From the desk of Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud Harabbonim
October 28, 2021 <><><>
Personal Reflections of Rav Dovid Feinstein ztkl
and those of a dear chaver and colleague
Harav Dovid Yitzchok ben Akiva Yehuda ztl
Rabbi David Keehn ztl
I and hundreds of others who found out about the sudden death of Rabbi Keehn were in a state of shock. He was known in many circles through the work and relationship he had both professionally and personally. We knew each other especially as colleagues for a long time. Long before my position at the RAA, we were both members of the RCA which I still am. I also served as a Chair of the RCA Chaplaincy Committee. David was also on the RCA Chaplains Committee. Later on, he also became a member of the RAA Chaplaincy Commission. Both he and I were recipients of the prestigious RCA Healthcare Chaplain of the Year award. David, a year after I had received mine. Receiving this award which is a great honor took place at the annual RCA conference. When I received mine, my wife was present that auspicious occasion at the dinner. When I acknowledged my wife for all that she represents and as my co-pilot in life also wishing her a refuah sheleima, the entire assemblance stood up and gave her a loud round of applause. When David received his award, he was acknowledged by all who were in attendance during the dinner. David and I often conferred with each other about chaplaincy business and other mutual topics and issues. On April 26th, 2021, with the blessings of the RAA Chaplaincy Commission and the RCA Chaplaincy Committee, the RCA, RAA and the Orthodox Jewish Healthcare Chaplain Listserv hosted via zoom the “Halachic Challenges of the Orthodox Healthcare Jewish Chaplain” seminar featuring Rabbi Hershel Welcher and Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt which I moderated and helped facilitate. Chaplains and rabbis from throughout the USA participated. Rabbi Welcher is the Rav of the shul David was a member of and was maspid at today’s levayeh. Rabbi Marc Dratch Executive Vice President of the RCA, Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik Executive Vice President of the RAA and Rabbi Doniel Kramer Director of the RCA Chaplaincy Committee and Administrator of the Orthodox Jewish Healthcare Chaplain Listserv all gave their welcoming remarks at this chaplain’s seminar. The consensus was to have another seminar chaplains conference. David had a wonderful idea and that is to have such a conference not in a shul, but at the NYU Langone Medical Center where he has been the Jewish chaplain. He already was prepared to discuss having such a conference with administration at NYU. Rabbi Doniel Kramer was very enthusiastic, and we discussed how RCA, RAA and the Orthodox Jewish Listserv would collaborate and join together for a successful conference- hoping by spring of 2022 when an in-house conference would be possible. David and I shared many phone calls about chaplaincy, personal experiences, life in general and his input, his wisdom, his sincerity, his care for others, his interest in always being Mekadeish H, and not Chilul H has always been inspirational.
Last year I was a patient at NYU. I came into the ER on a Motzei Shabbos with a severe infection in my thumb which spread to the hand and wrist. The ER staff tried to open the area and do what was necessary, but it was too infected and deep. I was advised to be admitted for appropriate treatments including multiple incisions and IV antibiotics. They were concerned about sepsis. I did not anticipate that I would be a patient for two days. Their care was exceptional. What made me proud was the respect both from the ER staff and when I was on the floor where I was a patient, had for Rabbi Keehn. I did not seek any extra attention, nor did I tell anyone I was a rabbi. It was tremendously rewarding to see the expressions on their faces and the respectful acknowledgments they had for Chaplain Keehn. I was proud to say he was a colleague of mine. The Jewish patient next to me shared personal concerns. He asked if I was a rabbi and was pleasantly surprised that I was orthodox and yet so kind and caring. I asked if he would be interested in having a visit by the Jewish chaplain. I mentioned I know this chaplain who might be visiting me and asked if he would like for me to request visiting him also. Or he could request the visit via the nursing staff. He replied, he would rather I contact him and share with him his concerns. I did contact Rabbi Keehn, but as I am firm on confidentiality, decided the patient should share his concerns with the chaplain. Even though that patient gave me permission, he was in awe of the respect I gave him and how I chose to respect his privacy and recommended he discuss his personal concerns with the chaplain. He asked me to introduce the chaplain to him and for me to join him and the chaplain in discussion at any time during the visit. When Rabbi Keehn came into the room, he first spoke to me wanting to know how I am and then I went to the other patient’s side of the room with Rabbi Keehn. After a few kind words of introduction as per the patients request, I went back to my side of the room and kept the curtain pulled for privacy. I heard some of the conversations as the patient spoke loudly. I must say how professional and caring David was with this patient. He was truly amazing. After his visit, I went with David to the nursing staff proudly sharing how this wonderful chaplain was a colleague of mine who I told them about. The nurses mentioned how grateful they were for his kindness not just for the patients but also for all the staff. When I returned to my room, the other patient commented he did not realize before the visit that the Jewish chaplain was also a rabbi and an orthodox rabbi. When he was on a phone call with a relative (he spoke loudly a clear) he mentioned not only was there a patient who is also a rabbi, he had a meaningful visit by the Jewish hospital chaplain who also happens to be a rabbi. He was amazed the chaplain and the patient next to him (me) both are also orthodox. He later told me how thankful he was that I recommended a visit by Rabbi Keehn, what a wonderful impression he left him and how sincere he was. His anxiousness was reduced and the blessings he received brought him a lot of comfort. What also surprised this patient was how comfortable he was speaking to Rabbi Keehn who was orthodox. This patient requested another visit by Rabbi Keehn before he is to be discharged. I also knew of his chaplaincy when he was at the New York Presbyterian Hospital in Queens and through my other non chaplaincy positions when he was the President and thereafter Vice President of the Queens Jewish Council. David, as he was for others, showed concern for me and always wanted to know how I was doing. Most recently, he even asked if I would be interested in a certain prestigious position. I was honored he thought of me.
I attended his levayeh which was attended by what seemed hundreds of men and women standing room only, from diverse Jewish backgrounds. Not only was he affiliated with many organizations, the immense gemilus chasadim he did for so many, the interest and care he had and how he touched the lives for so many in his short-lived life was remarkable. The love for his wife and family was truly special. One of the maspidim was his chavrusa who spoke about his Torah learning and chaburah. He rarely missed his learning he loved so much and was a Talmid Chacham. He was a role model to many and in many different ways. He will be sorely missed by Klal Yisrael. May he be a meilitz yasher for his family and for Klal Yisrael.
This week was the yartzeit and hakamos hamatzeiva of Rav Dovid Feinstein ztkl. Though, I have written in previous articles about Rav Dovid, will share some anecdotes. Rav Dovid had a tremendous impact on thousands of lives via his seforim, his shiurim and the countless sheilos he responded to from Roshei Yeshivos, rabbonim and so many people of various backgrounds. He surely left thousands of orphans, like a child without a parent a father.
I sought his advice about shiduch, concerns and shailos I had as a rabbi for 10 years of a shul, issues of kashrus, life and death concerns and ethical issues at a nursing facility where I was the rabbi and director of pastoral care, questions about family and so much more. I could ask him many types of questions, sought his advice without any doubts about his response. Personally, I feel lost not being able to converse with him, as do so many others. His chizuk and advice were comforting especially during my wife’s illness and after her petira. He was a magnificent influence in my avodas H, my emunah, gemilus chasadim and of course Torah learning. His famous saying to me: Yehuda are you asking me or are you telling me”. He knew if I wanted a “quikie type of response or a really serious response. With Rav Dovid I wanted to know what was correct and meaningful, and that was how he was with so many who would ask for advice or a response to a question. Do you really want to know the correct and appropriate response or just a yes or no answer? His breadth and depth of Torah knowledge, his chachmas, his wisdom, his understanding of a person’s nature was immense. He called me Yehuda, but whenever in front of others would call me as Rabbi Blank. Rav Elimelech Bluth ztl gave me specific instructions regarding life and death situations of certain patients and I had to be able to speak to Rav Dovid on Shabbos and Yom Tov on his behalf. My many walks with him, sharing with me wonderful chizuk, examples of emunah, betachim, hope, discussing devrei Torah and halachos. He showed by example such as his tender loving care of his children and grandchildren through the growing up ages. On Shabbosim he would take out children’s books