From the desk of Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard)Blank MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
917 446 2126 rablenblank @gmail.com
December 2, 2021 ***
Challenging Times of the Year -Chanukah and Seasons Greetings
My Zeidy, My Hero and how he got a new Studebaker because of Shabbos.
What is a Studebaker ?
Inflation- What About Shabbos?
A personal reflection and response – how am I doing this Chanukah?
Yes, the holiday music is already upon us. For years, all the major stores and radio stations would already be broadcasting music and it sure is not Maoz Tzur. If that holiday is officially one day, how come the celebration begins already with Thanksgiving Day, or I should say the Thanksgiving Day parade with the last float showcasing guess who? Yep, in a bright red suit with white trimmings. For one month the celebrations continue with the culmination of the secular New Year. With the inflation as it is and only getting worse, there might be more commercials trying to entice customers in buying more than really needed. Yet, making sure the Shabbos table is not depleted with all the traditional foods and beverages can be difficult for many. For those in financial need there are many chesed organizations such as the Tomchei Shabbos to ensure their Shabbos does not go bare. Looking forward to Shabbos delights and most of all Shabbos kedusha brings much simcha. Where my wife used to work, her co- workers would share for days in advance all the shopping and preparations for the Thanksgiving Day dinner. They would ask her about her preparations. She mentioned part of her Jewish faith was to give thanks to G everyday and in fact, our daily prayers includes giving thanks and for the weekly Sabbath called Shabbos, we have two major meals and one minor meal. Their curiosity was increasing wanting to know what foods, beverages, any alcoholic drinks, and what about shopping and food preparations. They were amazed with what she shared with them and how it was possible to do so every week, and not get tired doing so. They also wanted to know what her secret was in making so many meals everyone enjoyed eating. She did not speak about drinking any lechayims ,but rather the sacramental wine for kiddush. They were blasted- truly amazed !
But what challenges are there for chaplains in healthcare related facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals. When Chanukah concludes before other holidays, some institutions keep the menorahs displayed longer than usual. Jewish chaplains have menorah lighting ceremonies, lots of Chanukah parties, singing, individual electric menorahs on the floors and in many patient or resident rooms. Jewish chaplains are creative in how the spirit of Chanukah is celebrated bringing much needed warmth, joy, and meaning. Many Day schools, yeshivas, Bais Yaakov’s, Bnos and other Jewish youth, adult and synagogue groups bring presents, singing bringing wonderful, good feelings lifting the spirits of even those who’s with limited Jewish backgrounds. Jewish healthcare chaplains can be found throughout the USA, Canada and elsewhere. They are to be commended for the Jewish spirit they keep alive reminding many who have forgotten or have minimal relationship with being Jewish of their heritage. The other challenges of course are any restrictions due to the variant strains, COVID and other illnesses that prevent or limit physical contact. The challenges are immense. Yet Jewish healthcare chaplains deserve tremendous praises for the remarkable care they give their patients, family members and the staff of all backgrounds throughout the facilities they work in. From Thanksgiving through the days up to the secular New Year, there are other groups that circulate throughout the many healthcare facilities. Singing holiday songs, bringing presents and smiles to many of the patients. The televisions and radio continuously broadcast holiday related music and themes. Decorations and holiday trees can be found throughout. Also, many stations broadcast religious related themes. A Jewish presence by the same groups or individuals who visit during Chanukah are truly welcome and their presence appreciated especially during this time of year. The chaplains work collaboratively with recreation departments in Jewish facilities on a happy medium with decorations that are neutral yet bringing in a happy feeling for staff and patients. Of course, the religious and cultural needs of all patients are met in a respectful and meaningful way. Jewish chaplains who work in police, fire, correctional facilities and other settings and departments are to be commended for their vital work as chaplains especially in non-Jewish environments. Jewish Chaplains often are called to duty caring for all who seek their spirituality no matter what their religion or culture might be. I and my colleagues, Jewish Chaplains of diverse backgrounds have much respect for each other in chaplaincy and caring for those we offer our care to with hearts of gold, sincerity, kindness, and professionalism. It is not my intention in this article or in general to comment on others religiosity, or way of observance. I respect, appreciate, and have meaningful working relationships acknowledging the wonderful abilities of professional chaplains and their utmost in ensuring Jewish identity. Rav Dovid Feinstein ztkl shared with me the importance of having good professional relations with others and his pride in the diverse positions I have held not just in chaplaincy while keeping within the boundaries of Torah. Knowing the halacha, seeking appropriate guidance and hadracha or psak halacha, is vital. Orthodox Jewish Chaplains male and female have proven and shown how they can have much hatzlacha, with Yiras Shamayim. They can be the Avraham Avinu’s and Sara Imeinu’s with their love of H, and utterly understand the essence of Torah, Avoda, Gemilius Chasadim without having to compromise their firm beliefs in Yiddishkeit and Frumkeit. Rabbi David Keehn ztl was one of those remarkable individuals.
