job position, a shidduch, or when the prognosis of an illness and choices of regarding treatment plans are in doubt. There are no simple answers, but chaplains, and rabbanim with the right approach, with sincerity, there is so much realistic hope that can and should be given. If a person who in the eyes of H is deserving to have whatever he/she wants let us say is interested in a certain shidduch or a certain job position and is deserving of whatever he/she desires (of course whatever is appropriate) should not make decisions based on what this person thinks is best for him/her, but should be mispallel the outcome of the decision should be based on the emunah of what H feels is best for him/her. Emotionally, that is not so simple. I am aware of a bachur who wanted to turn down a shidduch because he did not like certain insignificant things about her looks. Now, this young lady was quite pretty, wonderful midos, wonderful family, and yet, this young man was going with his heart and not his mind. With the advice and encouragement of his mentors, continued to see her and lo and behold, really got to like her – very much and saw her beauty inside and out. They married and had a beautiful family. Then there are the stories of young men and women hoping for their dreams to come true and have hope for the wrong things in life sometimes with decisions leading to unfortunate consequences. There are many examples of hope. We daven, we are mispallel for so many things and for so many reasons. We seek brachos for those things we pray for. Sometimes the outcome is not what we are hoping for. But we cannot give up hope. In previous articles I wrote about the different hopes a person has. The hope of a terminally ill patient. The hope of less or no pain. The hope of no embarrassment due to the illness and care she/ he must have. The hope of forgiveness by H and family. The hope to be able to end with dignity. The hope of entering Hawolam Habaw. The hope of being alive for as long as possible to give and to receive the love that is so important and needed. The hope of a family without child to someday have one. The hope of a shidduch. The hope for happiness. My wife A”H had so much hope, never giving up. Her hope as I have elaborated often was for many different things- all connected to her emunah. Though she might have been disappointed in some of her hopes, yet she was able to transfer her disappointment to finding new hopes she felt were answered and grateful to H. I have a dear friend who also had a wife who died and will soon be Please G be remarrying in another month. Everything is up to H. His hope was for his life to be meaningful, to be able to have his own journey dealing with his grief and bereavement. He has been one of those remarkable mentors during my journey for grief and bereavement. He has been and is very spiritual, learned, a professional in the work he does and a very caring human being a with a lot of emunah and betachan. He also has a family who has been incredibly supportive of him all these months since his wife’s death. I would like to share with you a few experiences in my chaplaincy when I interned at the hospital with different kind of hope. Please note that many of my patients were not of the Jewish faith. One of the units I was given was family practice. There was a couple with a Haitian background. The wife was several months pregnant. She had fibroids and was informed by her medical team she would have to abort the fetus as it would be impossible to have a carry a full pregnancy. Aside from the physical pain she was having, there was a lot of emotional pain as well which she shared with her husband. However, her pain was magnified knowing how much she wanted this child, but now to end this life and not to be able have a baby to hold and to cherish. There was so much pain and she asked me what hope there can be for her with the possibility of never having any other children. She did not want to have another chaplain or clergy from a different religion, but me as I visited her and her husband on several times. We spoke about transferring the hope to other types of hope, for her to pray as she felt meaningful and requested that I say a prayer with her and a psalm with soothing words of comfort. I did not offer words of the future nor give any false hopes. Her husband on her behalf and himself embraced me with tears and appreciation. I asked if there were any prayers or spiritual words from her religion and or background and this too made her feel comfortable which she said with her husband and continued even after I had left the visit. They insisted on my coming to visit her before her discharge as she felt she and her husband needed words of encouragement and comfort with expressions of how and where to place hope for the future in different ways. Another painful experience is being requested to give comfort to a mother whose child was stillborn, and the mother is holding that child, shaking back and forth singing to that child with her husband next to her with tears in his eyes. I could only hope to say the words she wanted to hear. I stayed with them in the private of their hospital room. Quiet until the mother looked up to me asking me for a prayer, for words of hope for this child and for her and her husband. I am not sharing here what I said but was with them in the present finding the words and the song that fit the moment and the mood and let her share her feelings and her husband’s. Another event when I was on call late in the evening and requested to rush to the pediatric intensive care unit. I found a couple in tears next to a baby in a warmer with tubes attached and oxygen. They were informed the baby needed a specific procedure or would surely die within hours. They were Catholic and requested a Baptism with blessings and support from me. Amongst the nurses was one who was Catholic and there is a special exemption for an emergency Baptism rather than one which might have done in a Catholic Church. Together with other members of the nursing staff who were Catholic, she performed the religious procedure and recited the Catholic prayers. During this time, arrangements were made for the baby to be transported to another hospital where the medical procedure could take place. I also contacted the Catholic chaplain at that hospital who agreed to meet the parents at the receiving bay when the ambulance would arrive. A seamless transition spiritual and medical collaborating together. Before the transfer, while the medical staff was preparing the infant for transport, the parents requested I sit down with them to offer words of comfort, of encouragement, of hope, and my blessings with a prayer for them and the baby. The nursing staff with the permission of the parents joined us with their own tears, words of compassion and my prayer and psalms as well. The parents felt I gave them hope and meaning of life for them and their child. The nursing staff after the infant and parents had left, requested I remain and give them my blessings, an opportunity to share why they were in tears, and how much this entire event meant so much to them. They shared how honored and grateful they were that I made them feel being part of a wonderful team bringing hope to the parents and the infant. This and other events gained me even more credibility for my chaplaincy and appreciation not just what I did, but the value of chaplaincy for the staff and family members. I followed up with the chaplain from the other hospital who kept in touch with me and the parents. Yes, the procedure was successful, and the infant was kept alive. I have countless of stories of my chaplaincy through the years, and I take pride of being given the opportunity of being mekadeish H in different ways. I was known as the orthodox Jewish chaplain (some would refer to me as the rabbi which I did not insist on as I was there being a chaplain) who remained Jewish orthodox but would and could offer care to all people. Giving care to a young hospice patient and family can also be challenging. However, working together with the compassionate hospice staff with the social workers, music and art therapists and other interdisciplinary team members made the experiences more formidable and meaningful. Offering care to a child or adolescent can be special. Hope in such a case is possible but knowing life is limited takes tremendous fortitude to say and do the right things especially with and for the family. That is why CPE is so important in addition to the wisdom one is mispallel for.