for the children including my own to read during davening. He was very patient with them. When I and others were on our way back home from Indiana after a wedding of my nephew our plane was cancelled due to a snowstorm. We were eventually put up in a nearby hotel. When it came time to daven in the morning, only two had their tefillin with them- Rav Dovid and Rav Bluth. All the men had an opportunity to put on the tefillin. The kavod he gave his Rebbitzen Malka sol zein gezundt was very special. When traveling by car, he would first make sure she sat in the front and waited to close the door for her. He would then sit in the back. His shopping for house items or food for Shabbos, how he helped get things at home ready for Shabbos, his love of family and how important family was to him all these things were absolutely wonderful. During his shiurim, he was so relaxed- he loved the shiurim. There were the Gemara shiurim, the Mishneh Berurah shiur, the Chumash shiurim and of course the Megilas Esther and Haggadah shiurim (also the Mishnayos after the morning weekday davening). Only towards the last several years he gave over the afternoon Gemara shiur and the Mishnayos after the weekday morning davening to his son Rav Berel who is presently the Rosh Hayeshiva. After completing a perek of Gemara we would have a mini siyum. Years ago, when the shiur was in the back of the Beis Medrash one might think he was one of the boys. He never made anyone feel he was above all. He loved the ice cream cakes and later years the herring, kichels and other tasty delights. After completing a mesechta he would enjoy all the food prepared by the talmidim of the shiur. Shirurim would later move to other locations in the Beis Medrash, library and even the dinning room. The shiurim would continue to grow especially the Mishneh Berurah, the Friday shiur on the sedra, the Megilas Esther, Haggadah shiurim with many of the seats in the Beis Medrash being filled. I have written other personal reflections about Rav Dovid in previous articles.
I was thinking about all the references in many of my articles about having emunah faith, hope etc. I thought about the following aspects which I have not before mentioned beforehand. In addition to our tefilos and our bakashos, what we are mispallel to H for, a person must have trust in H. We must have trust in whatever He decides to do. The other aspect is not only to be mispallel for our bakashos but to be mispallel to recognize what it is that H wants us to do. There is a famous example of a person who fell overboard and is drowning. There were three ways he could have been saved but prayed and waited for what he thought would be the way he should be saved by G. He therefore did not accept any of those choices where he could have saved his life and he drowned. When standing before the Holy One he questioned why he was not saved. The response was on the contrary. I did try to save you, I sent three ways you could have been saved, but you decided not to accept those opportunities. We must do our hishtadlis and continue to be mispallel for all the right things in life. Hopefully, we will be able to recognize what H wants us to do. Rav Dovid conveyed all of that plus more through his Torah learning, his shiurim, his way of life, his personal life, his love and relationship with H which we saw, absorbed and applied to our own lives.
At the hazkara for Rav Dovid this past Sunday, there were no tears as the year of avielus is now over. We remember the past but must continue for the present and the future. For those who give chizuk and or counseling due to the loss the death of a loved one with grief and bereavement, whether it be during the first year or later – when the opportunity exists, when the time is ripe, it is ok to share that one is loved one will be remembered. She/he will always have a place in someone’s heart. It is ok to suggest it is time to put all those memories in the place for memories which could be obtained by anyone who so desires to bring them out. Those memories are safe. They will not be lost. You can now go on with life. This is important especially when a widow or widower wishes to remarry. Or for that matter, anyone who wishes to go on in life. One does not have to feel remorse nor guilty wanting to do so. Rav Dovid has left us a tremendous mesorah that will have an impact on Klal Yisrel for the present and the future.
May we be zoche for Moshiach to come soon. May we be able to share besuos tovos and maysim tovim. May we all be zoche to have simchas hachayim, and all the brachos we are mispallel for. May our achdus, Mekadeish H, our Torah – Avoda and Gemilus Chasadim opportunities continue to grow and our abilities to be mekayeim stronger and stronger. May our trust and love in the Ribono shel Olam continue to blossom and our hearts filled with kindness and goodness. Amein. Thank you. Respectfully and sincerely.
Rabbi Yehuda Blank