The challenges of Jewish men and women in the workforce can be immense during this time of year. Many shailos about attending holiday parties, requests for an after hours innocent drink at the local tavern, gift giving and so much more. Every Jewish man, woman can be found in tempting and compromising ways. Often, we find ourselves at odds with the Yetzer Harah. Without a firm background in our mesorah, the challenges can be challenging. It is easy to find heterim and justify one’s actions or thoughts as to what is right or wrong. This is not a new phenomenon but has gone on for generations. Keeping Shabbos for instance for many was a matter of being able to keep one’s job, or even keeping kosher. Yet, many did whatever they could to keep the Shabbos and never doubted nor looked back at their decisions for remaining a Shomer Shabbos and keeping kosher not just at home, but on the outside as well. My Zeidy ztl came to these shores, on the Lower East Side with his dear wife my Bubby A”H (my mother’s parent’s). He was learned and I was told a maggid shiur at the age of thirteen in Minsk, Russia. His Torah studies continued and completed shas many times. He gave a shiur at the Minsker Minyan shul on the Lower East Side. He was clean shaven and became a contractor. The following link will bring you to a fantastic true story as told by one of my nephews, Rabbi Chaim Finkelstein. This is about my Zeidy his Grand Zeidy and how Shabbos gave our Zeidy a brand-new car. Yehuda Leib ben Yitzchok Tzvi whose yartzeit was this Wednesday Chaf Zayin Kislev, the 3rd day of Chanukah. I also have an uncle Moshe Dov ben Yehuda Leib the same day, but years apart.
So here is my response to those who might be curious, to those who were wondering and to those who might have asked, so how am I holding up this second Chanukah being alone as a widower? Of course, I miss my wife A”H, but it really has been a happy Chanukah for me. No, I’m not jumping up with joy and clicking my shoe heels, nor dancing in the street. Boruch H ! I just feel good about myself. I had all three vaccinations, I have been invited to and have been attending simchas, enjoy going to shiurim, planning programs, events, and webinars, being in touch with my family, friends, writing my articles and lots more. So, what does this have to do with Chanukah? Well, being active, doing meaningful things, going shopping, doing chasadim, like shopping for neighbors a brother and sister for Shabbos items they like and enjoy, even cooking for them hearing how much it means to them. They are making brachos on those items and I forgot to mention, I purchased a nice matching becher and plate set, a cool looking challah board and knife they like so much and will be using them on Shabbos. I already gave them a challah cover and beautiful booklet with the brachos transliterated for Shabbos candle lighting. I am not intrusive, never comment about what they do on Shabbos and other things. Ok here I go again, not responding to why I am feeling AOK this Chanukah. Well, going to a forthcoming Chanukah RAA breakfast, a family siyum get together, having lots of fun via zoom having my family over when I lit the Chanukah lights and singing together. I do not feel the same as last year. Just being able to socialize, be with people and looking forward to many simchas is uplifting. Besides no one is ever alone. We are always in the presence of H. All of us can find something, many things to be thankful to H for.
Oh Chanukah, oh Chanukah! Light the Menorah! Let’s have a party, we’ll dance the Horah! Gather round the table, we’ll give you a treat. Sevivon to play with, and latkes to eat. And while we are waiting The candles are burning bright! One for each night to shed a little light to remind us of days long ago! One for each night to shed a little light to remind us of days long ago! Life does go on. It is nice to gather around the table and not be alone. Therefore, we all should be mispallel for shidduchim, for companionship, for friendship, for good health, happiness, simchas hachayim, parnassa and to be able to have the koach to help others whenever and however possible. May we be zoche to be Mekadeish H, to convey the love of H. To bring and enhance achdus and to be wonderful ambassadors of Klal Yisrael and most of all, the Ribono she Olam. May we be zoche the coming of Moshiach. Hodu la H ki tove ki leolam chasdo. Give thanks to H for He is good, for enduring forever is His kindness. (Translation Artscroll Siddur Mesorah. Publications Ltd). Have a wonderful Chanukah. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank