Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Vice President of Professional Development and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
=-=-=-=-= Thursday December 15, 2022, Kislev 21, 5783=-=-=-=-=
I have dedicated this Moments of Inspiration to my dear mother
Rivka Leah (Ray) Blank A”H whose yartzeit was yud tes Kislev.
Encouragement, sincerity, confidence building, a special relationship with Rebbetzin Shima Feinstein A H and other distinguished Rebbetzins, Rabbonim and others.
Personal reflections of my mother from childhood through adulthood.
Good things come in small packages.
A diamond is small, but could be worth thousands of dollars.
Rav Moshe Feinstein and Chazzon Yossele Rosenblatt.
Humming a song and talking about Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l
on the operating table.
Her love for Torah, her love of Yiddishkeit and her love for the Yeshiva.
Can Yiddishkeit truly exist without the Torah?
Can a person survive with bread and water but without oxygen?
From Artscroll Chumash, Mesorah Publications Ltd. Parshas Vayishlach.
The prime target.” The Chofetz Chaim used to say, “The Evil inclination doesn’t mind if a Jew fasts, prays, and gives charity all day long-provided he does not study Torah !” Avraham represented kindness and Isaac represented service. Kindness and service are two of the three indispensable pillars of the world (Avos 1:2), but the third pillar-Torah-is the crucial one for Israel’s success in carrying out its mission on earth. Jacob represented Torah- and without it, Israel will fail. That is why Satan did not confront Abraham and Isaac, only Jacob. Jewish history bears this out all too tragically. In countries where Jews invested heroically in synagogues and charities, but not institutions of Torah study, they assimilated and nearly disappeared. Only where they remained loyal to the legacy of Jacob did they remain strong. “
My mother instilled in me how to love the Torah
and our fellow Jews regardless of their background.
With kindness, gentleness, sincerity and a heart of gold,
we can share with our brothers and our sisters the beauty of the Torah.
From my childhood through adulthood, my mother was my mentor, my protector, my defender, my encourager, my remarkable and avid fan of mine. I shall share some of how she was a powerhouse of emunah, of betachon and influenced not only my life, but multitudes of men and women throughout the decades of her life.
Her parents came to America in the early 20th century from Minsk, Russia. When my Zeidy was 13 years old, he already was a Maggid Shiur in Russia. My mother was born and lived with her parents and five brothers in a building across the street from the Yeshiva Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem which was originally a Talmud Torah. My Zeidy was also a Maggid Shiur at the Minska Minyan (shul) located on Rutgers Street right around the corner of the Yeshiva MTJ. He was also a contractor who was known for his tremendous erlichkeit, his honesty and for being strong and steadfast when it came to keeping Shabbos. One of my nephews Rabbi Chaim Finkelstein wrote about him in the famous true story called “Foundations of Shabbos”about Zeidy and the Studebaker found in the book Celebrating Shabbos. My Bubby also known for being a tzedeikes founded a Tomchei Shabbos. My Zeidy was nifter before I was born and Bubby was nifter when I was just an infant. My mother went on carrying her parents traditions and also became like a mother caring for her brothers.
In later years, my mother “intermarried” with my father. She came from a family of Litvaks, and he came from a family of Galicianers from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There was true love and care for each other. They were happily married for many . Nope, this is not the end of the story. Eventually, all her brothers got married and moved away. Fast forward, on 4th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue was were I lived until we moved to the Seward Park Housing Corporation between Grand and Clinton Streets on the Lower East Side. I was short for my age. My mother gave me self- confidence and encouraged me to be proud of who I was. Even though sports with my friends was not my forte, she showed how I could be successful in other things I was good at and enjoyed doing. She conveyed ways for me to do my best and be the special Yehuda I could be. Of course, regarding my height ( I am presently a very tall 5’1” or 5’ 2”) she would speak about many who were short and successful, including Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and Chazzan Yossele Rosenblatt zt”l. Both were not only short, but their wives were at least two heads taller than they were. She inspired me to be a normal boy during those growing up years (and later on in life too).
My mother showed by example the importance of being charitable, davening with kavaneh and the love of H and the Torah. She instilled in me the importance of being honest and an erlicha Jew. She took notice of how careful the store keeper would be adding up the total cost of all the items she bought. This store did not have a cash register. The husband or wife of that store usually kept a pencil behind the ear to add the total. My mother would go to the Essex Street Market to a specific fish monger, who had a tank of live kosher fish. She would pick out a few types of fish, and take them home to make her delicious gefilte fish. She took pride in kashering her own chickens and showed me through the years how she meticulously kept kosher during the year and for Pesach. When my father would drive Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henken zt”l around the “country” during the summer collecting for Ezras Torah and he wanted to rest, he went to my parent’s bungalow because he was comfortable eating the food prepared by my mother. Rav Henken lived was around the corner from were I lived. I was told that my Zeidy would learn with Rav Henken.
There is a special story of how I almost became a star on a well known TV program. My mother used to take me as a child to Macy’s Department Store in Herald Square, NY. We would visit the toy and special events department for children. On one of those days there was a talent show where children would perform. I was not bashful at that time. I raised my hand and with my mothers permission sang a song and did a little dance. One of the members of the staff was impressed with that little boy who showed nice talent – that was me. He asked my mother if he could one day come to our apartment to discuss taking lessons. Mind you, through the years, my family was music oriented and I took piano and violin lessons as well as cantorial lessons. At the Third Street Settlement which was around the corner from where I used to live, I not only learned to play the piano, but was featured at some of their recitals. Anyways, getting back to the Macy’s story, one day a gentleman came to our apartment. He was a talent scout for a well known TV show (that is when we had black and white TV sets with the rabbit ear antennas on top for better reception). He wanted to sign me up for one or more of the shows he represented. I’m not sure because of my talent or because I was so cute. I had nice blond hair with bangs at that time. My mother related all of this to me and reminded me several times through the years. She listened to everything he said, but he walked away disappointed. One of the stipulations was that I had to practice and sometimes perform on Saturday. Nothing he said would convince my mother to change her mind. There was no bargaining or telling him she would think it over and maybe change her mind. She wouldn’t even give him such an impression. Gee whiz, maybe I could have been a famous star. I don’t think so. That is not the star my mother would have wanted me to become.
My mother took much pride in everything I did. I was born later in her life and was like a extra special gift H gave to her. She protected me, she loved me, she mentored me, she showed by example how to be a sincere wife ,mother, sister to her brothers, a frum woman, yet knowledgeable and one might say “with it “. She always dressed beautifully and made sure I was always dressed whether in casual, play, school or Shabbos clothing to always look my nicest. Though, I wasn’t the best in all of my school subjects, she was always proud of any of my accomplishments and whatever I achieved. She was never overbearing, but showed and gave encouragement with TLC. Later on in life, she kvelled at what I did especially when I received from my university a letter that I made the Dean’s List and was excelling in my college work. Through the years she would never criticize me and tell me “ I told you so” in a negative way, but rather “ I told you so that you will always find opportunities for success”. That letter about being on the Deans List proved what she believed could be possible. With her loving encouragement, never being negative of any weakness I might have had. She was uplifting with tremendous fortitude of instilling positivity. She didn’t give up. With love and parental koach, always with emunah and betachon as she did with so many other challenges in life ,she was a remarkable role model of what a mother should be like . She showed by example the importance of making a Kiddush H, to have good midos, good manners, be friendly and nice to others .Rather than finding fault in others she would encourage me to find the good attributes in all people regardless of a person’s background. She taught the essence of Chaveirm Kol Yisrael.
“Peha pascha bechochma vetoras chesed al leshona. Her mouth she opens with wisdom and a lesson of kindness is on her tongue.” She did tremendous gemilus chasadim, was known for her wit, her understanding ,her wisdom and how she would persevere in wanting to do what was appropriated for her family and for Klal Yisrael. She was a magnificent Eishis Chayil who later on in life gave much to her husband, my father. Here are but a few examples of what she did for my father. When my father had an a appendicitis attack, she ran to the store to help take care of him. Rather than having the store closed while he recuperated, she manage the store. She sure learned the business quickly. When my father was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease, she gave my father a lot of hope, support and love. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for him. The illness progressed in time. She went with him to every doctor’s appointment and treatment if there was one available. She did whatever was possible to keep him in good spirits. Whether my father endured months having to deal with his store being broken into, or the progression of his illness, my mother’s emunah and betachon in H did not falter. She did not give in with sadness. Though there were moments she shared her tears with her family. She was his Eishis Chayil until the very end of his life. Perhaps from my mother and years later when my sister A”H took care of her husband until the very end of his life , both with tremendous unwavering strength, is where I got my own strength taking care of my wife until her very last moments of breath. I suppose the will power and desire comes from devotion and love we all had for our spouses and how much our spouses meant to us. I shared this in prior articles and write this again, how in a marriage each spouse must think of the other person s being the most precious person in the world aside from their own children. There must be devotion and sincerity for each other. I saw that by my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my aunt Estelle and Uncle Zalmy. My mother, sister and aunt also showed by example how life must go on even after their loved ones had passed on.
My mother’s love for all of her grandchildren was amazing. She showed what a Bubby is all about including baking her delicious chocolate or special cheese cake, how to cook, bake, shop and do lot’s of other important things in life. She showed by example how to do those things with meaning, pleasure and enjoyment too. She was a tremendous role model in appreciating all the preparations for Shabbos each week or for the Yom Tovim. Nothing was done as if it was a chore, but a special mitzva to appreciate. She would encourage the grandchildren on Purim to go around to many neighbors and give out Mishloach Manos to those who most likely would not receive any. She encouraged to do so especially for those who were not familiar with Purim and to do so with respect and a smile.
When I was younger, my father would often attend the early minyan on Shabbos. He asked if I would like to go with him even though it was early in the morning. Upon our return, Bubby would prepare a delicious kiddush for us we both enjoyed. I always looked forward to our Shabbos meals. My mother always made those meals so delightful and delicious too. Perhaps some of my readers will remember liver with shmaltz, onions and black radishes amongst the other Shabbos delicacies. Her home made gefilte fish was also delicious. We couldn’t wait for her chocolate cake. Yummy! My mother also made borsht and chrein. For special occasions she made nehit/arbis. Her recipe was different than store bought. She soaked the beans overnight, cooked them and then added salt and pepper. No sugar or anything else (of course she always added lots of TLC to everything she made).
Fast forward, to when my mother became the president of the MTJ Sisterhood. Under her leadership, she brought enthusiasm to the women who joined her in raising funds for the Yeshiva. They sold tickets for the annual Sisterhood luncheon held in the yeshiva dining room. My mother would arrange to have a guest speaker often from the yeshiva’s beis medrash, and community as well. Rabbi Elimelech Bluth was one such speaker who like many other rabbonim found speaking at the luncheon very special. My mother would also arrange to have a chazzan come and sing. One of the favorites was Chazzan Avraham Tzvi Gewanter of the Bialystoker Shul. He was well known with a wonderful personality and everyone enjoyed. Sometimes talmidim from the yeshiva would also come to sing. Sometimes she would ask me to sing and when I was older to also give a small devar Torah. The yeshiva cook would prepare a delicious luncheon enjoyed by all. The name of the Sisterhood of MTJ spread throughout the Lower East Side and beyond and the dining room was usually filled with not a seat to be found. My mother ran the program like a real pro including giving her own speech. My mother had a close relationship with Rebbetzin Shima Feinstein A”H and brought tremendous inspiration to the wonderful and dedicated women of the Sisterhood who were instrumental in helping to bring in such large crowds. They were a phenomenal team whose goal was to raise needed funds for the yeshiva. My mother together with the Rebbetzin instilled robust feelings and with understanding that the ultimate goal was not just raising tzedakah, or doing tremendous chasadim but being partners in helping keep our Torah alive through the Rabbeim and talmidim of the yeshiva. Each year these women were treated or I should say honored going to the home of the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Moshe for a bracha and in later years to Rav Dovid for a bracha. This meant more to these wonderful women than anything else. This was the tremendous hakaros hatov both Roshei Yeshiva had for these women doing so many chasadim, helping the yeshiva with much devotion, care and sincerity. Through the years, they raised thousands and thousands of dollars for the yeshiva of which they were very proud of.
Whenever my mother would engage another person in conversation wherever it might be she would offer that person a sucking candy. She kept a supply in her pocketbook. She always found a way to help break the ice and develop friendships with many people. She had a wonderful rapport with women who were from diverse backgrounds. She did not have the “I am holier than thou” attitude. She was respected and well liked by many throughout the neighborhood. My feeling is that a lot had to do with the respect and kindness she extolled and gave to others. She was a member of other Jewish organizations in the community as well.