I always insisted for the hospital staff to know that I was not their rabbi, nor their official chaplain, but it did not matter to them. I was often requested to participate, visit patients, and spend time with the medical and nonmedical staff if the official chaplain was not available. The same occurred when I was working for MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care visiting hospice patients at one of the hospitals where the staff knew me and requested my presence even with patients and families that were not mine. I insisted on them remembering I was not the hospital chaplain and would only assist if their chaplain was not available. In addition to my chaplaincy, I also did outreach and met with medical, nursing, and social worker staff. Here is a story about the singing and dancing chaplain- that is me. I entered a hospital room to visit an MJHS hospice patient and family member whose bed was situated near the window. As I entered the room there was a family sitting and standing next to a patient bed 1. The family requested I spend time with them even after telling them I was not of their religion nor the hospital chaplain. They mentioned having heard me speak to other family members and nursing staff, they wanted me to ‘minister” to their father, and husband. The patient was Irish Catholic and towards end of life. The patient already received the Sacraments from a Catholic Priest and his prayers for the family, but they still requested I spend time with them. They were so sad, some with tears. What hope is there in these last days? I shared with them the hope of a peaceful death when the time comes, their hopes for heaven, their hopes their prayers will be accepted, the hope that the family will be together with the love they have for their loved one and each other as they shared with me. After speaking with them, giving my blessings, words of Psalms, I asked are there any songs in Irish their loved one felt good listening and singing to. Why yes, they said, and I asked if they would like to sing at least one of the songs. They mentioned there is even a little dance with it. So, they started to sing and to dance near the bed. I joined them in humming the Irish song and did my own fancy footsteps. They started to smile and smile, and they held hands together, and danced and then they stopped with their mouths wide open, they gasped for the patient opened his eyes and started to hum with them. He had not opened his eyes or said anything for days. He even said some words to them. They could not stop thanking me for the hope I gave them, and their renewed faith. Several days later he died. About a week later, I received a request to meet with the social worker supervisor of MJHS as well as my chaplaincy supervisor who gave me praises for my work which I was known for with patients, family members, care givers and staff from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. This time there was a report from the patients and family social worker, and I was given a new title “the singing and dancing chaplain/rabbi”. The patient’s social worker got that title from the family who mentioned they never realized there could be different types of hope and that I was the initiator of hope for that family and that patient. During my tenure at MJHS Metropolitan Jewish Health System, Hospice and Palliative Care I was the Rabbinical Liaison, spiritual care, Palliative Care and Community team member, member of the outreach committee, met with social workers and other medical staff at hospitals throughout NYC and collaborated with staff of diverse backgrounds throughout the MJHS system. I also was part of the pediatric team. Working with so many professionals’ way up to administration was rewarding with wonderful golden opportunities to be mekadeish H. It was when I was with MJHS that I created and facilitated two major end of life programs for and with the RAA each attended in person and via zoom close to 100 rabbis, chaplains, medical and other professionals. I was also a member of the RCA and received the prestigious Healthcare Chaplaincy Award of the Year which my wife shared in my award. Some years back, I was also the Chair of the RCA Healthcare Chaplains committee of which Rabbi Doniel Kramer is presently that Chair. I am still a member of the RCA.
Hope comes in many colors and stripes. I mentioned frequently that I attribute my accomplishment to my wife A” H. She always shared her confidence in me, always mentioning she has hope in all that I do. Any of my other positions on my resume, I attribute to her. She took so much pride in whatever I or any of our children and grandchildren were involved in. Yet, she was so humble in all that she did and accomplished. She was a tremendous influence on the entire family and to anyone who sought her advice and her encouragements. We all have tremendous gratitude to the Ribono Shel Olam. She always rooted for all of us. Though she is no longer here, all the children and grandchildren feel she still gives them the hope they need to succeed. Everyone has the tremendous potential of instilling hope and in giving hope, thereby uplifting the spirits others especially in their time of need. Being kind, caring and encouraging goes along way. We must, however, be mindful of what we say to those who are seeking hope and what we tell them in their time of need. We must not give false hopes, nor embellish the truth. Let us be mispallel that there should be shalom al Yisrael, good health, happiness, much kindness, and much goodness. Let us hope that the topsy turvy world will straighten out bringing peace, stability, and tranquility. May all those who want a shidduch, parnassa, good health, a refuah, joy, happiness should be so. May we be zoche the coming of Mashiach and everything good for us our mishpacha, for Klal Yisrael. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank