From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS. BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud Harabbanim
July 1, 2021



In my recent article, I mentioned where my journey had gone from darkness to brightness, from sadness to more happiness and joy. There were a few items I left for this article. That was before the Three Weeks, and already we are witnessing sadness with what occurred in Florida. How can we not feel for the survivors, for the victims and for their loved ones. There is much to the imagination one thinks about the last moments of their lives and what it must have been for those who were able to escape and those who were not. So many memories of 9/11 with stories of people trapped on the floors above where the airplane crashed speaking to their loved ones and stories of those who were able to escape before the Twin Towers imploded. The tremendous outpouring of all kinds of help such as food, everyday necessities, supplies, and charitable donations from Jewish and non-Jewish local, nationwide, and elsewhere throughout the world is so heartwarming. The word of hope is being conveyed from the elected officials in Florida and the many professionals involved is truly special. Unfortunately, the fears of what will happen (if), and the fears of it can happen elsewhere reverberates and strikes many who are concerned for their safety and the safety of their loved ones of all ages. Yes, the pictures of those who are missing, and the rituals of faith, hope and prayers being held near the site can bring tears to anyone, no matter what one’s background might be. There are many trauma specialists involved such as the world renowned Israeli United Hatzalah Psych trauma and Crises Unit, Ohel, Chai Lifeline and other trauma, mental health specialists. There are also rabbis, chaplain’s other clergy. Much praise must be given to the remarkable first responders and the rescue workers. This article was prepared before Thursday’s distribution of this newsletter. At the time, this article was being prepared, everyone involved was still in the rescue mode and not yet the recovery mode. There are still pockets where victims are still able to survive. Unfortunately, there are places where it would be almost impossible to have survived. All our rabbis and chaplains and rebbitzens too have ‘their hands filled” with offering appropriate care to your congregants, patients, and others. There is also anger not just by family members and loved ones of this tragic disaster, but people all over how this could have happened and even more so, why could not it have been prevented. Yet, rabbis, rebbitzens and chaplains as with many other topics, issues, and concerns, must be cautious how to steer clear of controversy, and share respectful and appropriate dialogue and conversations which will be beneficial and productive. Of course, this is not an easy task, but who said being a rabbi, a rebbitzen and chaplain or any other “people caring professional” is meant to be easy. Challenging- yes, but not always easy. Becoming embroiled in controversy and drawn into discussions especially a heated discussion or when someone asks your opinion, being able to respond appropriately is essential. The last thing anyone wants nor needs is machlokes. We need shalom and achdus.

The mayor of Surfside, Florida, described a chance meeting with a 12-year-old girl at the
Champlain Towers South collapse site Sunday night that “hit me the hardest.” “Last night when I did my late-night pass at the building there was little girl. She’s about 12 years old and she was sitting by herself,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Monday. Burkett said he knew the little girl from a previous encounter and understood that either her mother or father was a victim of the Surfside collapse. Burkett said he found her sitting near the rubble pile scrolling through prayers on her cell phone “all by herself.” “She was reading a Jewish prayer to herself, sitting at the site, by where one of her parents presumably is,” the mayor said. “And that broke my heart. And I am going to find that girl today and I am going to tell her that she just needs to come to me for anything she needs because that is the face of this problem, of this disaster right here – that little girl,” Burkett said. “By herself, completely lost, sitting there, on the deck, looking at the pile of rubble imaging one of her parents is in there. That should never happen.” In our tefilos we should also have in mind everyone connected in someway at “ground zero” Surfside, Florida.

For those who are getting over the loss of a loved one this year, whether it was due to an illness or other reasons, there are times one would relive and think about the last days and even moments of their loved one’s lives. Yet, the journey of grief and bereavement can and does change for a brighter future. In the booklet from MJHS Hospice “When You Are Grieving – A Guide to Understanding Loss” which I quoted in previous articles, I would like to share this from the last page 13. “Looking Toward the Future, as you travel through grief, you may wish you could get back to the way life was before the loss. It may help to realize life is never going to be the same as it was before. But you can be okay again. You can find a new normal. One way you can honor your loved one’s memory is by giving yourself permission to be happy again. Allow yourself to enjoy life and have meaningful relationships. May you find moments of peace and happiness-now and in the future. The death of your loved one may have changed your life. But it has not destroyed you. Trust that your grief will get easier with time. Know that one day you will be able to look toward the future with hope. What you can do. Take life one moment, one step at a time. When you are ready, adjust your focus to the future. Start making plans and setting new goals. Continue to be gentle with yourself. “

Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum. Most of all how important it is to acknowledge one’s relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam, seeking His guidance and continuous opportunities to fulfill all that He wants of us with His help. Though weddings and events with music are curtailed until after the Three Weeks, nevertheless, life goes on such as a shalom zachor, a bris, a Shabbos bar mitzva, a, a lechayim, and of course men and women in the shidduch process can continue or even begin. The cycle of life, and all that is involved in making it happen continues. I did not mention all the permissible events, nor the different minhagim of what is permissible during the Three Weeks. It is not unusual for someone who became a widow or widower to wonder, to ponder, to question, what the future holds for him or herself. And if one has unmarried children what lies ahead for the family. Chizuk is also important for a person who was the sole caregiver giving up many personal opportunities to care for a dear relative. That is where tremendous emunah and betachen comes into being. For those who give advice, counseling, etc. one must always include not only hope, but a brighter future. If before the loss life was bright, when did it lose its brightness. Life can be brighter after the months of mourning, grief, and bereavement. In that perspective, the days ahead hopefully will be brighter. Chaplains for instance can be and are professional listeners, not there to fix things, but with their expertise, wisdom and guidance are wonderful supporters of life which all can learn from. Rabbanim and rebbitzens are remarkable supporters in different ways. Often, they together with a mental health professional work together for the sake of the person they are helping. Seeking the advice from a mental health professional does not mean there is something wrong with that person. It means with the right guidance one can enhance his/her quality of life and often able to overcome challenges and difficulties in life. There are a few other comments I would like to make. Anyone who was ever a member of a board or committee knows there often are individuals who are great making all kinds of recommendations and suggestions but are the last ones who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work on any of those suggestions, no matter how valuable they might be. Giving chizuk and advice without meaningful guidance and helping a person (that is if the person is willing to accept guidance, advice and whatever help would be helpful) is nice, but what else can be done to help the person. Not every caregiver knows how to get back on to his/her own two feet again. The same with a widow or widower. Getting back into the swing of things is no easy task. Being ready or able to ask for advice or a personal question does not come easy. I have shared my own journey and still giving thought of what else am I interested in life. I have received wonderful praises of how I am continuing to remain active, professionally and in my daily living, but not everyone is able to do so without the intervention by those who have a good and meaningful relationship with those individuals. The rabbi and rebbitzen have golden opportunities offering their spiritual and personal touch to caregivers, widows, widowers and other who have lost a loved one. Of course, with the right approach, finesse, and sincere desire of not being intrusive, but just the right amount of sugar and spice. It is not uncommon for someone to share what their desires are in life whether it is about marriage, job opportunities, relationships and just about anything that has to be about returning to life if only they would be approached by the right person. Not to say I am promoting any film, but the well-known song ““To life-to-life lechayim, lechayim, lechayim to life”.

In the tefilla of Veyiten Lechaw “TRANSFORMATION OF DISTRESS TO RELIEF” “You have transformed my lament into dancing for me; You undid my sackcloth and You girded me with gladness. He did not consent H, your G to pay heed to Balaam, and transform did H your G, for you the curse to blessing for does H your G love you. Then gladdened will the maiden be in a dance, and young men and elders together [will rejoice]; and I shall transform their mourning to joy, and I shall console them and gladden them from their sorrow”. (From Artscroll Schottenstein Edition Siddur Mesorah Publications Ltd page 649).

From the Haggadah. The matzos are covered, and the cup is lifted and held until it is drunk. “Lefichach. Therefore, it is our duty to thank, praise, pay tribute, glorify, exalt, honor, bless, extol, and acclaim Him Who performed all these miracles for our fathers and for us. He brought us forth from slavery to freedom, from grief to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light, and from servitude to redemption, let us, therefore, recite* a new song before Him! Hallelu______kaw! *(Deuteronomy 11:17) (Translation from the Kol Dodi Haggadah by Rabbi David Feinstein ztkl Artscroll Mesorah Series Mesorah Publications Ltd page 119)

The Ribono Shel Olam does not want us to have perpetual grief, sadness, unhappiness, and sorrow. Just as there are laws and customs for availos, there are laws and customs for Yom Tovim and simchos. The chasan puts ashes on his forehead prior to the chuppah. The chasan break the glass at the conclusion of the chuppah. There is Shabbos Chazan and there is Shabbos Nachamu. I have shared many aspects of my own journey this past year since my wife was nifteres. Attending any family simcha without her was incredibly difficult, but I did. Due to Covid 19, made it easier for me to decline going to some of the other simchas I was invited to last year. But I finally adjusted. The layers of grief were shedding, and the days did become brighter. She will not be forgotten, by family, friends, and others. She is not alone. She is with all the other holy neshamos in Gan Eiden, in Hawolam Habaw. The Ribono Shel Olam wants all of us, not to have complicated grief, extended grief in any way. During the Three Weeks, especially during the Nine Days and Tisha B Av we are sadden for the loss of our Beis Hamikdash and a holy way of life. We think of the many tragedies the Jewish nation has gone through, but we must go on. That to will come to pass and we are mispallel Tisha B Av will no longer be a universal day of mourning, but a day of happiness, joy, peace and kedusha with the third Beis Hamikdash. Keila Lutza bas Shalom Hakohen A”H made it clear of how much the entire family should proceed with a meaningful and happy life. The Ribono Shel Olam has made it very clear how Klal Yisrael should be now and in the coming months and years ahead – Shabbos Chazan and then Shabbos Nachamu. The two tefilos I quoted above from Motzei Shabbos and from Pesach the Ribono Shel Olam shows us how we can go from one stage to the next in our lives. The torch of light, the mesorah of Keila Lutza bas Shalom Hakohen A”H continues with the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and those who wish to accept upon themselves to follow in her footsteps all the magnificent ways of Jewish life that meant so much to her. Family and Klal Yisrael were blessed to have had Keila Lutza A”H with us all these years. We do not understand why she as so many have to go through difficult times dealing with illness of all sorts, difficulty with parnasah, difficulty finding shidduchim, difficulty in many ways- that is beyond our comprehension. But no matter what, we have seen individuals through the generations just like with Keila Lutza having tremendous hope, faith, emunah, betachin, with unselfishness wanting to ensure every member of the family follow the path of love of H, righteousness, happiness, joy in life and success in all present and future endeavors and have much simchas hachayim.

I want to thank my readership for the opportunities of sharing my journey, and inspirations to those their time of need. I will continue with my articles, sharing attributes of others and their impact on our way of life as well as other focused items.

May we all be blessed with good health, joy, happiness, kindness, and goodness. May all those who need a refuah shelima have a speedy recovery. May all those who are seeking a shidduch, be blessed to find their zivuk, the right person in the right time. May all those seeking parnasah, have success in finding the best that they need. Let us remember Am Yisrael Chai, and Chaveirim Kol Yisrael – true achdus. May the tefilos of Klal Yisrael be answered. May we have shalom al Yisrael and for all of us the tefilos I mentioned from Motzei Shabbos and the Haggadah, may we go from Shabbos Chazan to Shabbos Nachamu, from darkness to brightness.

Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank

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