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My Machberes

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Igud Rosh Chodesh At Kingsbrook

On Monday, Rosh Chodesh Teves – the sixth day of Chanukah, December 26 – more than thirty member rabbis convened at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn to participate in the Rosh Chodesh Conference of the Rabbinical Alliance of America-Igud Horabbonim. Speakers included Rabbi Noach Bernstein, Rabbi Michoel Chazan, Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, Rabbi Yehuda Levin, and this writer.

Rabbi Chazan, chaplain of Kingsbrook, described the invaluable work being done by the chaplaincy staff. He told of a volunteer who attended to elderly patients at the hospital, particularly in helping them with their tefillin for daily prayers. The volunteer sought the blessing of Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, zt”l (1886-1979), Satmar Rebbe. The Rebbe encouraged the volunteer to continue his good work and blessed him with long life. The volunteer lived into his late 90s. His work is being continued today by his son. Rabbi Chazan also noted that the greatly respected Bikur Cholim of Satmar began its citywide mission and operations at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center.

This writer, in his capacity as Igud director and rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights, called for the re-staffing and re-empowerment of New York State’s Kosher Law Enforcement under the direction of Rabbi Luzer Weiss. New York has become synonymous with kosher food, and kosher consumers today include vegetarians, the lactose intolerant, Hindus, observant Jews and others. Any erosion in the perception of kosher quality will hurt New York’s kosher food production as well as its economy.

A resolution was unanimously approved urging the governor and the state legislature to embolden and increase the office of Kosher Law Enforcement, led by the universally respected Rabbi Luzer Weiss, thus ensuring that the state’s kosher food industry would continue to grow – a critical consideration in this time of increasing unemployment.

Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, rav and rosh kollel of Ashyel Avraham in Monsey as well as a columnist and radio and TV commentator, focused on the dangers of smoking. In 1964, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l (1893-1986), author of Igros Moshe, did not prohibit smoking “in particular because a number of great Torah sages, in past generations and in our own, smoke” (see Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:49 [1964]; Yoreh Deah 3:35 [1973]; and Choshen Mishpat 2:76 [1981]).

This, plainly, was because those venerable sages did not yet know that smoking was dangerous. On the contrary, smoking tobacco was perceived as beneficial and healthful. Indeed, when Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen, zt”l (1838-1933), author of Chofetz Chaim and Mishnah Berurah, heard from doctors that smoking was dangerous for those who are “weak,” he ruled that, even if one is addicted, it is necessary to stop.

Rabbi Spivak stressed that no one is permitted to begin smoking – especially young yeshiva students. Rabbi Spivak called on Torah leaders to take the initiative in stopping smoking by our youths.

Students who earned their semicha at Kollel Ashyel Avraham and are now Igud member rabbis presented Rabbi Spivak, their Torah mentor, with a plaque expressing their deep appreciation of his Torah leadership and guidance. Rabbi Spivak and the other rabbis present were moved by the expression of deep, heartfelt appreciation.

Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center is located at 585 Schenectady Avenue in the East Flatbush section of central Brooklyn, moments away from Crown Heights. It was founded in 1925 as a chronic care facility to serve the Jewish community within a cultural context.

As the community has evolved and diversified, Kingsbrook has expanded its services and programs to meet the needs of the area’s large, culturally diverse communities. The rabbis met in the Chaim Albert Synagogue, which serves as a full service synagogue as well as the Jewish chapel for the hospital. The high vaulted ceiling and tall stained glass windows with more than 7,000 memorial name plaques adorning its walls, some dating back to 1873, confirm the shul’s status as an emblem of the community’s rich Jewish history, recalling the time when great rabbis lived in a thriving Jewish neighborhood.

Kosher Chaplains

In 2006, a number of observant Jewish chaplains serving at medical facilities throughout the United States and Canada joined to participate in the first Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) course specially tailored for observant Jews.

Successful completion of the CPE course by chaplains is desired by hospitals and medical establishments. However, since the regular presentation of the course does not address issues that affect observant Jewish patients, who are dealt with by observant chaplains on a daily basis, a special presentation was organized by Rabbi Chazan. Rabbi Chazan is also director of the Central Council of Rabbinical Chaplains (CCRC). In these capacities, Rabbi Chazan is the dynamic leader of observant chaplaincy services throughout the United States.

In 2008, CCRC held a gathering at Kingsbrook’s aforementioned chapel. More than 30 rabbinical chaplains from the tri-state area participated. Keynote speaker at the event was Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski, renowned spiritual leader, psychiatrist, therapist, and author. Rabbi Twerski addressed many issues and concerns that confront hospital rabbinical-chaplains daily.

He noted that today’s medical services have immensely surpassed that of years ago. Today’s average life expectancy of more than eighty years is twice as long as that at the turn of the twentieth century. Actuaries report that the fastest growing segment of our population is the over-100 year old segment. Frank Buckles, the last surviving World War I veteran, died on February 28, 2011, in Charlestown, VW. He was 110.

Our elderly are with us for a much longer period of time than at anytime before in recorded history. The chaplaincy, accordingly, must adjust to address the needs, concerns, desires, wishes and honor of the elderly.

Good To Have Friends

The recent inadvertent disinterment of graves at a Jewish cemetery in Lucena, Spain, was quickly resolved by the intervention of the Hon. Fernando Villalonga, Spain’s consul general in New York. The consul, who served previously in Argentina, has a warm relationship with Hon. Jules (Yitzchok) Fleischer, member of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.

Reb Yitzchok, born and raised in Argentina, continues to maintain close relationships with his former neighbors and schoolmates. On a visit to his old home, he met and befriended Consul General Villalonga. When the Lucena cemetery incident occurred, Reb. Yitzchok contacted the consul general who was instrumental in quickly helping resolve the Lucena problem. It is definitely good to have friends.

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