On one of the occasions after she had surgery, the surgeon came out to my sister and me while we were waiting for the results of the surgery. He mentioned the surgery went on as planned but was curious as to who Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and MTJ is .Mrs Blank was mumbling something about Rabbi Feinstein and the yeshiva before the surgery that he is special and then she fell asleep due to the anesthesia.
Ahavas H, Ahavas Torah, Ahavas Chesed, Yiras Shamayim and Ahavas Yisrael meant so much to her to the end of her life. She imbued these principals into her mishpacha. She was known on the Lower East Side for her sincerity, her kindness and for the respect she gave everyone. She was a phenomenal ambassador of the yeshiva she supported with all of her heart and soul. She taught by example the importance of being kavodik to everyone. All those who attended the MTJ Sisterhood luncheons were served not only with delicious food, but with a spirit of achdus and appreciation for our Yiddishkeit in a positive way with kind and inspiring words and an atmosphere that was filled with really good feelings.
She had much pleasure attending and participating in many family and communal simchas. One of the most happy occasions was my engagement to my wife A”H and welcoming her three sons into our entire mishpacha. They became like her own grandchildren. She walked down the aisle holding my arm beaming with joy and with much happiness. The relationship between my wife and my mother was very close with lots of love for each other. During the next twenty- seven years, my mother was nifter, my sister was nifter, my dear aunt Estelle was nifter and my wife was nifter. Four women who were amazing and wonderful role models for me, for my family and for Klal Yisrael. Our Avos and Imahos, had immense emuna and betachin in H and the care they had for each other despite their own trials and tribulations . They left an ever lasting mesorah of how we as Jews must appreciate the Ribono shel Olam and how to be proud of who and what we are. Those four women, my mother, my sister, my aunt and my wife, left a tremendous legacy, a mesorah that like the Avos and Imahos will continue to live on. After my father, brother-in-law and uncle died, they showed how a person goes on in life. How to celebrate new simchas and look towards new accomplishments. Don’t look back and live in the past. Look forward towards the future. The mesorah is meant to build on, to continue to advance however possible and not to be stuck in the past on. My mother showed how life is so valuable and that life has to go on. My mother went through her own medical challenges, but found the energy and the will to persevere and not give up until the Ribono shel Olam decided for her precious neshama to return to Shamayim.
My mother’s levaya was held at a chapel located on East Broadway on the Lower East Side about three blocks from MTJ Yeshiva. It was standing room only with an overflow crowd standing in front of the chapel. In attendance were Rabbonim, Rebbetzins, and many from the community and beyond. Similar to my father’s levaya years before, amongst those who attended were men and women who were from diverse Jewish backgrounds and many who were not Jewish. After the levaya, we were melave the aron towards the yeshiva. When we arrived in front of the yeshiva at the instructions of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Dovid Feinstein, all classes, including the entire beis medrash came out to give kavod to my mother. Later on it was deemed the sisterhood should be called the Rivkah Leah Blank Sisterhood of MTJ Yeshiva. What a fitting tribute to such a magnificent woman of valor.
From Artscroll Chumash (35:9)” And G appeared to Jacob again when he
came from Paddan-Aram, and He Blessed him. Od, -Again. G appeared to Jacob a second time, after the weeping had ceased, since the Shechinah does not reside where there is sadness (Sforno). Vayirarech And H blessed him, upon Rebecca’s death, with the blessing of consolation given to mourners (Rashi).
Hakadosh Boruch Hu loves Klal Yisrael. We love the Ribono shel Olam. We too should love Klal Yisrael and pray to have achdus as well. We are mispallel to be good ambassadors of H and Klal Yisrael. We are mispallel to have the wisdom, the fortitude, to bring kindness and goodness with sincerity to others. We should not have the attitude of “ being holier than thou” but how we could enrich the lives of all of Klal Yisrael with hearts of gold, the appreciation of our heritage, the mesorah of our nation from our Avos, our Imahos and from the many examples from the lives of my parents A”H. May the forthcoming Chanukah light up our hearts and may our lives be filled with simchas hachayim.
May my mother’s neshama be a molitza yeshara for her family and for Klal Yisrael. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank