From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Programming. Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbanim
email@example.com 917 446 2126
June 24th, 2021 ++++
In my recent article, I gave several chaplaincy examples, and I would like to share some additional ones. However, all roads lead to being sincere, to be erlich, to be mekadeish H. This past Monday morning at one of the Lower East Side locations where the MTA mobile sales bus was, I had to do a transaction of filling out an application where my MetroCard will be automatically refilled via my credit card. I don’t have to be concerned of having to go to the nearest subway station where there are the MetroCard machines to refill my card. I was sharing with a few of the MTA employees who were very courteous about my experiences with several of the bus drivers. They mentioned they wish all customers would be so nice and respectful of all people. Just by my interactions with them they mentioned how courteous and respectful I was. I was just being me. The topic came up of how many passengers board MTA buses without ever saying hello or thank you and act downright nasty to the drivers. On behalf the MTA they thanked me. What an experience that was. (another opportunity for Kiddush H). I find it so disheartening reading about elected officials, news commentators and others making it sound as if everyone is disrespectful to one another. Years ago when someone said thank you the response was usually “you’re welcome”. Today, the response is “no problem”. When I was doing my internship at the hospital, I received a request to meet with an African American couple in the cancer unit. The man and woman requested the services of a clergy or chaplain as soon as possible. The nursing staff shared with me the man is at end of life and they both need counseling. I met with them and as usual asked if they would prefer to have a chaplain of their faith and their response was no. In fact, they mentioned being Jewish made me even a greater representative of G. They asked me to sit down next to them and related the following. The were both love birds. They knew each other for many years and lived together as a husband and wife would, but never “tied the knot”. They did not want the end to come without in the eyes of G to be seen as having been in sin all these years and wanted to really get married legally and spiritually. What could I say to them, what were their wishes? I was honest and mentioned I could not perform a wedding marriage. I shared with them that it is up to G to decide forgiveness and He is a forgiving G who loves kindhearted, caring people especially those who have kept the main laws of mankind which they shared with me that they did. I encouraged them to share the special feelings they had for each other until the last moment of life for as long as Holy One wants it to be and to be thankful they lived a life of being kind and caring to each other and to others as well. They requested the nursing staff to join them in sharing with them what we spoke about and how much they meant to each other. They thank me for my gentleness, understanding and their encouragement to thank G for everything good in life they did for each other and as good human beings. They requested a blessing which I gave a spontaneous one and words of Psalms. They held hands and felt as if this occasion to them was a recognition of their unity and relationship with each other. I encouraged them to share words of friendship and words of heartfelt meaning to each other. The nurses brought them grape juice which they mixed with soda for a bubbly drink, and everyone said to life and toasted the moment. This couple was incredibly grateful for this auspicious occasion at such a sensitive time together surrounded by the nursing staff who all had tears in their eyes. They too requested my blessings and if I could recite a Psalm with them. Their wish was to continue caring for all their patients with kind hearts and good nursing abilities. Later that evening, I received a call from the nursing staff that just a short time after I had left and after the patient had thanked all the staff and most of all this special woman in his life and how much she meant to him, he died. There were many other things the couple shared with me which I am not including in this article. They did not have a specific religion nor a house of worship they belonged to, but in the later stages of his illness and their relationship with each other, became more spiritual to G. The nursing staff expressed to me their own heartfelt feelings of that occasion, being part of something they felt very holy, and sacred. In a sense, even now I give thought of the many opportunities Avraham Avinu had in sharing the love of H in a positive way. Many of the opportunities I have through the work I have done and the many interactions with others of diverse cultures, faiths, and backgrounds which I am thankful to H for being able to be mekadeih H . I have many stories of remarkable experiences with patients who were Jewish of different affiliations, sharing the love and enjoyment of mitzvos that appeared quite often and in many ways. The opportunities of mekadeish H, of doing mitzvos, end of life issues, kavod hameis, encouraging Jewish funeral and burials and so much more. Chaplaincy like many other professions including rabbanos or kiruv is not for everyone. It often takes a lot of finesses, appropriate skills, wisdom we pray for and the right interactions.
In this past weeks Yated Ne’eman newspaper (page 66) “A Body Without A Soul by Rav Shlomo Zalman Friedman (Rov of K’hal Zichron Elazar-Santov, Lakewood, NJ) shares includes this as one of the stories he writes “A menahel once went to Rav Elazer Menachem Shach to consult him about a certain bochur. The young man was extremely disruptive and disregarded all pleading by the staff to right his ways. The menahel related that after considering the situation at length, he decided that there was no choice but to expel him from the yeshiva. The menahel said to Rav Shach, “I came here before I carried out my decision to consult with the rosh yeshiva about whether indeed, I should send him away from the yeshiva, and if so, to get a bracha before taking this step.” Rav Shach asked the menahel” tell me, what is the shalom bayis situation in this bochur’s parents’ home? Is it normal and calm or are there difficulties?” The menahel said he did not know. Rav Shach then asked about the parnassah in the home, and again the menahel could not answer. Then the rosh yeshiva asked about the other children in the house, whether they have social issues or health issues, if the parents give their child enough attention-and pocket money if needed-and if the boy had any disorders of any kind. To all these questions, the menahel said apologetically that he knew nothing. When Rav Shach heard this, he sat up and cried out, “He needs to be thrown out? You need to be thrown out!” As Chazal say (Taanis 8a): “Rava said: If you see a talmid who is struggling with his learning like iron, it is because of his rebbi who is not being kind to him…”
The purpose of this article is how important it is to not assume, not to take things for granted, but to show tremendous interest of those who rabbanim and chaplains offer care to. Being sincere takes a lot of heart, a desire to really care about the person and know about him/her. And who you are caring about. I remember a hospice patient who loved music. In fact, I often used my android cell phone to play different types of music, singers, and many other uses with and for my patients. This patient was an elderly woman whose only relative was a nephew. He would visit her periodically. This woman had wonderful neighbors, none of the Jewish faith, but were so kind to her and kept in touch with me for any Jewish needs this woman might have. They brought her the Shabbos candles, and helped her light them. The Shabbat songs we sang brought back many memories especially those she shared with her husband who was no longer with her physically as he had died some years before. She held on to those memories she would share with me. She looked forward to my visits and the classical music I played for her as well as the Jewish songs and thoughts we shared that was no longer observed due to her illness and limitations. What she was most heartbroken was the disconnect from her synagogue where she was a member for many years and knew the former rabbi. As time went on, after she no longer attended services, no one called her, nor contacted her especially the rabbi emeritus and the younger rabbi who took over the rabbi’s position. With the patient’s permission, I contacted the present rabbi. Unfortunately, the older congregants she knew did not leave any information with the rabbi or synagogues office. They were no where to be found. That rabbi worked out a schedule with my patient’s permission for him to call and when possible, to visit her. What really meant so much to her was the reconnection with the former rabbi who I contacted and was genuinely happy I was able to reconnect them especially after a lengthy period of not being in touch with each other. Both he and the new rabbi had no idea how much it meant to this patient to have a relationship with them especially the older rabbi she knew for so many years. It was as if she lost both her husband and the older rabbi. The patient’s nephew when I spoke to him on the phone, shared with me how uplifting it was for her to be reconnected with her rabbi and his visits to her on several occasions. She mentioned to her nephew before she died that now she felt a renewed Jewish spirit, reconnected to her religion and to G through this rabbi she held in high esteem. The younger rabbi mentioned he would recite various tefilos, speak about her in the synagogue and dedicate some of the activities on her behalf. She felt there was now a reconnect with her synagogue even though she was unable to attend. Her nephew called to inform me, she had died, and the funeral was performed as planned. He told me before she died, she told him she was now able to be reunited with her husband and G after her death. He was incredibly grateful for my visits, for taking the interest he considered above and beyond the call to duty of what my responsibilities were. He was the last and only link to her family and felt so sorry for her to live her last months void of spirituality and loneliness until I brought her rabbi back into her world and a renewed relationship with her synagogue.
I am grateful to the Ribono Shel Olam for my experiences as a chaplain, a rabbi of a shul, an executive director of a health care coalition, the co chair and spearheaded the healthcare coalition dealing with elderly suicides amongst my other positions. I hope my readership will continue to find my experiences in the different hats I have worn interesting and helpful. I do want to mention how important It is for a rav to encourage their mispallim to seek professional help when necessary. Self-care should be promoted. Healthy lifestyles, taking preventive tests as recommended by a person’s primary care physician and not to shrug off something that must be addressed. Rabbanim should always encourage their mispallim to listen to their medical professionals. It is also good advice to self check if there are any irregular looking growths on the skin. I know someone personally who noticed something, and the dermatologist made an emergency appointment. He took a skin biopsy, pictures, sent to a lab for immediate results. It turned out to be a Melanoma stage 3. It was an extremely dangerous skin cancer and if not taken care of could have led to serious consequences. The same is with certain pains and symptoms. I have heard this numerous times when individuals brought their symptoms to the attention of their pcp who ordered tests that showed blockage of the arteries. Sometimes patients needed stents to be placed and sometimes bypass surgery. Either of those procedures to save a life. This by the way pertains to women as well as men. There have been cases as presented in one of my previous articles a letter from Mount Sinai Medical Center in NYC who accepted an elderly patient from a hospital in New Jersey who was encouraging hospice and MSMC was able to do a procedure on her heart that gave her another year of life. On the National Council of Young Israel monthly phone meeting with Rav Mordechai Willig one of the questions that were asked “Is it b’kavodik for a Rav to urge his members to have colonoscopies according to the medically recommended intervals? If so, how often should the Rav remind them and in what format should he communicate his message? Rav Willig’s response- he himself when giving his drasha’s will speak about the importance of taking such recommended tests, the dangers of smoking, the importance of healthy living, healthy eating, women taking their recommended screenings are so important. A number of years ago, when I was the Director of Special Programs for the United Jewish Council of the East Side, I spearheaded an educational program for Orthodox Jewish women which included self care, the importance of screenings that are essential for women in particular. One of those screenings was having a mammography, but many women were not familiar with it. Many felt uncomfortable having it and often did not know where to have it done. I collaborated with Cancer Care and at that time there was an Orthodox Jewish Social Worker who was doing her own educational programs and outreach to the frum communities. We collaborated and had a mobile unit parked in front of one of the UJC buildings. Inside the building in the lunchroom, this social worker gave out important material, discussed the importance of having the mammography done and seeing their pcp’ for other screenings and necessary follow ups. The actual mammography was done in the mobile van with a lot of privacy, Not only did we have women from the Lower East Side taking advantage of this absolutely free program, but women from parts of Brooklyn who heard about this program, but would never had done so out of fear or feelings of immodesty. Though the rav of a shul could mention the topic, the rebbitzens could soften the topic with their own discussions and I would be interested in assisting any rav or rebbitzen to set up such a program for their shul.
On a personal note, this week would have been my 28th wedding anniversary. Many meaningful events
and self care in having overcome my grief and bereavement since my wife’s first yartzeit. I have been developing various programs, doing outreach, networking collaborating with other organizations etc., for the RAA and still have a chaplaincy relationship. I have returned to in person shiurim, attending community simchas and events, family simchas, and looking forward to new horizons, new experiences, and maybe new opportunities professionally and otherwise. I even went on my first cruise, the Staten Island Ferry, something I have not done in close to three years and had a sushi lunch on the ferry. There is a small kosher sushi store in 11 Broadway the same building as the OU. There is also a kosher pizza store called Bravo not far from there as well. I share this with my readership, as another perspective of my journey from darkness to light and from sadness to more happiness and joy. The journey continues, but in different ways than my journey throughout the months of grief and bereavement. I could not give up hope and reduce the emunah and betachen that meant so much to me as it did to my wife A”H during these 27 years. I am grateful to H and especially to my wife A”H for 27 meaningful years and I am now grateful to be able to go on with another chapter in life. There always will be challenges as there are for everyone, However, we cannot and should not compare for the journey and challenges are different for each person. May all those who have gone or gong through challenges this year, find comfort in my articles, find hope and faith in your hearts, have continued emunah and love in the Ribono Shel Olam, increased happiness, and shalom al Yisrael. May all those who give care to others, may you continue to be matzliach. May we all be zoche the geulah sheleima. Mashiach Tzidkeinu, Bemheiraw Verawmeinu Venomar Amain. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank
Please note the flyer about the medical conference.
The CPE at NYU sent to be by Rabbi David Keehn at NYUThe position for chaplaincy at the Jewish Federation of NJ and the VA chaplaincy position, both sent to be by Rabbi Doniel Kramer.
VA Long Beach Healthcare System is Recruiting
Chaplain (Clinical Pastoral Educator)
[Department of Veterans Affairs] Click Here to Apply:http://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/602984600 (Current Permanent VA Employees) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/602984900 (All Others)
VA Long Beach Healthcare System (VALBHS) is recruiting for a Chaplain (Clinical Pastoral Educator).
Be part of our team to provide superior healthcare to Veterans!
VALBHS is a Level 1A facility that consists of five Community Based Outpatient Clinics that primarily serves Southern Los Angeles and Orange Counties. We are privileged to be entrusted with the care and services of over 56,000 Veterans and supported by 3,200+ employees. In addition to providing primary, specialty care, and inpatient medical services at the main campus, VALBHS also operates the largest Spinal Cord Injury Center in VA, the “Major Charles Robert Soltes Jr., O.D.” Blind Rehabilitation Center, a Community Living Center, Inpatient Mental Health Services, and a full-service Woman’s Health Center.
Our mission is to foster a culture of quality healthcare and continuous readiness through sustained performance improvement. We are on a journey to become the #1 Healthcare System in the nation by providing the best experience and clinical outcomes for the men and women who have served our country.
If you have a desire to be part of a dynamic team committed to improving the care and experience for the Veterans of Southern California – please review the job announcement and apply TODAY!!!
Fun Facts about the City of Long Beach and the VALBHS:
VALBHS in the Media: VALBHS was featured in an article by the Washington Post on March 20, 2019, with coverage related to the Shark Tank Award Winning Veterans Mental Evaluation Team (VMET) Program
60 Minutes (CBS) featured VALBHS’ Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) procedures that are helping ease symptoms of Veterans with severe PTSD Popular Destinations: VA Long Beach is less than an hour away to some of the Nation’s most popular beach cities (Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Santa Monica, Huntington Beach, Venice Beach) and if you’d rather camp or ski in the mountains, we’ve got that too! From Long Beach, you can visit Catalina Island, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Magic Mountain, Knott’s Berry Farm, The Queen Mary, Big Bear for skiing, the Aquarium of the Pacific, or cruise out of the Port of Los Angles or the Port of Long Beach to Mexico, Hawaii, or Alaska Nearby Schools and Universities: California State University – Long Beach, California State University – Dominguez Hills, University of California Irvine, University of California Los Angeles, and University of Southern California Popular Events: Long Beach Comic Con, Long Beach Grand Prix, Long Beach and Catalina Jazz Festivals
Click Here to Apply:https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/602984600 (Current Permanent VA Employees) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/602984900 (All Others)