Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Vice President of Professional Development and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
<><><><>Thursday December 1,2022, Kislev 7, 5783<><><><>
I dedicate this article to my beloved father Tzvi Aryeh ben Moshe Halevi zt”l whose yartzeit was this past Wednesday Vov Kislev.
There are many things we can and should give thanks and appreciation for.
I give thanks to the Ribono shel Olam who blessed me with a true
Avi Mori My Father My Teacher.
There are so many examples of the love my father had for me and how he taught me by example of what it means to be an Erlicha Yid, a caring husband, a wonderful parent, and a true ambassador of the Ribono shel Olam and Klal Yisrael. He taught by example the essence of being Mekadeish Sheim Shamayim of how to be Mekadeish H, how to appreciate the Bonei Olam and to respect all human beings who are the creations of H. It is impossible to share his entire life even in just a few pages, but I will give over to my readers the essence of my father zt”l.
He was born in the USA and lived until his marriage to my mother A”H in Williamsburg. His father came from Poland and his mother from Hungary. His father was a butcher and had a store in Williamsburg. Both parents spoke Yiddish. I remember visiting them often, including on Shabbos walking over the Williamsburg Bridge to where they lived. I remember the walk up apartment building with the wooden tank high on the wall in the bathroom with the long chain to flush the toilet. My Bubby was a tzenuah, always tzniusdikly dressed. I always looked forward to her delicious homemade rugelach. Actually, I liked the cinnamon flavored over the chocolate ones. Erev Yom Kippur my father brought me to my Zeidy for a bracha. One Yom Kippur Zeidy was nifter at Neila time. I will never forget how my father would cry every time he would recite the Kaddish. Years later, he had the same emotions saying the Kaddish for his mother. Those tears themselves were filled with tears. He was a devoted son and he would find every opportunity of being mekayim Kibud Av Va’Eim -even after he got married and lived on the Lower East Side. He taught me the love I should have for my parents with the love and care he gave his parents.
He had such a loving sweet demeanor. In all the years growing up, from childhood to adulthood, I never heard my father say nivul peh, raise his voice to anyone or speak any type of loshon horah. He would always find something good to say about everyone. His devotion as a father was amazing, he was kind and gentle. He would take me often to Washington Square Park for a nice walk on Shabbos and admire the trees and flowers. During those years, many artists would display their paintings and he would share with me how interesting the colors and the artwork were. He would often point out the differences in people, always with respect, and how H created everyone differently. His responses to any of my questions were always in a positive way. My father used to take me to the local NYPD precinct to visit the PAL and meet the police officers who were very nice to me. I always left with some type of gift, but most of all my father gave me an opportunity to see police officers in a positive way. Who would guess that someday I would become a uniformed New York City Housing Authority Police Department Chaplain and spiritual leader for the Shotrim Housing Police Jewish Society. My father was very civic minded. He showed how it is possible to be a proud Jew, a proud New Yorker and a proud American. Come election time, my parents were enthusiastically brought me into the voting booth. They would explain to me how and why to vote. It was exciting to help my parents pull the lever which would pull the curtain closed around us. My father was not a politician, but he introduced me to many Rabbonim. Chazanim, Rabbeim, and on occasion, elected officials who would come around the neighborhood. He had a beautiful voice and would sing at home with our neighbor the famous Moishe Oysher chiming in. Our family was very musically inclined and appreciated all kinds of music. Here too, I learned to appreciate music and chazanish which led me to sing at various shul functions. Later on in life because of my fathers influence, I studied cantorial by the famous Cantor Moishe Bazian A”H. I sang professionally for a number of years at different functions. When in the country during the summer months he would take me along driving through the country roads admiring the Bonei Olam, He would also point out historical places. He taught me to appreciate H’s beauty and also history which I have enjoyed through the years, He gave me the desire to learn and appreciate life in many ways. At night, we would look at the stars where the Big and Little Dipper were located and how vast are the heavens. My parents and family had close ties with many distinguished Litvish and Chasidush Rabbaim including Rabbi Eliyahu Henken zt”l who also lived around the corner from where we lived in Manhattan. Rav Henken would go to the “Mountains” visiting some of the kosher hotels and other locations to collect for Ezras Torah. My father would often drive him to those locations and then return to our bungalow to rest.
We never hid our Jewishness. Unfortunately while growing up there were some local bullies who I had the courage to teach them a lesson. One time when one of them was bothering me in the neighborhood, I kicked his leg and he ran away. He was taller and bigger than me, but I showed him I was not afraid and my father made me feel that way. He was never a fan of violent sports nor was he an advocate of any type of violence, but he always found ways of giving me self confidence and taught me not to be fearful or afraid. My father wore a Homberg. He would tip his hat to a woman out of respect and in fact would give his seat on the bus or subway to a woman and always to those who needed a seat. Yes, those were different times. He always dressed really handsomely except while working in his butcher shop. I don’t tip my hat, but I do give my seat as he did when appropriate and there are many occasions to do so making a Kiddush H. My father taught me through example the importance of midos tovos.
His love of Yiddishkeit was outstanding. He took me to shul while I was growing up and later on in life I joined him at minyanim. He would bring me to various Litvish and Chasidish Rabbainim for brachos, for davening or to hear shiurim. He brought me along to our very close Rebbe, the Dembiker Rav, for Mechiras Chametz to watch and absorb what and how was being done. My fathers love of the Ribono shel Olam was so endearing. Later on in life when he developed Parkinsons Disease, at a minyan in the MTJ Yeshiva, he was so saddened of not being able to daven like he used to. The Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l comforted and gave him encouragement sharing how the Aibershta knows what is in his heart.
All his life my father never complained about life’s challenges. He always instilled in me the meaning of life. Whenever I came to his store he would prepare something special for me. He would by for me fresh rolls at the local kosher bakery and make me a delicious sandwich. When I was older, it was an honor to help make deliveries for him, including doing many gemilus chasadim for customers especially the elderly.
I want to share several amazing and incredible stories of my father which also had an impact on my life caring for others. He would go shopping for the elderly who either because of their difficulties, or were living in apartment buildings in parts of the neighborhood that had changed. He would deliver those items together with anything they might have purchased at the butcher store. There was no delivery charge and there was no set amount a customer had to spend on meat or poultry to have the delivery made. My father had a policy to either charge a customer less than the cost after it was weighed or gave the customer an extra piece of meat or chicken. Why? There was a seal that was put on each scale by an inspector who came to inspect the accuracy of the scales. My father was not sure exactly how accurate the inspection was. He therefore felt the customer should be given extra meat or chicken or charge the customer less. He taught me how important a store owner must be honest. Choshen Mishpat was being taught to me even at a young age by tremendous examples. He also showed through the years how important it is to be kind, helpful, and nice to every customer. He did so to everyone Jewish or not Jewish. Here is another outstanding example my father doing what was right and doing it immediately. An elderly customer came to the store on a chilly day. After she paid and left, my father noticed she gave him a fifty dollar bill instead of a five dollar bill. He left the store in a hurry without a coat, running after her to return her fifty dollar bill. He was concerned how she would feel if she went shopping and found that fifty dollar bill missing thinking she lost that money in the street. He did want her to worry and felt he had a responsibility to return that fifty dollar bill immediately Again, he taught through example many halachos, how to be responsible and caring for others.
The love, respect and care he gave my mother was outstanding. He even helped my mother at some of the MTJ Sisterhood functions collecting admissions. I saw what it means to be a wonderful husband. He was able to weave marriage, family relations, responsibilities in so many beautiful ways. He was never abrupt, nasty, selfish, or ill mannered. He personified what it means to bring Shalom, happiness and joy into a marriage and family.
He was such an amazing person. The respect he gave all no matter what a persons Yiddishkeit might be, background, religion, culture etc. was praiseworthy. The respect and reverence given back to him was truly special. My father was proud of his but did not flaunt his way in a boisterous manner or in a “holier than thou” attitude. I can go on and on and on about his fabulous attributes.
As the neighborhood where his store stood, changed with gangs moving in and many victims of crime. It was broken into many times. The gates in front of the store were pulled down and anything of value was taken. After awhile, the store closed for good. Later on in life my father was diagnosed with Parkinsons. No matter what, his attitude in life was whatever H wanted or decided was for the best. Baruch H he had a family who did their utmost to keep him alive for as long as possible. I as his son, hopefully gave him the kavod he so deserved. In the last months of his life, he became a patient at the Albert Einstein Medical Center where a doctor was doing research on Parkinsons and was hoping to offer relief for his disease. I stayed Shabbosim at an apartment nearby the hospital. There was a shul and a kosher dinning hall where meals could be purchased in advance of Shabbos. Unfortunately, his illness advanced more quickly than expected. Ultimately, he was in a semi coma then a full coma. Whenever I sang zemiros or was mavreh the sedra, his labored breathing became more relaxed. On the day he was nifter, the doctors decided to remove the nasal feeding tube as I was standing right outside his room with my mother. At that moment they called code blue and the team rushed in. After they left, I sensed something was amiss. The doctor moved the curtain. We saw my father laying quietly. The doctor came out to tell us how sorry he was, but my father unfortunately died. My mother then collapsed on the floor and had to be resuscitated. It was awhile until she came to. Fast forward, to the levaya which was held at a chapel a few building’s from MTJ Yeshiva. Aside from family there were Rabbonim who spoke and attended the levaya. It was packed, standing room only. Amongst those attending were many from the community and elsewhere who were not Jewish, He was respected and well liked by so many. I can go on and on, about my fathers many attributes.
The love he had for the Ribono shel Olam, his Yiddishkeit, how he was Mekadeish H, his love for his family, his remarkable midos tovos, his humbleness, his simchas hachayim, positive and joyful outlook on life plus so much more, had a tremendous impact on my own upbringing .
He was truly my Avi Mori, My Father My Teacher. May he be a Meilitz Yashar for his family and Klal Yisrael. Sincerely. Rabbi Yehuda Blank